|By Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff
When parents in the Fort McCoy community hear the words “your child has
special needs” they can take comfort in the fact that they have people
on their side who are willing to go the extra mile to help them, said
one parent who suddenly found herself in that situation.
Fort McCoy Child Development
Center staff show their support for Sheila Peterson’s daughter
(holding scarf) by wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the motto,
“Autism is not for Wimps.” The staff was honored with the
Installation Management Command Hero of the Day Award for March
14 for its efforts. (Photo by
Sheila Peterson of the Fort McCoy Directorate of Family and Morale,
Welfare and Recreation said her daughter, who will turn 6 in June, had
every appearance of a normal child when she first came to the Fort McCoy
Child Development Center (CDC). Everything changed when her daughter was
diagnosed as being autistic about three years ago, Peterson said.
Peterson said she decided to make her story public through the “Light it
Up Blue,” campaign, which was held April 2 nationwide to put the
spotlight on children with autism. April is being observed as Autism
Awareness Month. The latest statistics are that one out of 88 children
is diagnosed as having autism.
“It was like I lost my little girl,” Peterson said when she heard the
news about her daughter. “The CDC staff was sensitive to that fact and
that I had to go through a grieving process before I could begin to cope
CDC staff honored as
IMCOM Hero of the Day for autism support
There’s no higher praise than a
mother’s thanks. The Fort McCoy Child Develop Center (CDC) staff
has provided great care and love to a special-needs child.
The child’s mother, Sheila Peterson of the Directorate of Family
and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, said she submitted the CDC
staff for recognition in the Installation Management Command
Hero of the Day Program because everyone from the front-desk
personnel, to the custodial staff treats her daughter like she
is one of their own. That is a huge relief for Peterson.
Peterson is quick to relate how thankful she is — not only for
the overwhelming support for her daughter, but also for the
peace of mind she has leaving her daughter in their care.
The staff has created a fun, kind, caring environment for all
the children at the center.
“The cooks are unbelievable — they watch her special
gluten-free/casein-free diet so closely and let me know what she
likes, what she eats, etc. They have taught me so much.”
The staff not only works with her child, but also talks with the
other students about ways they can help Peterson’s daughter.
“I think this is huge that kids are taught at a young age that
not all children may be able to function like they can,”
Peterson said. “I believe it also teaches them kindness and
consideration for others.”
“I can’t express in words what it means to have such an awesome
group of people to work with here at Fort McCoy,” she added.
“They give her such care and love it’s just overwhelming. I
can’t imagine leaving her anywhere else.”
“They gave me the room to grieve and support I needed as a parent to
deal with the situation and have gone above-and-beyond the call of duty
to give my daughter the support she needs every day.”
Chelsey Smith, CDC Director, said a team of Child, Youth and School
(CYS) Services, Army Community Service (ACS) and Occupational Health
staff, along with the parents, meet to look at the accommodations
process to support any child in the program who has special needs.
“We integrate all children into our program and they are involved in all
of the planned activities throughout the day,” Smith said. “CYS Services
provides an inclusive environment that encourages children to interact
with one another, learn from each other, and gain an appreciation for
the differences we all have.”
Peterson said the care the CDC staff has provided to her daughter goes
well beyond what she expected to receive. Staff members also learned to
work and coordinate care with a special therapist who came to the CDC to
assist with her daughter.
CDC staff members seek out every educational opportunity they can find
to help her daughter and other special-needs children, she said.
“I have a lot of love for the staff and how they have handled this
situation,” Peterson said. “It’s a lesson in life for everyone involved.
They teach all the children to have consideration for others. It also
helps reduce the prejudice children might experience” toward children
with special needs.
Peterson said she felt so strongly about the care her daughter received
that she nominated the CDC staff for the Installation Management Command
Hero of the Day award, which they received for March 14 . (See sidebar).
Fort McCoy DFMWR staff members subsequently wore blue T-shirts as a sign
of support for Peterson and her daughter.
Terry Rogalla, Fort McCoy Army Community Service (ACS) Exceptional
Family Member Program (EFMP), manager, said ACS helps support children
who have special needs. This includes providing information on the
community and other resources to anyone who needs it.
ACS also would organize a support group for parents/guardians of
special-needs children who would like to share their experiences. The
EFMP also provides for military specific services, such as respite care
funding, to eligible military parents, Rogalla said.
For more information about the EFMP in the Fort McCoy community,
including forming support groups, call 608-388-3505.