April is World Autism Month and it is also Month of the Military Child. This year is my first “official” year with direct ties to both of these. My oldest has, of course, always been autistic but we just received an official diagnosis for him about two months ago. I decided to write this post to highlight some key points that overlap these two movements. I have stressed on my IG that I want to push for autism acceptance over awareness and that is still true. However, I am realizing that there is still some awareness that needs to be advocated for when it comes to military children who are also autistic.
My son is 6-years-old and he has already had four pediatricians simply because of how often we move around. Military children suffer from a lack of continuity of care. Since my son has not had a consistent doctor, he has not had a medical professional that has been able to truly see his development history in real-time, rather they read about it on a paper. I have to wonder, had he been with one doctor from birth till now, if it would have taken six years for him to get his autism diagnosis. I had to fight and push and advocate like crazy to get him services and, ultimately, an evaluation. I would do it again in a heartbeat but I truly think that if one doctor had been observing and tracking his development and quirks this whole time it would have been different.
Our frequent moves interfere with his life in other ways too. We have created a great relationship with his current occupational and physical therapists. He is comfortable with them, they know how to push him, and he knows his routine with them. Yet, in just over one year, we will be moving again. This means that I will need to find him a new therapy facility with a new team, new routine, new everything for him. They will be starting at their own square-one with him which will most likely result in some lost progress and regressions for him. To top it all off, I cannot even begin a preliminary search for months since we will not know where we are moving until 6-months out at the earliest, usually it is closer to 3-months.
Right now, I am fighting against one of the biggest hardships that military families face—school zones. I will say that, in my opinion, the option of “school choice” should be extended to all military families; however, those with special needs children absolutely deserve this. When my husband is given new orders, the government moves us to another state and we are placed in base-housing. I am grateful for the option of military housing because my family could not afford to rent or buy with each move. But, because we are forced to move around and cannot choose a house based on school zones, I firmly believe that we should be granted the option to enroll our children into another district. I will say again, I think this should apply to all military children, but special needs children deserve to go to a school that has the best resources available to them. I realize that trying to get your child into the best school is not a desire that is unique to the military community. But, again, our choice of where we live is not our own. This fact alone should give us some leverage and pull when it comes to educating our children. These kids were born into the military lifestyle and had no choice or say in any of this. We need to fight harder for them, we need to do better, they are the pint-sized heroes of the military and we owe them more.