Learning Every Day: The Murphy Family Story

A photo of the Murphy Family. From left to right sitting on a couch, there is their son Wyatt, the father Robert, their daughter Roberta, and the mother Michelle.

Robert and Michelle Murphy have deep roots in their hometown of Saint Paul. Aside from brief moments living in other parts of the Twin Cities, the two have resided in Saint Paul for “pretty much all our lives,” says Robert. Michelle grew up in the Midway neighborhood and settled in a house not far from where she was raised. Sometime after the two met, Robert moved in with Michelle, and they started a family together. They have been married for around 20 years and have three children: DeVaughn, Roberta, and Wyatt.

Photo of the Murphy Family sitting on a couch in their living room.The Murphys have many family memories – often centered around the places they love. “We like to go on weekend trips, like to the North Shore [and] Pelican Lake in Orr, Minnesota. We like to be out on the boat and go fishing,” says Robert. The Murphys do everything they can to ensure their children have enriched lives where they can explore their interests and have the support they need.

Both Roberta and Wyatt have autism. With different support needs, Robert and Michelle did their best while working full-time to provide care for their children. Robert, now retired, worked for many years at Securian Financial. He often worked long overnight and weekend shifts, and with Michelle also working full-time, their oldest son, DeVaughn, began caring for his siblings at a young age. “He was really a big help,” says Robert. “He really stepped in and filled in at a young age, probably at 12, so he grew up quite young.”

Now 22, DeVaughn still helps care for his siblings alongside his parents and care staff the family has hired. However, in recent years, finding care assistance has been difficult for the family, especially for Roberta whose care needs are more significant. “It’s next to impossible,” Robert proclaims. Even when they hear from people interested in being a personal care assistant for Roberta, they are often not able to accommodate Roberta’s needs and communication style. “As a care provider, you really got to be able to read and know her,” says Robert.

A photo of Roberta. She is wearing a red shirt.Roberta is currently enrolled in a transition program through Focus Beyond. “[We want Roberta to] get used to going to different places,” says Michelle. “They really work with her a lot at Focus Beyond to get her out in the community,” adds Robert. In a couple of years, Roberta will transition from Focus Beyond, and Robert and Michelle hope that Roberta can attend a day program so she can still have opportunities to access the community and make connections outside of their family. “Roberta needs a break from us too!” says Robert.

Since 2017, Lifeworks has partnered with the Murphy family to enable greater efficiency of Roberta and Wyatt’s Consumer Directed Community Support (CDCS) budgets. Following a recommendation from their Ramsey County case manager, the family connected with Lifeworks and have been happy with the services ever since.

“It’s been smooth sailing!” says Robert. “They’re very good at communicating, returning calls and emails, and with any questions working with our support planners.” The Murphys have worked with a few service coordinators over the years at Lifeworks and have been grateful for their expertise in managing their budgets. The extra knowledge that Lifeworks gives the Murphys has allowed them to make changes to their budget “on the fly” and purchase the things the family needs, like a bicycle for Wyatt.

Photo of Wyatt wearing a Super Mario shirt and smilingWyatt is wrapping up his senior year at the Twin Cities Academy. Robert recalls his first weeks at the school were challenging: “We were sending him to a new school with a whole new special education team and [with] distance learning.” The Murphys were pleased with how well the staff at the school managed the changes Wyatt was experiencing. “His paras and special ed team have been absolutely fantastic. They keep a close eye on him.”

After he attends his last prom, which he is excited for, and walks across the stage at graduation, he will look ahead to what’s next. Like his sister, he will also enroll at Focus Beyond and will be looking for opportunities outside of school. “We will be working on getting him into some work,” says Robert. “I know [Lifeworks does] work within businesses, so maybe we would find employment for Wyatt.”

Wyatt also wants to continue being active in the community after he graduates. Over the past year, he has started participating in activities through the Highland Friendship Club. “I got to go to the Franconia Sculpture Park,” Wyatt said about a recent trip. He was also able to meet former Minnesota Twins player Joe Mauer.

“As time goes on, we will get him more into the program,” says Robert. “All of their activities are phenomenal. There’s something for everyone there!” Wyatt also loves to go bowling and often plays with his dad. “We’ve been looking at getting him involved with the Roseville chapter of the Special Olympics,” says Robert. He added that Wyatt nearly scored a perfect game in a recent outing together.

The Murphys are in a good spot with access to an education that meets their needs and community participation. “We’ve talked about moving in the past, but we have so much here that we don’t want to give up for [our children],” says Robert. “Everything’s right here, and we’re comfortable.”

Even after many years of raising their children, the Murphys admit that they don’t know everything when it comes to raising children with autism. “We’re still learning every day,” says Robert. “There is no manual. We figure it out day by day,” adds Michelle. They are thankful for the support they receive from organizations like Lifeworks so that Roberta and Wyatt can thrive: “It’s been a really good thing for us. We’ve been very lucky.”

We’re still learning every day.