Autism Resources for Military Families
One out of every 88 military children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – also known simply as autism – a group of complex brain development disorders characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. The most obvious signs and symptoms of autism typically emerge around age 2 or 3, and, unfortunately, the number of diagnosed autism cases is steadily increasing in the U.S. Autism often is associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination, and attention and physical health issues (like sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances), although some children with autism also exhibit exceptional skills in music, math, and art.
Military life can present some real challenges for families living with autism. Changes in routines and locations – so common in the numerous transitions that military families encounter on a regular basis – can add stress and result in negative responses from the child. One parent may be deployed for an extended period of time, perhaps even to a dangerous conflict zone, leaving the remaining parent at home to handle the challenges and struggles of autism, along with the regular routine of the rest of the household.
And while therapies and treatment have been shown to improve the quality of life for a child with autism, finding and accessing those types of resources can be difficult, as military families often operate on a limited military income (autism treatments are covered by military insurance but with limits) and must navigate a new system of contacts, doctors, and resources with each PCS and new base.
Several organizations have been established to assist military families dealing with autism, in hopes that life can be made easier, more enjoyable, and less disrupted by the diagnosis. By promoting awareness to the disorder, representing families dealing with autism in the U.S. legislative process, and even providing funds to help pay for treatment, these groups are working hard to help military families.
ACT Today! – Autism Care and Treatment for Military Families
ACT Today! Is a national, non-profit organization that works to improve awareness of effective autism services, as well as provide financial assistance to military families to help defray out-of-pocket costs associated with autism treatments and programs. It awards quarterly grants to eligible families, ranging between $100-$5,000, and also maintains an “SOS” program to help individuals in immediate need that cannot wait 12 weeks for a response. ACT Today! also recently partnered with the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) to create a free guide for military families that includes basic education on the disorder, as well as military-specific info like an overview of the DOD and service policies regarding autism, tips on handling a PCS, and working within the military healthcare system. The organization supports volunteers who want to create local awareness and fundraising campaigns, and also hosts numerous fundraising events like races and film festivals.
Operation Autism – A Resource Guide for Military Families
Operation Autism is a web-based resource that is a shared product of the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) and the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation. The extensive site provides quality, evidence-based information on autism, including an in-depth “Autism 101” section covering basics about the disorder, what to expect with diagnosis, and how to begin to improve your child’s quality of life. The site also helps identify sources of treatment on- and off-base, informs parents about their children’s educational rights, and offers tips on dealing with some of the unique challenges that military life poses for children with autism and their families.
Additional Military-Specific Resources
Many of the leading autism researchers and advocates believe that autism is truly treatable and are working tirelessly to find the most effective treatments to improve quality of life for all individuals diagnosed with the disorder. In the meantime, becoming aware of and accessing these tools available to help military families in their specific and unique challenges can reduce the impact of autism and make life better for the entire family.
Written by Megan Hammons