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Taking a New Look at Autism this Memorial Day

With Memorial Day just around the corner, it’s that time of the year when we take a day out of our schedules to celebrate those service members who have given their lives and dedication to serving and protecting our country. However, on this Memorial Day, we’re going to take a look at a minority within the armed services to better understand the unique and exceptional challenges that soldiers with autism face in serving their county.

Within the military itself, figures indicate that over 23,000 military members and their dependents, the vast majority of them being children, have been diagnosed with some form of autism. When you break the numbers down even further, it turns out that 1 in 67 military dependent children are diagnosed with autism—a rate that is extremely close to the rate for the civilian population—in addition to the many soldiers who are currently enlisted who have either already been diagnosed with autism or are likely to be diagnosed in the future due to their symptoms not being previously associated with autism.

So what resources are out there for service members and their families to receive the support they need? Autism Speaks has a particularly useful database of Military-Specific Resources, which can be viewed here. This resource is constantly evolving as new and additional information is gained and people are encourage to submit to the site their comments, recommendations, and information on community resources.

In addition to Autism Speaks resource center, there is another organization that deserves to be highlighted here for going above and beyond in their efforts to help soldiers and their families successfully manage autism. Service members’ families not only have to deal with the stress of having a child diagnosed with autism—studies have shown that mothers caring for a child with autism have stress levels on par with combat soldiers—but also the realities of military service, such as war, extended family separation, frequent moves, and much else.

To help service members to guide these tricky and often choppy waters, the foundation Operation Autism has written an ebook designed to give families the tools and access to information that they need when navigating the life journey through autism. You can download a free copy of the book here.

Finally, let’s look at the courage of one military family that stood up and made their voices heard regarding the financial obstacles they face raising a family member with autism. Tricare is the Pentagon’s healthcare program and in the past, has only allowed for $36,000 in annual benefits, which restricts autism treatment to only 6 hours a week when the American Pediatrics Association recommends 40 hours. Furthermore, as treating autism tends to cost tends of thousands of dollars, $36,000 does not leave much, if any, left for the treatment of other conditions.

To remedy this issue, an army wife and mother worked with Rep. John Larson to pass a bill through the U.S House of Representatives that would remove the annual cap on behavioral health treatments for dependents of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps members and retirees. It then passed through the senate before President Obama signed a one-year pilot program into legislation, relieving military families of the crushing financial responsibilities related to behavioral health.

While each of the above example provides a different service, it’s important to keep in mind that service members with autism or family members with autism are a section of the community that not only needs more attention and awareness, but also deserve to be celebrated for their courage and tenacity on this Memorial Day and year-round.