Madigan Healthcare System pediatric behavioral nurse Michele Gross has a 14-year-old son on the autism spectrum, but doesnt want that to limit his education and employment opportunities as he gets older.
Thats why she took part in a National Disability Employment Awareness Month resource fair Oct. 10 for Joint Base Lewis-McChord exceptional family members.
The event, coordinated by JBLMs Exceptional Family Member Program, focused on job training, educational opportunities and vocational rehabilitation services available off the installation for teens and adults with disabilities.
In this area, were very lucky to have a metropolitan area where we have a lot of community partners, Gross said. There arent vocational rehab services on the installation, so to bring all of these organizations here (to) one place is helpful.
The resource fairs theme, An Inclusive Workforce Equals An Inclusive Community, emphasized the need for more services for adolescents and adults with special needs.
As a special needs child, there are a lot of safety nets, but once those children move on to adulthood, those resources seem to go away, Jackie Kelly, Army Community Services EFMP specialist, said. So we want our exceptional family members to know those resources are there.
Military families often become overwhelmed with the number of services available to them, but many special needs families request a move to JBLM because of the services the installation offers, according to Kelly.
Because Madigan has such amazing facilities, we get a lot of service members who want to get stationed here, Kelly said.
Of the approximately 4,500 exceptional family members at JBLM, Kelly said 30 to 40 percent are adults. The resource fair, the first of its kind for JBLM, is a way to equitably distribute EFMP resources among teens and adults with special needs.
The whole goal is to help (special needs teens and adults) become part of the community, Kelly said. Gross, the current JBLM EFMP support group president, and her husband, Master Sgt. David Gross, eadquarters and Headquarters Company, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, who also helps coach Special Olympics athletes, understand how crucial it is for their son to have a vocation.
The opportunities for a special needs child are more limited. Most of them may not be able to attend a traditional college or university, or they may not be able to leave home because of a medical or physical condition, Gross said. Having something close to home where their family is to help support them and having a skill or trade is extremely important. It builds confidence, job skills, and independence that they can put to use down the road to have a full-time job.