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.

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.


Deployment

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 spend long hours getting ready and going through training. Plus, they must complete pre-deployment tasks, get paperwork together, set up childcare, move family members among other things. Learn more about pre-deployment preparations

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.


Relocation

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


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


Adulthood


Transition resources

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

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.
  • 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. They should be the main character. Review the story often to help ease anxiety and stress. Learn more
  • 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 and taking the time to listen and ask questions.