Autistic Children in Military Families

Ella Rain
Soldier and son

Autistic children in military families face many challenges and two major concerns are consistency and care. While some programs are trying to help, some families are still struggling to get the help they need for their children.

Autistic Children in Military Families

Children in military families have different experiences than typical children do. Moving from one region to another can pose challenges in social settings for kids, whether on the spectrum or not. The changes in setting can lead to significant problems for children with autism spectrum disorders.

Setting Challenges

While it is important to encourage autistic children to tolerate changes in routine, consistency is a critical aspect of treatment for pervasive developmental disorders. Services should be uniform in order to be effective and repetition is an important part of the process. If a child with autism is consistently moved from one place to another, he faces challenges in therapy, as different organizations take over the treatment plan.

New school settings can be very difficult to tolerate as well. Once a routine has been established, therapists and educators often introduce transitions and changes in routine in a systematic approach to help the child tolerate changes. However, when the child is moved to a new school with a significantly different routine, it isn't likely that he will be able to tolerate the new routine and setting with ease.

Moving can be challenging for any child and kids with autism may become overwhelmed when faced with a new home environment. Preparing for transitions from one place to another may require additional support from the child's treatment team. Government programs are designed to help, even if in the developing stages.

TRICARE, ECHO and Autism

TRICARE is a part of the Military Health System that provides benefits for the Department of Defense. The organization has over 9 million beneficiaries, according to its website. TRICARE offers an Extended Care Health Option program called ECHO for families affected by autism spectrum disorders. The Autism Demonstration Project allows families to participate in an enhanced program.

Enhanced Access to Autism Services Demonstration

In addition to the basic services offered through ECHO, the Enhanced Access to Autism Services Demonstration is an effort to help families to reimbursement for applied behavioral analysis (ABA). Interested ECHO recipients should talk to their case managers for more information about the project.

Parental Challenges

Parents of autistic children in military families may become frustrated because of the lack of adequate services for their kids. Karen Driscoll, in her article Autism and its Impact on Military Families, discusses challenges that prevent children in military families from receiving the treatment that they need. She notes the following conditions that are problematic for caretakers and their children, among others.

  • Eligibility criteria are cumbersome. Anyone who has gotten a diagnosis for their child followed by the mounds of paperwork and testing required for services can attest that the process is exhaustive. She proposes that a diagnosis of ASD and a prescription for interventions should be enough for a child to receive services.
  • Autism services should be a part of TRICARE's Basic Program as treatment is a medical necessity for the neurological disorders. Therapies can help the child improve while preventing mental and physical harm in the process. Insurance providers should cover the child's entire treatment team.
  • The number of service hours a child receives each week should be determined by the child's needs and doctor recommendations rather than the amount of money allotted to the program.
  • DoD Autism Centers of Excellence need to be expanded to ensure the child receives services consistently. Continuity of care is essential to a child's success and this may be lacking in programs for military families with autistic children. She notes that DoD is not effective stating, "no children are receiving services through this program."

Karen Driscoll presents sample legislation in her presentation as a proposal in the article.

Coverage for Autism Services

Getting insurance coverage for a child with autism can be difficult, especially for military families. The urgency for consistent care is great and children on the spectrum can't afford delays in treatment. With continued efforts between families, the government and the military, a revised system may be put into place. Until then, it is important that parents learn as much as they can about autism treatments that they can do themselves.

Autistic Children in Military Families