Change is just a mindset with EFMP

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- I have always believed that change is synonymous with the military lifestyle. It is not an easy task for a military family to maintain a state of normalcy while juggling moving, deployments and TDYs.

For any military parent, the uncertainty of established programs for family members and the apprehension of adjusting to change can be overwhelming. But it can be especially challenging when moving with a special needs family member.

I can strongly attest to the joy and pains of relocating with a child with special needs. My son has autism. A couple of months ago, my husband and I embarked on our PCS journey from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., to Hurlburt Field, Fla., with our six-year-old son Sean.

The reality of the move did not register until I was researching doctors, schools and child care centers. Questions of doubt blazed through my mind. I wondered if I would be able to find appropriate accommodations for my son or if the base youth center would be able to provide support or if he would be accepted by other parents and children.

A majority of the questions I had subsided once I established contact with Ruthy Srun, Hurlburt Field Airman & Family Readiness Center Exceptional Family Member Program manager.

She researched schools and services and established initial contact with Darryl Rice, Hurlburt Field Youth Center School Age Program coordinator. We currently attend EFMP support group meetings and participate in special events, and it helps us to meet other families in similar situations, network, and enjoy ourselves as a family.

This was extremely helpful to my husband and me since we never looked into off-base child care centers because of the continuous support we received from the Shaw Air Force Base Child Development Center and Youth Center.

Being dual-military, it became second nature to rely on these programs because of the excellent support and stability it provided while my husband and I were deployed. The center became the key piece of stability in my son's ever-changing life.

Upon our arrival at Hurlburt Field, we formally engaged with Rice at the Hurlburt Field Youth Center to seek enrollment.

Even though they were not accustomed to having children on the severe end of the autism spectrum in their program, he was extremely helpful in finding a way to make our child's transition as seamless as possible. Omega Stackhouse, hired as a summer staff, and Betty Puckett were assigned to ensure that our son had one-on-one assistance.

The initial days of our son's enrollment were filled with tantrums and a lot of tears. It was uncertain if he would be able to participate in the program. Our son started to display aberrant behavior, because he was also adjusting to the new environment and the staff.

The one thing that did stay constant was the devotion and commitment to understand our son's needs by Stackhouse, Puckett and the Youth Center staff. With their insight, the Youth Center created a sensory room so that when Sean became overly stimulated he would have toys to give him an outlet.

Currently, the days of tantrums are gone as I take my son to the Youth Center each day. Sean and I are greeted with open arms by the other children and staff. The staff records his day-to-day activities in a journal, and the pages are filled with stories of his swimming adventures with the other children or achieving new learning milestones.

Each and every day, I am overfilled with joy that Stackhouse, Puckett and the Youth Center family continue to go above and beyond to assist my son. They are working with him on his writing skills and are truly taking the time to understand how his world works.

The valuable lesson I will be able to pass down to my son is a quote by Mary Engelbreit that I have always found befitting: "If you don't like something change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it."

Now, that I reflect back on the anxiety of the move, I can honestly say that change is not bad. It is just a mindset.

For more information about the EFMP or the SAP, contact the A&FRC at 884-5441 or the Youth Center at 884-6355.