Better Late Than Never

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PUZZLES & CAMO BY SHELLY HUHTANEN

As I take myself back to the store the other day, dragging my dress behind me with my sunken eyes and my weathered face due to years of crying, laughing and smiling, I can honestly say I have tried. I have tried to speak up about what families with special needs children need.

The other day, I did something I don’t do very often. I went shopping for myself for a dress to wear to a military function. After a few years, I’ve acquired quite a few so I’ve found that I just sift through the ones I already have and find one that doesn’t need to be dry cleaned or one that doesn’t have a gravy stain that I had forgotten to clean a year earlier. Surprisingly, I actually went shopping and succeeded. I found a dress that fit and something I think I could wear more than once or twice. I can be quite thrifty at times.

I was pretty proud of myself as I sashayed to the cashier with a dress in hand. Believe me when I say it is a rare sighting to say the least. The gal at the counter was kind. She asked why I was buying the dress and I told her it was for a military event. Then what should have been a glorious moment turned to mush when she asked, “Is your son the one who is in the military?” My face went from a smile to a scowl as I corrected her, “No, my husband is in the military, not my son.” As I left the counter with my shoulders hanging and my dress wrapped in plastic dragging on the floor behind me, I glanced at a side mirror on the wall. She was right. I could pass for someone who has a son in the military.

Driving home, I started to think about where the time had gone. I reminisced about where our family has been and what our family has learned through all of our experiences in the military with a special needs child. I realized it truly has been a long winding road. I remembered starting at Fort Wainwright with Mark. This was both of my boys’ place of birth. We still didn’t know what was going on with Broden. He had tons of ear infections and had already had his share of antibiotics, but the hospital didn’t want to investigate the issue since we were moving to Fort Leavenworth.

I always see Kansas as the place of firsts. Kansas is where we received Broden’s diagnosis. Fort Leavenworth was the post where I learned to listen to my gut, I mean really listen to it. If I didn’t feel like we were going in the right direction for Broden, then I was banging on doors in my neighborhood for help to see if they knew someone who was in the same boat as our family. This was also the place where I found my voice and I learned the power of the pen. I started writing in Kansas and I never stopped.

My mind took me to Texas where I grew as a mom, wife, and friend. As I went through more experiences and listened to more parents who were battling similar ones as us, I knew that we had power in numbers. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting next to two women who will work with me to write an initiative in order to streamline the process for families in EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program) when they PCS. Our hope is that when a family PCS’s to a new installation, there will be systems in place to ensure there are services for them and hopefully in the future, there will be access to a special education advocate for that family if they have children with an IEP or 504 plan in place. I still feel in my heart that there should be no excuse for families to be sent to a post where they can’t care for their family and parents should always have a place to go when their child is not receiving an appropriate education.

My book that I have written, Giving a Voice to the Silent Many is finally on amazon. com. This has been a labor of love for many years and I can finally say I have completed it. I hope that as young families start to feel overwhelmed or feel hopeless, maybe they can have some comfort in knowing that there are many families who are experiencing hardship, temporary dead ends, or difficult transitions.

As I take myself back to the store the other day, dragging my dress behind me with my sunken eyes and my weathered face due to years of crying, laughing and smiling, I can honestly say I have tried. I have tried to speak up about what families with special needs children need. If I could not speak out, then I wrote about it. The initiatives that our supportive team are trying to push here at Fort Benning, they may not be in effect at a time when my family will benefit. Maybe they will be in effect for families who arrive after ours. Better late than never I always say. •

PUZZLES & CAMO
16Shelley Huhtanen is an Army wife with two children, one with autism, whose husband is currently stationed at Fort Benning, GA. She is an autism advocate and currently the parent liaison for the Academy for Exceptional Learners. Her new book, Giving a Voice to the Silent Many, offers to families who are experiencing hardship, temporary dead ends, or difficult transitions. It is available at amazon.com

Source: Exceptional Parent Magazine; December 2017