April is National Autism Awareness and Acceptance month! In honor of this, we want to share some good news coming out of the research world about military families with a child on the Autism spectrum, offer some additional tips and resources that might benefit these families, and suggest different ways you can celebrate National Autism Awareness and Acceptance month.
Let’s start with some validation.
Amidst the common experiences that military families share, sometimes their unique challenges are talked about less often. If you are a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum, your experiences of military life are probably different than families with neurotypical children. All the transitions that come with saying goodbye to deploying Service members and welcoming them back home - they’re challenging for any family and can be particularly stressful if your child has a strong need for consistency and routine. Helping a child get adjusted to a new school or neighborhood is a lot of work for any parent and can be even more demanding if your child requires additional services. We see you and appreciate the hard work you put into keeping your family moving along through life!
Now let us share some good news from the research!
Military Spouse Online Autism Relocation Readiness (MilSOARR) is a program designed to help military families with a child on the Autism spectrum provide long distance mentorship to their peers in similar circumstances. Research has showed that a short 1-2 hour training can help families increase their knowledge of how to use supportive communication when mentoring.
- If you have the capacity, consider completing this type of training through a program like MilSOARR to support fellow military families with a child on the Autism spectrum.
- If you are a parent looking for support from peers, check out suggestions from Operation Autism, which places an emphasis on accessing local support or distance mentoring programs as they become more widespread, like MilSOARR.
Project SEARCH and ASD Supports recently partnered to execute a program that helps young adults in military families who are on the Autism spectrum find community internships and on-the-job training. This specialized program is novel because it utilizes the tools from applied behavior analysis to prepare participants for future work environments and to be successful in their positions. In a pilot study of this specialized program, five out of the six young adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who completed the program obtained employment offers! Of these, four were offered competitive employment (where they were paid minimum wage or higher) in an integrated environment (where they interacted with other employees regularly, rather than being isolated). Of the individuals who did not complete the program, who were part of a comparison group, only one out of eight obtained employment.Takeaways:
- If you have a child on the Autism spectrum approaching working age, consider researching if Project SEARCH is offering any employment preparation and support programs near you, especially services for those on the Autism spectrum.
- You may also consider contacting your local Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) office. This federal and state funded agency helps those with disabilities obtain employment. Depending on the size of the agency in your local area, your VR office may offer programs that are focused on the school-to-work transition for youth, including internships or job training. Keep in mind that the application to join VR can take more than a month, so you’ll need to plan ahead accordingly.
Helpful resources for you
If you are a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum, here are some resources that are specifically helpful for those navigating military life:
- The Exceptional Family Member Program can help you ensure that your family is able to access appropriate local services, wherever you are stationed.
- The Resource Guide provided by Operation Autism has information about first steps to take after your child has been diagnosed, and the types of medical and educational services available, and how they interact with military structures, such as Tricare.
- This resource list from Operation We are Here has some great ideas about recreational opportunities (e.g., adventure or fishing camps) and services (e.g., sensory vests, equine therapies) that might be a good fit for your child.
Celebrate National Autism Awareness and Acceptance month!
If you have a family member on the Autism spectrum, April is a unique opportunity to celebrate differences and spread awareness. Here are some suggestions about how to be involved in National Autism Awareness and Acceptance month: 1) spreading awareness, 2) building community & connections, 3) financially supporting Autism-focused organizations, and 4) advocating for the needs of families with a member on the Autism spectrum.
Spread awareness to help build communities that truly celebrate diversity. Remember, “Knowledge is power,
and understanding leads to inclusion.”
- Use the FREE digital resources from the American Autism Society to share high quality information about Autism on your social media accounts or in other physical spaces (classrooms, offices). Remember to use #celebratedifferences in your social media posts!
- On April 2nd, wear blue or light up the exterior of a building with blue light to show support for members of the Autism community and spread awareness.
- Build a community with other families who have a child on the Autism spectrum so you and others can mutually benefit from social support! Try getting involved with local chapters of organizations (e.g., American Autism Society, Autism Speaks) by attending events. Note that some events may be temporarily digital due to COVID safety precautions.
Support Autism-focused organizations that provide information and resources (e.g., services, funding) to help individuals on
the Autism spectrum reach their full potential.
- Fundraise in your community, on your social media, or in your place of employment to both raise awareness and finances to keep Autism-focused organizations working toward their vital missions.
- Purchase apparel and accessories from Autism Speaks to both spread awareness and support the organization.
- Advocate for the needs of families with a member on the Autism spectrum by being aware of news and policies that affect individuals with disabilities or becoming a formal Advocacy Ambassador.
Being both a member of a military family and a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum are demanding jobs, but with some helpful resources and moments of celebration, we hope you continue to find the strength to overcome your challenges each day.