Posted by Wendi Hutchinson
My twin sons were born six weeks premature with torticollis, a condition in which the neck is twisted and the head is inclined to one side. Due to this diagnosis, Early Intervention came to my house to do neck exercises with them on a regular basis. They told me they thought my boys had autism, so I immediately called my pediatrician. At 18 months old, my boys were officially diagnosed. I got the diagnosis in writing so services could start as soon as possible but my world, as well as my ideas for their future, were shattered. I did not know what autism was nor did I know what to do to help my sons. I was lost and didn't know where to turn.
I started receiving Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services (a data-driven intervention used with children with autism) in my house several days a week until my sons' third birthdays. At three years old they transitioned to the town preschool that had special classes for children with autism. Even though they were receiving some helpful services, I quickly learned that I needed to advocate strongly for my sons. I realized they were not going to automatically get what they needed and they were unable to advocate for themselves.
The next few years were hard on me, my marriage, and my family. I hired an advocate but I felt hopeless at times and other times just wanted to give up. But I knew I wanted the best education for my sons. So I dedicated my time to learning about autism and all that went with it; special education, state and federal laws, and the services available.
After I took a course on how to become an educational advocate, I found myself giving advice, tips, and recommendations to others. I would explain to people that they needed to make sure all communication with schools was put in writing since schools need to adhere to specific timelines that start with the receipt of written requests. I encouraged families to apply for MassHealth as secondary insurance for their child(ren) with autism since there are great benefits of having MassHealth, including not paying for copays at doctors' offices or for prescriptions and getting a prescription for diapers or pull-ups if the child is not toilet-trained in a reasonable time. I felt empowered and enjoyed helping other families. I thought: why should everyone have to struggle the way I did when I can help them?!
That's why I am so excited to lead the Disability Lifespan Solutions and Autism Navigation teams. The work that these programs do is what I have spent the past ten years of my life learning! I look forward to the opportunity to help others apply for public benefits, help them with referrals, and help them create a future plan for their child(ren) with disabilities. I am glad I can relate to families on both a personal and professional level. If Disability Lifespan Solutions and Autism Navigation had been available to me when my children were younger, my life would have been easier. I look forward to helping many families and caregivers make sure their loved ones have the futures they deserve!
Wendi Hutchinson has been in the field of developmental disabilities and mental health personally and professionally for ten years. Before coming to JF&CS, Wendi worked as a family partner through psychiatric emergency services. Prior to working in the human services field, Wendi attended Westfield State College where she graduated with a degree in early childhood education. Currently she works for JF&CS Services for People with Disabilities as the Director of Disability Lifespan Solutions and Autism Navigation. In Wendi's free time she enjoys spending time with her husband and twins as well as friends and family.