To the Military Spouse Whose Child Has Just Been Diagnosed With Autism
In January of 2012, after a few months of testing, our middle son was diagnosed with Autism. At the time he was given the diagnosis of Asperger’s which they have since stopped doing. If he were diagnosed today, he would have gotten the “high-functioning Autism” diagnosis.
That day we found out what was going on with our son, and how we could help him. My biggest fear when we started the testing and doctor’s appointments was that they would come back and say they couldn’t see anything was wrong. Why? Because I knew something clearly was and I knew getting that diagnosis would help us understand how we could help our son.
At that time in our lives, we were not a stranger to special needs kids.
Our oldest son had been diagnosed with a developmental delay when he was three. We knew about speech and OT and special needs preschool. We were also pretty confident that our son would grow out of his delay, which he has. Autism is a different story.
You don’t grow out of Autism. Autism is something you have for your entire life. But that doesn’t mean that a person diagnosed with Autism can’t learn and grow as a person either. It simply means that Autism will be something they work through for the rest of their lives.
We started ABA with our son right away, and that helped us be able to navigate through our son’s behaviors, set him up for school, and allowed us to get that extra help and support we needed to figure out this new normal for our lives.
Right now our son is 11 and will be starting middle school next fall. This completely freaks me out. I am not sure how things are going to go. We have an excellent team at the elementary school, many of them have worked with our son since he was five years old and started kindergarten. We already have a meeting scheduled at the middle school this spring, and I just have to have faith that everything will work out for him.
As I look back on the last six years or so, I can’t help but think about all we have been through.
And while we were working with our son, figuring out what is best for him, working with ABA and the schools, we were living this crazy military life too. My husband deployed again in 2013, and I think part of the reason that deployed shook me so much was that I knew I would be the solo parent carrying for my son, as well as his brothers. At the time, he was struggling a lot with school, and it was hard enough when my husband was home. This is just one of the many challenges a military spouse is going to have when they have a spouse in the military.
So, to the military spouse whose child has just been diagnosed with autism, I know how scared you might be. For months, maybe even years you may have been wondering what is going on with your son or daughter. You may have had to fight for your doctor to even take you seriously. You might feel lost not knowing how to truly help your child.
And once you receive that diagnosis, you might be worried about how things are going to go in the future.
Everything you thought about parenting a child has been turned on its head. You thought you were getting on a plane to “Italy” and now you are in “Holland” and not sure how to make everything work. This is normal.
Don’t beat yourself up if it takes you or your spouse some time to fully accept the diagnosis. No one walks out of that doctor’s appointment knowing exactly what to do or what the diagnosis even means. That takes some time.
Before your child was diagnosed with autism, you might not have ever heard of the term EFMP (The Exceptional Family Member Program,) but now, that term is going to be a big part of your life when your spouse is in the military. EFMP is the program that is supposed to help your child get the services they need during your time in the military.
EFMP will make sure that you don’t get stationed somewhere without services for children with Autism.
While this can be a bit frustrating at times, especially when it comes to your spouse’s career in the military, EFMP is something you need to keep updated. Any military family who gets orders for an OCONUS location will also have to go through the EFMP screening too.
As you start to become more comfortable with Autism, you will start to notice something. One child with Autism is one child with Autism. It is called the Autism spectrum for a reason. Not everyone with that diagnosis is the same.
While there are traits that kids on the spectrum share, each kid on the spectrum can be different. My son had no issues with speech. While his older brother struggled, that wasn’t one of the things I worried about with him when he was a toddler and young preschooler.
As you tell people about the diagnosis, you might get some interesting responses.
From people who are trying to help to people who are very uneducated about what having a child on the spectrum means. At some point, you might start to feel like everyone has an opinion about what you should do for your child. But here is the thing, you are the parent, you are the one that decides.
You are the one that has to make the choices. You are the one that lives with your son or daughter and any choice you have to make. So don’t be afraid to ignore lousy advice or to tell people you are doing what you think is best even though it is different from what they would do if they were in your shoes.
Find supportive friends and spend more time with them.
Over the years we have had friends that have opened my son and our family into their lives and understand that he struggles with certain things other kids don’t. During deployments, these friends were even more important. I didn’t have another parent in the house to help; their kindness helped me through those times when I didn’t think I could do it anymore.
As a military spouse, you know that sometimes your service member will have to deploy or be away from you for weeks or months at a time. A diagnosis of Autism isn’t going to keep them home. I know how hard this can be and how overwhelmed you can feel.
Look for help. Look for respite. Find good child care providers that can help you.
Go to a church that gets it and wants to help instead of one that simply wants to shame your child. Reach out to family members who may be willing to stay with you for a while. Know that reaching out for extra help isn’t a weakness and will be your best bet in getting through all of this.
Know that you are not the only one with a special needs child in the military. There are so many of us out there, and we all want the same thing. We want to help our children, we want the best for them, and we want to figure out how to do all of that within the military system.
Here are some additional resources to help you as you navigate autism within your military world as well as a few military spouse bloggers that also have kids on the Autism spectrum:
Military Special Needs Network
Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Military Families
Do you have a child with autism too?