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
We are constantly improving the way we deliver healthcare and enhance access to your healthcare team. Telehealth is… https://t.co/M143P2FMX2
Col. Laurel “Buff” Burkel speaks to the 105th Airlift Wing, the same group that flew her back the U.S. via a 105th… https://t.co/ln92dbDOsK
RT @MilitaryHealth: This week #AcrossTheMHS airmen exercise an Emergency Medical Technician Rodeo, Capt. Timby's granddaughter gets flower…
If you have diabetes, you are at higher risk for serious problems from vaccine-preventable diseases like flu. Check… https://t.co/Lxxe2FSu9M
“It is rare to have a family member in the same career as you. It is even rarer for active-duty family members to b… https://t.co/UbIWxJb0Xt
#TropicCare2018 was off to a smooth start when a patient, who came in for a vision screening, began to say that som… https://t.co/uFdNog8z1b
A new transition cell was recently stood-up to coordinate and support ongoing transition efforts related to the NDA… https://t.co/wxrZC0NeHB
#TBT Air Force Airman First Class Eugene L. Fletcer, a preventive dentistry specialist assigned to the 3rd USAF Dis… https://t.co/wukbDiH5TO
Don’t forget! On Aug 22 from 2-3 pm EST the Air Force Medical Service and DHA Immunization Healthcare Branch are ho… https://t.co/eJFLNo4iNx
Before any of the patients and procedures, Aeromedical Evacuation Technicians have to first configure their hospita… https://t.co/gInlDM6phH
When a military working dog injures a tooth, it’s up to a team of dentists and veterinarians to ensure their bite r… https://t.co/VwM6jMKKR0
"A traditional stethoscope is essentially useless during en route care because of the noise,” says Tamara Averett-B… https://t.co/li0Sj3UdhB
Did you know Air Force medical researchers developed the gold visors used by the #Apollo astronauts? The gold visor… https://t.co/O9Y8iQRa2p
En route to participate in the 2018 #TropicCare Innovative Readiness Training, Airmen from the Indiana & New Jersey… https://t.co/bDSAesQbA4
Adult vaccines are available in many places, including doctor's offices, health departments & pharmacies. Visit the… https://t.co/88k7jsIEq2
Congratulations to all the Emergency Medical Technician winners of this year's #EMTRodeo! This competition gives th… https://t.co/AxKpnKK3mK
There’s still time to enter our C.A.R.E. contest! Send in a video or essay explaining how you strive to reach our c… https://t.co/BoGvuwS8Rf
To protect the health of your child, their classroom, and your community, send your #MilKids back to school with th… https://t.co/9E1cuazxyI
The 87th MDG is working with AR-MEDCOM to handle the influx of over 1,000 soldiers due to Operation #ColdSteelII. T… https://t.co/edgwPlUjAS
Lt. Gen. Hogg & CMSgt. Cum visited @CannonAFB_ for the annual #EMTRodeo. “We want them to be put in a difficult pos… https://t.co/8vAk3QNqj8