Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Dreams and Sacrifices for Wyatt: While Researching for Ways to Help Wyatt, Thelma Called EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program) at Fort Benning for Help. They Assigned Her a Case Manager and Asked Her to Fill out Paperwork to Enroll Wyatt into the Program

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Dreams and Sacrifices for Wyatt: While Researching for Ways to Help Wyatt, Thelma Called EFMP (Exceptional Family Member Program) at Fort Benning for Help. They Assigned Her a Case Manager and Asked Her to Fill out Paperwork to Enroll Wyatt into the Program

Article excerpt

There are many stories about families with special needs children that involve sacrifice, vigilance and a sense of determination to find answers. I had the privilege of speaking with an Army wife and mother of a child with autism, Thelma Whitehurst. Her son, Wyatt, is six years old and was diagnosed when he was two years old. In the beginning of her story, it sounded similar to many others. Her son was speaking, and then lost all language and eye contact. But as I listened to her story, I became truly humbled by the sacrifices and determination she endured to find a path for Wyatt.

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In 2008, Thelma lived at Fort Benning, GA and was an Army soldier, wife, and mother to two children. She deployed to Iraq as an interrogator, ready to assist the Army in receiving valuable information to support combat operations. Her husband, Jake, was a drill sergeant at the time, working long hours training recruits on how to be soldiers. Due to Jake's work hours, Jake's mother took care of their children, Kiera and Wyatt, so Thelma could deploy.

Thelma knew she needed to fulfill her duty as an Army soldier, but like any mother, dreaded leaving her children. Kiera was three years old and Wyatt was almost two years old when she left. She told me her deployment was only four-and-a-half months long, but from a mother's perspective, it might as well have been a year. It seemed like an eternity before she could see her children again.

She would describe a typical day in Iraq. Thelma would work 12 to 14 hour days sifting through reports to identify what information needed to be sent to their analysts. She said, "Between meeting deadlines and taking part in operations, my time on the phone was limited with my family." When she left for Iraq, Wyatt was starting to talk and said "mama" and a few other simple words. Thelma was so excited to get back home and see what new things her children were doing.

When she came home from the deployment, her excitement turned to disbelief and confusion. Kiera was talking and very social, but Wyatt would not even look at her, much less talk to her. Thelma said she had come home to a different child. She had brought up her concerns to Jake and her mother-in-law. They thought that Wyatt may be developing differently than his sister due to him being a boy, and that Thelma shouldn't be worried.

Thelma felt that something was wrong. How could Wyatt have language and then not have language four-and-a-half months later? For her peace of mind, they decided to take Wyatt to see his pediatrician. After explaining her concerns, the pediatrician gave her a referral to a neuro-developmental pediatrician. During the visit, the specialist started asking her more questions about Wyatt's behavior. She then started to describe his need to eat paper, him banging his head on the wall, and his obsession with flipping the light switch on and off.

After her description of the behaviors she was observing in Wyatt, she was told the news: Wyatt had autism. Her first response was, "What does that mean!?" Thelma continued to explain what was going through her mind. "I did not know how to feel." she said. Thelma came home and told Jake the news. She was concerned about his response. Jake was speechless. He didn't know what to think. Since Wyatt was born, Jake had dreams of his son being an athlete like himself. How was Jake going to connect with Wyatt? Would they ever be able to go out back and throw the ball or was he going to refuse any interaction with his father?

Thelma describes her life after the diagnosis. She was very emotional and cried all of the time. She was constantly doing research on trying to figure out how to help Wyatt, and then would cry at the thought of what Wyatt may or may not become. What will his life be like? Will he ever get married and have children? Jake was having a difficult time accepting Wyatt's diagnosis so Thelma spent her time looking for answers. …

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