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April 13, 2012

Community

‘Light it up Blue’ campaign supports installation child, Family

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.
PHOTO: Fort McCoy CDC staff wear T-shirts emblazoned with the motto, “Autism is not for Wimps.” Photo by Jobi Spolum
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 Jobi Spolum)

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 with it.”

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.

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