Eric remembers the floor dropping from underneath him and his wife, Christine, when they were told their son had PDD – NOS; wondering what it meant and what they could do. They had taken William to see the doctor because William was non-verbal, flapped his arms seemingly uncontrollably and lined his toy cars up in a straight line (the only way he would play with them). Eric was a little less than halfway through a 20-year Navy career, so much of the research fell to Christine – as Eric was gone almost more than he was home between deployments and out of state duty stations; but Eric remembers how stressed Christine would get because answers were so difficult to find, and often seemingly contradictory. It took time, but eventually they could get their son, William, enrolled in an early intervention program in Connecticut.
At age 5, William received a diagnosis of “Autism” and as time progressed, learning disabilities, echolalia and Tourette Syndrome. From there it was relatively “smooth” sailing, Eric & Christine paid out of pocket for additional speech, physical and occupational therapy in keeping with the physician’s recommendations and they made the most of their circumstances. Christine became a stay at home mom, researching therapies and diets to help William achieve as much success as possible. In 2010 Eric received orders to his last duty station in Bethesda, MD; and they decided to move everyone to Maryland because Eric had just spent almost (2) years in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – without them. When they got to Maryland William was enrolled in school, but nobody mentioned anything about an Autism Waiver or any other services; and Eric and Christine didn’t think to ask; after all, they hadn’t received any additional services to date – so why would this be different.
In 2012, the same week Eric started his final weeks in the Navy; Chris was struck by a sudden illness, spent a week in the ICU before succumbing to the disease. This began Eric’s second journey into navigating the Special Needs world, this time as a single father in a new state. The first thing Eric looked for was options for after school care for William, and being led to The Arc Montgomery County’s After All program by William’s teacher. As Eric closed out his naval career, retiring in December of 2012, he made a promise to himself to do what he could to prevent other families from experiencing what he lived through – the complete lack of resources or knowledge of what he should be doing, what he should already have done, and what he could expect in the future.
This led to him starting a career in Financial Services, offering special needs financial planning to families like his. It didn’t fill the void, so Eric started Special Needs Navigators in 2017 – to help families answer more generic questions, and when needed or desired, serve as a guide through the process. In some situations, this means Eric will do nothing more than offer a referral to a more qualified resource, in others it could take the form of Eric being directly involved in helping families transition to their new “normal”. Eric and William continue their own journey, applying for DDA and DORS services, as well as SSI and Veteran benefits, for William.
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