TRICARE beneficiaries

Military life with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Military life with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can present unique challenges when dealing with relocation, deployment, or separation. Awareness of these experiences can help families prepare for the many changes to come.

Overview

Change is a very common and even expected part of military life. Deployments and relocations are some of the unique changes that many service members and their families face. Other, more common changes are those that happen naturally as people develop and grow older.

Adjusting to change can be hard for everyone, but especially for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families. People with ASD generally like to keep things the same - any changes to their schedule or routine can cause difficulties. Knowing about common changes can help families prepare for these events. A good plan and the right resources can help families with challenges and supports a successful transition.

Select an option below to learn more about types of transitions, what to expect, and how to prepare.


Deployment

Deployment has three parts: pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment. Each part of a deployment can mean major changes in a family’s day-to-day living. And each part has its own special concerns. Understanding what happens during deployment can help families and active duty members prepare for the changes ahead.


Pre-deployment

Pre-deployment starts when service members get their deployment orders and goes until the day of deployment. And pre-deployment can change with little notice. Several things happen before deployment. Active Duty Service Members (ADSM) generally spends long hours getting ready and going through training. Plus, they must complete pre-deployment tasks, things like getting paperwork together, setting up childcare, moving family members, and much more.


During deployment

During deployment, military families can have things come up at home that make it hard to get used to the new way of living. For example, friends and family may live far away and the family may be worried about the ADSM’s safety. The spouse or caregiver at home may find it hard to deal with new tasks or chores they must handle.


Post-deployment

Homecoming may be an exciting time. But, like other life changes, homecoming can upset the family’s routine. The ADSM’s return can change any new bonds the family formed during the deployment. And homecoming doesn’t mean life will be the same as before. Families normally must make a number of changes when their loved ones return from deployment.


Deployment resources and tools

While not all factors of deployment are within your control, there are many that are. Learn more about pre-deployment preparations


Relocation

For Active Duty Family Members (ADFMs), relocations happen frequently. Each permanent change of station (PCS) comes with challenges, especially for families impacted by ASD.

Academic, social, emotional, and behavioral challenges associated with PCS include:

  • Separation from family and friends
  • Disruption of established educational and medical support and service
  • Loss of familiar surroundings and routines

Relocation resources and tools

While not all factors of relocation are within your control, there are many that are. Learn more about how to prepare for the relocations by choosing from the resources below.


Development

ASD affects how people grow and develop. Because it is a lifelong condition, families face different challenges as their loved one gets older. Like other transitions, planning and preparation can help support the process. Continue reading to learn about some of the common developmental transitions.


Early childhood and school-aged transitions

People change a lot between the time they are born and their 18th birthday. Physical and emotional development prepares children to make friends, spend time away from caregivers, take part in school, play sports, develop new skills, and also to learn about themselves and others. Choose from the resources below to learn more.


Adulthood

The transition to adulthood can be exciting yet also stressful. Some of the developmental challenges that beneficiaries with ASD and their families may face have to do with changes to physical and emotional needs as well as the access and availability of care. Learn more from the resources below (from the Center for Parent Information and Resources):


Transition toolkit

Caregivers can learn a lot by how their loved ones react to change. Because people with ASD may not know how to say how they feel, they may act out their feelings instead. Negative reactions like the following are common:

  • Acting like they did when they were younger (thumb sucking)
  • Hanging on to parents or caregivers
  • Having trouble sleeping or staying asleep
  • Showing aggressive or disruptive behaviors
  • Having crying fits

These behaviors may indicate that your loved one does not know or understand what is happening and that they need your help. Caregivers can use this information to adjust their current approach and also to plan ahead ones for changes. Knowing what situations cause people with ASD the most stress and then taking steps to avoid or prepare for these encounters helps both individuals and their families.

Here are some more tips that can help:


Pre-transition strategies

Families should try to be proactive and plan ahead for transitions. Planning and preparing can help decrease uncertainty and stress. Also, families should practice caution when sharing the news about transitions. Below are tips that can help.

  • Set aside time to talk about the transition before it occurs. Discuss their concerns and come up with strategies to help them with their feelings. Try to come up with some positive things about the transition (moving closer to family).
  • Create a Social Story™ to help explain the transition and how life will change. Social stories can also help teach them the appropriate way to express feelings. Create stories by using events, places, pictures, and words that are understandable. They should be the main character. Review the story often to help ease anxiety and stress.
  • Make a memory book, calendar, or schedule to plan the transition. Include any associated events, positive thoughts, and actions. Use visuals as much as possible to help them understand the order of events. For example, create a line of pictures, objects, or words that show each major transition. The visual display helps them to determine what will happen next.
  • Paint or draw pictures that represent feelings about the transition. Also include any ideas for how to make things better.
  • Read success stories about those who went through similar transitions. Use picture books when available.


During transition strategies

  • Supporting their activities and routines. Maintaining a predictable, structured schedule with clear rules, expectations, and consequences supports consistency.
  • Responding to events in a calm and caring manner. And answering questions in simple, direct terms.
  • Listening to their needs and validating their feelings. Also, helping them to think realistically about situations.
  • Accepting their feelings, even if you do not accept their behavior. Show patience and help them learn how to use their words.
  • Trying to look at things from their perspective. Take the time to listen and ask questions.

NOTE: It is important to consider age, personality, learning style strengths, and needs when choosing transition strategies.

 

Resources