HomeNewsDisplay

News Search

Air Force offers hope for families of children with autism

Raising a child with autism is a challenge for any family, especially for military families. The Air Force offers programs to help families cope with the frequent moves, deployments and other disruptions of military life, and therapies that can bring hope to parents that their child will reach their full potential. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Josh Mahler)

Raising a child with autism is a challenge for any family, especially for military families. The Air Force offers programs to help families cope with the frequent moves, deployments and other disruptions of military life, and therapies that can bring hope to parents that their child will reach their full potential. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Josh Mahler)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- Raising a child with autism is always a challenge, especially in the military. The Air Force offers many resources to help families face these challenges, and hope that children with autism can reach their full potential.

As many as one in 68 children born in the U.S. have autism spectrum disorder. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the nervous system and impairs the ability to interact and communicate with others. Symptoms vary depending on the case, and it usually begins in early childhood.

There is no cure for autism. However, the right therapy can improve the long-term communication, behavioral and education effects of autism, says Lt. Col. Jason Gerber, the developmental pediatrics consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General.

“For many years, there was little effective therapy for children with autism. Parents cared for their children as best they could,” said Gerber. “It used to be that an autism diagnose was a devastating discussion for me to have with a parent. It is still a life-changing diagnosis for the family, but now we can offer them hope of improved communication, social skills, and behavior.”

Several evidence-based therapies are available to help children with autism, notably Applied Behavior Analysis. ABA treatment for autistic children is intensive, one-on-one therapy that seeks to improve the child’s behavior by manipulating their environment. The therapy is highly adaptable, with each child getting an individualized treatment plan.

“The best treatment for children with autism is a multidisciplinary approach,” said Gerber. That includes occupational therapy to work on adaptive and sensory processing skills, speech therapy to work on communication skills, intensive behavior therapy like ABA, and educational interventions through the local school system.”

Because of the comprehensive nature of these interventions, Air Force military treatment facilities refer patients with Autism to the TRICARE network for treatment. In particular, ABA therapy is available through TRICARE’s Comprehensive Autism Care Demonstration.

“The Military Health System has been a trendsetter in evidence-based treatment of autism,” Lt. Col. Eric Flake, an Air Force developmental pediatrician stationed at Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington. “The medical benefit for children with autism is one of best in the country. It continues to support new innovations to help families who have children with autism.”

This ongoing assessment of the program is critical, because military families with an autistic child face many additional challenges.

“Life in the military amplifies many of the challenges of parenthood,” said Gerber. “This is doubly true for families with an autistic child. The biggest issues are probably the frequency of moves and the added stress when a parent deploys.”

Moves uproot families. The need to seek out a new support system, establish new relationships with doctors and therapists, and navigate all the complexities of resuming therapy and coverage.

“It can take months or even years for a family to reestablish a good rhythm of treatment for autistic children,” Flake. “There is a great deal of variability in local community support services.”

Families with autistic children should contact the Exceptional Family Member Program at their base to begin to get help with these services.

“Family resource coordinators are important for families with an autistic child,” said Flake. “They help identify resources and provide case management services. These are critical in the handoff from one MTF to another, helping to mitigate the effects of transitions when families move.”

Flake and Gerber both encouraged parents to connect with local resources as well. Schools, public resource centers, and support groups can all help families adjust to new circumstances.

“A big part of my job is teaching parents to be effective advocates for their child,” said Gerber. “We empower them with the skills to research and network to find the services to support their child.

“One of the most rewarding parts of my job is helping parents see the potential in their children. When they see all the great things their kids can do, and enjoy doing those things together, we know that the interventions and resources have made a real difference in their lives. When Airmen know their family is taken care of, it improves their ability to complete the mission.”

Air Force Medicine

Engage

Facebook Twitter
Readiness remains our number 1 priority as the AFMS continues to reshape and modernize our medical force to meet th… https://t.co/fzIQcWq0Or
#DYK Medical personnel play a role in every space launch? For the most recent #SpaceX Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat E… https://t.co/9Lc0LcOuIv
After you quit smoking, your body goes through incredible changes which significantly impact your health and wellne… https://t.co/0PXGWHaZEP
Dental techs from the 386th Expeditionary Wing dental team had the rare opportunity to perform a dental cleaning on… https://t.co/fjr2YLYHeG
#TBT: At a medical Red Flag exercise, a civilian briefs Air Force and Marine Corps officers on a mobile hospital’s… https://t.co/9kQWf1M5I2
The frontline in modern warfare involves intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance (ISR), which presents unique s… https://t.co/21kXBFU2l0
In the wake of #HurricaneMichael, Airmen were eager to begin the rebuilding process at Tyndall Air Force Base, Flor… https://t.co/AKNzJ4ixNl
#DYK you are still at risk of dehydration when participating in cold-weather activities? Dr. Love reminisces about… https://t.co/dGuPtSgyX7
The AFMS strengthens public health capabilities of partner nations, & improves interoperability through Global Heal… https://t.co/gI4AJK0PkC
"I don’t care how severe my injury is, I want to be worldwide qualified as soon as I possibly can," said SMSgt. Dav… https://t.co/ICNRFWQIIi
RT @usairforce: #USAF medics from the 51st Medical Group joined the Center for the Sustainment of Trauma & Readiness Skills medical directo…
If you missed TRICARE Open Season, you still have time to enroll! For this year only, you can enroll in or change y… https://t.co/xS4iY14SEV
U.S. Air Force pararescuemen with the 79th Rescue Squadron aboard an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter rescued a civilian… https://t.co/wRus1dQECB
In case you missed it, one of our top articles this year highlighted Col. (Dr.) Yvonne Cagle, a Flight Surgeon turn… https://t.co/F9FOAsXOmW
SSgt Andrew Dailey modernized the USAFSAM learning experience via a new online & blended learning management system… https://t.co/Q6M6MBKRZg
Monday is the last day to enroll in a new TRICARE plan or change your current plan. The choice you make will take e… https://t.co/QReSEB71xd
In a deployed setting, mental health providers assist commanders with maintaining their Airmen’s overall health in… https://t.co/fkowyMEwlP
Only one week left to enroll in the 2019 TRICARE and Federal Benefits Open Seasons - don't delay! For more informat… https://t.co/4MwUSbAOpL
Winners from the #TrustedCare "How Do You C.A.R.E.?" contest were recognized by Lt. Gen. Dorothy Hogg, Maj. Gen. (D… https://t.co/FeDfOom0Qu
77 years later, Pearl Harbor endures as a symbol of American resilience and resolve. Today we remember our brave se… https://t.co/Lach1Btol8