Military families have critical needs on their autism journey

Change management and support services are key issues

Published: May 9, 2023          by: Lisa Walenceus

For all children, routines are a very important need – routines ease anxiety and frustration, develop self-regulation skills, build self-confidence, and establish healthy habits. 

This need is easy to understand. After all, who doesn’t feel better when they know what to expect from their day?

While routine is important to all children, for a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), routines are critical and changes to routine or schedule, called transitions, must be managed with extra care. 

The world can seem like a very unpredictable place to people on the spectrum, who often have difficulty processing sensory and emotional responses. Unexpected changes to even the smallest parts of a routine can be overwhelming and this stress can lead to a variety of disruptive behaviors, including extreme distress responses called meltdowns

Nurse Dawn Brock hugs Alex the Bear.
Nurse Dawn Brock of the 436th Medical Pediatrics unit at Dover Air Force Base reaches out to families of children on the spectrum.


Currently, there are an estimated 1.2 million children in active duty military families. Based on the 2020 TRICARE report to Congress, there were an estimated 34,361 military autistic children in FY2019, including an estimated 20,735 children of active duty military families.

– Organization for Autism Research (OAR)

The realities of service to our country create unique challenges for military parents of children on the spectrum.

Military parents of children with ASD certainly face transitions with more frequency and intensity than most parents do. Serving our country means they have to deal with the possibility of war, extended separations from their families, frequent moves, changes in schools and IEP programs, continuity in therapeutic services, and a host of other stressors that can be very tough for their autistic children. 

When even simple things like haircuts, appointments with a doctor, or changes in living spaces can cause stress for kids on the spectrum, how does a military parent cope with all the “big stuff” that goes into maintaining the support network their child needs as they move from station to station?

Autism Delaware is here to help.

For military families stationed in the First State, Autism Delaware is here to help them navigate new services systems like special education or Medicaid and connect them with local resources that meet their needs.

“Family Support is a ‘quick start’ for military families stationed in Delaware who are building new networks to support their children with autism spectrum disorder,” said Dafne Carnright, Director of Family Services. “We are just an email or phone call away for families who want to be pointed in the right direction for a resource, and we can also support with parents to build the advocacy skills they need to adapt to changing needs and situations.”

In 1999, Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month, a month to honor active and retired military personnel. Autism Delaware highlights the unique concerns of military parents of children on the spectrum in appreciation for their service and sacrifice.

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