Voices From the Field: Interview with Jolynn Lee

Supporting Military Families with Young Children

Jolynn Lee

Jolynn Lee is the spouse of a Marine Veteran and a mother to three adult military-connected children. With two children still at home, Jolynn is also the mother of a child with exceptional needs. Jolynn worked as a special education teacher for 11 years. She joined STOMP, Specialized Training of Military Parents, in partnership with PAVE, Partnerships in Action, Voices for Empowerment to help bring awareness and training to families within the military community. She knows first-hand the challenges faced raising a child with exceptionalities and is motivated by a passion to support military families in need. One of her favorite mottos is, “People only know what they know,” but we can work together to expand that knowledge base as we learn and grow.

1. What do you remember most about your experiences with early intervention while in the military?

What I remember most about our experiences with early intervention in the military is initially feeling overwhelmed and intimidated. Once a diagnosis was made, it provided a sense of peace, as we were no longer dealing with the unknown. For us, the type of services that might be available and how closely they might be located to us, could vary greatly based on our geographical location. I found the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) program to be a valuable means of support and encouragement during our early intervention season of life, as well as during transitions.

2. What skills did you gain during your child’s early years that influence you currently?

Tenacity, persistence, and to trust my own gut! I learned that researching for myself was invaluable — the more you know the better equipped you are for the advocacy process. I learned not take “no” for an answer, and to keep pushing, trying, and fighting on behalf of my child. A friend once told me “NO” was simply an abbreviation for Next Opportunity. That relates to our children as well. No one is going to care for your child’s development and well-being more than you! I spent many years as a special education teacher, so I operate from a position of being the teacher as well as being the parent of a child with exceptional needs. The art of compromise is essential when you advocate for your child. Compromise does not mean you are giving up; it means you are willing to work with others to secure the most optimal situation and solution at that time. In the advocacy process, if an answer comes back “no,” then you have been presented with an opportunity to adjust course and find the next opportunity for coordination and compromise. Goals are not reached overnight, but with determination and consistency, they can be reached.

3. Is there anything you would like to share with other military families about your experiences?

First, stay the course!!! The transition in military life can be challenging, but it can also be a blessing. The choice of attitude is yours. Make no mistake, your attitude will impact those around you — your child, as well as those working with your child. Seek out other parents who have been through or are also on this journey. You can be support, encouragement, and inspiration for one another. A new duty station may offer you the opportunity to find a new provider with a different perspective in approach, treatment, and care — that transition does not have to be a bad shift. Keep what you like, what is working, and what you decide is successful in your “toolbox of care” and then be open and willing to try new things as they are suggested. Your overall knowledge and experience with your child will provide the most well-rounded perspective regarding their support, so stand firm in your knowledge and awareness, but be willing to incorporate the new if it feels appropriate to you. Use your voice and knowledge to advocate for your child as no one else can — you have the full and complete picture.

Second, take care of you! Living a military lifestyle can be simultaneously rewarding and exhausting. The same applies when you raise a child with exceptionalities. Remember to fill your own cup as you care for others. You cannot pour from a well that has run dry! You must take care of you in order to care for others. There is a good reason airline personnel instruct passengers to secure their own oxygen mask before attending to the needs of those around them. You cannot care for others when you run out of air yourself.

4. What would you like the professionals who worked with you during the early years to know about military families?

We know our children better than anyone else, and our children are more than numbers on a page, test scores, labels, or their disability qualification. Listen to us as we work with you to find solutions to best suit our child. We are the only start to finish keeper of our child’s individual life journey and experience. We have valuable insight to share. We are seeing you, the professional, because there is a need present that you can address. We value and appreciate your expertise, but do not discount us as we have our own expertise in a life lived with the child at hand. This is not a professional issue to be remedied and managed, for us it is very personal.

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