Natalia came from a big family, so having a big family of her own just came naturally. Her parents became foster parents when she was 18 and she has six younger foster siblings – with many of whom she still keeps in touch. One of children placed with her parents was Sarah, a little girl with autism. After Natalia and her husband purchased their first home, they became foster parents and took over the care of Sarah who was four at the time. As they adjusted to life as foster parents of a child with special needs, six months later, the Phillips received an emergency foster placement of a set of three-year-old twins, Tyrel and Tyrese. The Phillips’ are Sarah’s legal guardians and they eventually adopted the twins.
“We’ve been working with Boone County Family Resources for a long time,” says Natalia. “All three of my foster kids have benefited from receiving services. My support coordinator, Suzanne, is my ‘go-to’ person. There is a lot of trust there.” Sarah participates in the Partnership for Hope Waiver and receives personal assistance from Alternative Community Training (ACT) and attends Camp Wonderland. Tyrese also participates in the Partnership for Hope Waiver. He received behavioral supports to develop strategies to address anxiety in social situations.
A few years later, the Phillips’ family grew by one with the birth of Paul. Through their experiences of raising Sarah, Natalia and her husband began noticing that Paul was not meeting the milestones that a typically developing child should be meeting. “It was a blessing that we already had experience with special needs,” she says. “I was able to identify when Paul was having problems starting at age 1. He was diagnosed with autism at age 2. Since we were already so involved with BCFR, I knew what steps we needed to take.” Paul started with the First Steps Program and was able to work with the same physical and occupational therapists that the other children were using. Paul has since transitioned to the Partnership for Hope Waiver where he also receives personal assistance from ACT. Previously he received early intervention services to address behavioral needs, also with ACT.
As the kids have grown and their needs change, Natalia says she is grateful for the support she receives from BCFR. “Nothing could have prepared me for having a special needs teenager. I would have had to consider residential services for Sarah if BCFR wasn’t able to step in and get her on the waiver,” says Natalia. “Things can still be challenging, but with the right supports, she’s able to live at home. She likes to do lots of typical teenage things like listen to music, play on the iPad and paint her nails. She wouldn’t be doing that in a residential setting.”
The twins will be teenagers soon and Natalia’s getting ready for having three teens in the house. “Hopefully things won’t change too much, but I do feel more prepared,” says Natalia. “Therapies have helped a lot.”
Paul has also progressed well with his therapies. “He has done really well with his speech and this past year he’s really blossomed socially,” says Natalia. “He even sang a song in the school talent show!” Natalia says Paul lives in “TV mode” – where he narrates stories about everyday events as if they are a television show. For the talent show, he created a script about what he wanted to say and memorized it. Natalia was able to capture his performance on video and posted it to her YouTube account. Paul likes to use YouTube to watch his videos as well as other videos from people reviewing his favorite movies and TV shows. “It’s his favorite source of entertainment,” says Natalia.
The family grew with one more addition with the birth of Cash two years after Paul. “He’s the baby of the family and quite a character, too,” Natalia says. “As a typically developing kid, it’s interesting to watch him interact with the other kids. He doesn’t treat them like they are any different. He seems to genuinely accept everyone as they are and doesn’t question any differences. Everything is the way it is and he’s perfectly fine with it.”
“Controlled chaos” is how Natalia describes a typical day in the Phillips’ household. She relies heavily on established routines to make it through the sometimes hectic day. “We try to prepare for transitions as best we can. Sometimes things don’t run smoothly, but I’m sure that’s true for any parent,” she says. “After raising kids with special needs, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Sometimes I’m the one that doesn’t handle transitions well. I’ve stopped blaming my kids’ disabilities. We all have our little quirks!”
When asked what advice she would give other families new to having a child with special needs, Natalia says, “Just hang in there. Find support, even if it is just someone to listen to you vent. We have been fortunate to have worked with BCFR. Whether it’s direction with school issues, therapies, extracurricular activities or just someone to help brainstorm with, my BCFR support coordinator is always there.”