Military duty often requires the service member to be away from home for periods ranging from 24-hour duty assignments to temporary assignments of weeks to months for training or duty, and to extended deployments for training or combat operations. Although the immediate impact of such absences on your child with autism may vary from almost calamitous to barely noticeable, you can do some things to help mitigate the effect, including:
- Create a “Countdown Calendar” with your son or daughter to mark the days until one parent or the other is to be deployed. Although not always possible, include subsequent dates on the calendar for emails, phone calls, and the eventual return. Reverse the process when a parent deploys and create a “Homecoming Calendar” to mark the time until the deployed parent returns.
- Create a series of short videos of the soon-to-be deployed parent and show them to your child on a regular basis.
- To the extent possible, work with your son or daughter with autism to take advantage of electronic media (such as e-mail or Skype®) to stay in touch with his or her deployed parent.
- Encourage siblings, extended family members or even neighbors too, at times, fill in for the deployed parent (e.g., during a trip to the doctor.)
Independent of the impact on the child with autism, the impact of deployment on the parent who remains behind is significant. Some recommendations for how you, as the stay-at-home parent, can best deal with the challenges of deployment include:
- If you know a deployment is pending, plan ahead. Determine what additional help, specifically, you are going to need and prioritize your needs. For example, even though it may be quite helpful to have someone assist in getting everyone ready for the school in the morning, it might be more important to have someone to help out after school when you are making dinner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. See if your child’s school has an after-school program he or she can attend. Recruit volunteers from your community of faith, extended family, and neighbors to help out when you most need it.
- Learn to accept the simple fact that despite all your best efforts, there will be days that are, to be generous, less than perfect. If it is the result of a problem that can be fixed, do so and move on. If you find yourself having to modify your personal standards of success (e.g. accepting that getting into a battle on the use of a specific “sippy cup” may not be the best use of your time) then do so and move on. All that can be expected of you is your best effort and on days when that simply does not seem to be enough, do what you can and move on. Tomorrow is always another day.
- Network with other parents both inside and outside of the military. Other parents are often great sources of ideas and strategies to make each day go as smoothly as possible.
- Although it is a cliché, you will need to find some time for yourself to take care of yourself. Whether it is regular exercise, reading for pleasure, meditation, carpentry, or anything you prefer, the more you can work the activity into your daily or weekly schedule, the better you will be able to deal with stressors associated with a pending or current deployment.
- Offer the Military Kids Connect website to your child to help them cope with feelings of separation and anxiety. It is a website designed for children ages 6-18 and uses humor, empathy, testimonials, and visuals to address challenges caused by deployment. Learn More.