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A Special Service for Special Needs

Update

Somewhere out there is a family whose child has special needs, and Gary James wants to help.

James runs Connecticut Domestics, a placement agency that helps do the footwork on interviewing and testing nannies for placement with families. There is a fee for the service, both upfront and as a portion of the nanny's salary. Unless the family has a child with special needs, then the fees are waived.

"We're not in this for the limelight or the spotlight," said James, a tall native Londoner. He continued, "The question is just simply how the hell can we possibly help these families?"

James' interest in helping families with special needs children doesn't stem from simple altruism or a desire to gain publicity for his business. It comes from his heart and own experience. Three years ago his middle child was diagnosed with autism. When he decided to help families by waiving the fee if the child has special needs, he was originally targeting autistic children. Wednesday night he decided that wasn't enough.

"How do I fix it? How do I cure it? How do I help him," were the thoughts James said went through his head in the months after the diagnosis. Previously he had known nothing about autism. It was just another disease that happened to other families. There had never been any sign of it in his bloodline, and he knows now that he doesn't carry any identifiable genetic markers for it. "You wish for 10 fingers and toes and don't really think about anything else," said James.

Life was once vastly different for James. He was fourth in the world record for the double decathlon and on his way to competing on the British team in the 1992 Olympics. While training in the United States, an injury put him out of commission for six months and ended that career. He stayed in the states, working for $2 in a Colorado hotel. Contacts there helped him to work his way up the service industry until he was the estate manager for a number of celebrities. It was there, hiring and firing staff, that he saw how disorganized most of the screening processes were and decided he could do it better. From there was ultimately born his nanny placement service.

James is also building a network of service providers, both for profit and non-profit, that help special needs children.

Meanwhile, he wants people to understand that both the problem, specifically autism, and help are out there. One in 120 children are born autistic, and the majority of those are boys. No one knows the exact cause, though James said the controversy over whether or not it could be inoculations against disease is at least something to pay attention to. "It isn't mainstreamed enough, like cancer. If you say someone has cancer, people know what that means. They don't with autism," said James. "It has to become an everyday word."

Information about services is available at www.connecticutdomestics.com.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the team James was training for in 1992.

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