AFRC supports child with special needs

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kali L. Gradishar
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Being a parent can be a difficult undertaking at times. The desire for the best for one's children can even be heart-breaking. But for one Fairchild family, research, perseverance and devotion to their children have been the means to overcome the trials set before them.

Clarice Rhatigan, the four-year-old daughter of Lt. Col. Patrick Rhatigan, 92nd Air Refueling Wing chief of safety, and his wife, Karen, was born deaf in 2003 and in February 2007, she received a cochlear implant, a surgically implanted device that restores sound to someone who is severely deaf or hard of hearing.

"The cochlear implant allows a child to hear," said Colonel Rhatigan, "but it's like getting a new piano in your house. It's a great instrument, but someone has to teach you how to use it."

As Clarice neared school-age, her parents began the search for the best possible therapeutic and educational resources for their daughter and found the Hearing and Oral Program of Excellence in Spokane.

When the Rhatigan family, which also includes two-year-old Gavin and one-year-old Lucan, moved to Spokane, they were challenged with finding a way to get Clarice the speech therapy and audiology services she needed.

"The elementary school on base provided speech therapy but not specific to a child with hearing loss. Clarice needed an intensively rich language environment taught by certified teachers for the deaf and hard of hearing, focusing on listening and speech," Colonel Rhatigan noted.

At this point, they turned to the Airman and Family Readiness Center where they were met by Melissa Still, AFRC community readiness consultant

"I was able to work through some issues in getting their daughter the educational services she needed," said Ms. Still, who acted as an advocate for the family in supporting them though the process.

"It's very hard to advocate for your child. It gets pretty emotional when you want the best that places have to offer and we knew that the HOPE school had the best services to offer Clarice," voiced Colonel Rhatigan. "Melissa Still was there to support us, look after our children, and advocate on our behalf."

It began with an Individual Education Plan meeting with educators from the Medical Lake School District, professionals from the community including Clarice's speech therapist and audiologist and teacher from the HOPE school, as well as representatives from Michael Anderson Elementary School. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Clarice's needs and how they would be provided.

From this meeting came a contract between the Medical Lake School District and the HOPE school, to ensure the education system would provide for the Rhatigan family.

"This is the first year that the HOPE school has contracted with a school district, a huge victory for local families of children with hearing loss and for future Air Force families, ensuring their child is given the appropriate education and giving them a better chance at future opportunities in life," said Mrs. Rhatigan

"The catch is that we're working with a local school district and we're a military family, so we don't know all the odds and ends and the rules of the Medical Lake School District. People PCS in and out of bases, and people like Melissa Still are there to help you navigate those rules, advocating on behalf of the military family," Colonel Rhatigan added.

With the determination to find the best for their daughter and the help of Ms. Still and the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Rhatigan family has been able to find their daughter the best means for her to excel.

"The bottom line is, do your homework, but know that there are many support agencies on base that can help," said Colonel Rhatigan. "You may not always know what to do, but being a part of the Air Force family has definitely helped us and we hope that our efforts forge the way for future AF families with children with hearing loss."