By Scott Prater
For parents of special-needs children, even life’s smallest details can create unmanageable situations.
Tasks that most people find routine like: communicating with school administrators, obtaining a diagnosis from a doctor, or arranging for transportation, can evolve into complicated issues, involving large, diverse groups of people and organizations.
Add the mobile nature of a professional military career into the mix and it’s easy to see how hectic life can be for Air Force members who also happen to be parents of a special-needs child.
By the request of an on-base parent, Schriever’s Airman and Family Readiness Center hosted a Brown-Bag Luncheon for Parents of Special Needs Children Feb. 25 at the Tierra Vista Community Center.
“We are in a position where we are supposed to be providing services and resources for these people,” said Nancy Seckman, Schriever Airman and Family Readiness Center, community readiness consultant. “We want to get as close to the mark as possible, and the best way to do that is to have parents tell us what they need and what they want. After all, they are the experts.”
Many Air Force bases around the globe have hired Exceptional Family Member Program coordinators, but here at Schriever the task is performed by members of the Airman and Family Readiness Center.
“I let people know up front, assisting parents of special-needs children is not my specialty,” Ms. Seckman said. “However, I tell them they’ll have my full attention and that I’ll do everything in my power to get them the resources or people or services they need.”
The brown-bag luncheon was designed to allow parents to voice their needs, create an environment for people to meet each other and help parents find out what resources exist in the community.
Ms. Seckman invited a few representatives from local resource agencies to interact, explain their programs and offer advice and tips to attendees.
“Having Marsha Unruh from The Resource Exchange was especially helpful,” said Doris Willis, mother of a special-needs son who is nearing adulthood. “The fact that she could guide us in the direction we needed to go was extremely beneficial. She was able to tell us what resources to focus on for the various age levels we represented.”
Attendees ran the gamut, from mother-to-be to parents of young adults. Issues were wide and varied as well.
“Having the expert guest speakers from the various agencies is the best resource these type of meetings can provide,” Ms. Willis said.
But Ms. Seckman figures the experts are the parents themselves. And that a few of them gained some benefit from not only airing their needs but by providing answers to their fellow attendees.
“At more than a few points in the meeting, a parent would say they were looking for a specific program or service and then Ms. Unruh or another parent would jump in and say, ‘You need to go here, or call this person or attend this class,’” She said. “The purpose of this meeting was for us to find out their needs, but in the mean time a bunch of networking started happening and they actually began learning solutions to some of their needs.”
Throughout the two hour luncheon, parents shared their experiences, sought help about their specific circumstances and provided insight while others spoke.
Attendees conversed about how laws and agencies who serve special needs children change drastically from state to state and how, as members and retirees of the military, navigating those agencies and laws represents a large portion of the struggles of everyday life.
“Sharing our stories was enlightening,” Ms. Willis said. “It let us see that we’re not in this situation alone and that there are others experiencing the same stress and concerns we experience. Really, it allows open communication and allows us to pass on vital information and share some of the hurdles we’ve already experienced, so that families can avoid some of the pitfalls some of us have already gone through.”
Ms. Seckman said she was pleased with the turnout, the discussion, the advice and information shared by resource representatives and the input provided by attendees. She plans to host more meetings for parents of special needs in the near future and hopes to announce a quarterly routine for the event.
“We learned quite a bit,” she said. “This meeting reinforced my belief that people need help with individual education plans, the plan local schools create for children with special needs, and that people need more information on finding respite care for the children, so they can catch a much-needed break once in a while.”
Parents of special needs children at Schriever and in the local community are encouraged to contact the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 567-3920 to learn more about resources, services and information offered at the center.