VALHALLA, N.Y. – When Beth and Nick Wyman deliver their keynote address at the annual Caregiver Conference on Saturday Nov. 2, they will be relaying information based on experience from more than two decades of challenges.
The Wymans will speak at the Mount Pleasant Community Center at 125 Lozza Drive in Valhalla. The free conference runs from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
The Wymans, both actors, will discuss their own experiences, which include hope and hardship, pain and pride. They have been continual caregivers for their 22-year-old son, Tom, who was diagnosed with Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome , a condition characterized by short stature, moderate to severe intellectual disability, distinctive facial features, and broad thumbs and first toes. Tom is currently enrolled in an adult day program at the Young Adult Institute in Tarrytown.
In addition to their commitment to Tom, Beth also cared for her mother, Marie McDonald, before she died on Aug. 24, 2011. She spent a significant amount of time in Chicago for nearly five years. “Decisions had to be made,’’ she said. “I found myself playing a lot of catch-up. I wanted to be on board with my brothers about the housing and medical issues we had to face.”
For the Wymans, the caregiver role has been far different than what most people might expect. “So many assume that this is the way it will play out,’’ said Nick, the president of the Actors’ Equity Association. “They think they will be a child, then an adult, then a parent. We never thought about being our parent’s parent. The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t always play out that smoothly. Sometimes we have a lifetime responsibility. It’s an important part of our life’s journey.”
Their son’s challenges have been hard from the start. From a cognitive standpoint, Tom is about three years old, Beth said. He has not gone through puberty, and he does not speak. Communication with him is difficult. “For instance, if he’s hungry we’ll ask him if he wants an apple or a sandwich, and we’ll give him pictures of both,’’ Beth said. “He won’t point to either one. What he actually grasps is a mystery, and therefore a frustration.”
In the past few years, especially, Tom has grown and become hard for Beth to manage physically. “Now he’s stronger than I am,’’ Beth said. “If he wants to put up a fuss, there’s not much I can do about it.”
Nick said he “can still out-wrestle Tom. But it’s not easy. I have stopped giving him pony rides, though. We have a good time and fun physical relationship. Tom is generally quite gentle.”
At the Caregivers Conference, people will have the opportunity to hear about Westchester County’s Livable Communities Initiative and three of its programs: The Caregiver Coach Program, the Care Circles of Westchester: Step Forward and Give Back Program, and the Caregiver Collaborative. Reservations are preferred. To register, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (914) 813-6427.
Most importantly though, the Wymans want caregivers to know they aren’t alone.
“It’s important to have help,’’ Nick said. “Caring for somebody is hard work. Our society does not value it the way that we should. It’s useful to have assistance and give you respite, and it’s an important part of the social safety network.”