Voices of Autism: The Challenges of a Military Family

Every day throughout April–Autism Awareness Month–we will be featuring a different reader-submitted story about living with autism. Today’s story was written by Nashota L. Jackson, mother of Carter, 4, and author of the blog The Magical Wonder of You:

JacksonOur family is just like yours. We just have unique challenges. I am a former Army soldier that married my sweetheart, an active duty Marine. We have two beautiful children, a 4 1/2-year-old son named Carter and a 2 1/2-year-old daughter named Lauralai. On top of raising our family and supporting our country, my husband and I are both full time students.

Any free time we have is spent advocating for Carter’s care. Many people don’t know that military families face different challenges when it comes to dealing with autism. We move every three years. That means every three years we are readjusting to a new home, a new school, new doctors, new therapists, and many other new things.

You might have heard that autism rates are now 1 in 110. What you probably haven’t heard is that in the military it’s 1 in 88 and growing. There is support out there for everyone, but sometimes it can seem difficult to find when your support system changes frequently.

When Carter was diagnosed we made the difficult decision to leave our friends and family back East and ask for a duty assignment thousands of miles away in California. We researched where the best specialists were for Carter’s specific needs and then fought to get there.

Both of our children are the light of our life and we couldn’t imagine them being any different, but often times we struggle with making sure that they know that. Carter may be the one with the diagnosis, but it affects our whole family. As parents, we try to make sure they don’t know if we are stressed about insurance coverage, school meetings, and wondering what the future holds. Lauralai only knows her brother as Carter, not as a little boy with a disability, and that’s the way it should be. But we have to take extra steps to make sure she is around typical children her age so she learns the appropriate behaviors.

Autism is something that summons your inner fight. It cannot be left untreated; there is no time to rest on your laurels. Since the severity of the diagnosis is based on the gap between your child and typical peers, as everyone gets older the gap will widen if you are not fighting to close it. The typical mommy guilt we all feel is magnified when you have a special needs child. Instead of putting yourself last, you want to cross yourself off the list. Moms need to remember that their children, typical or otherwise, need a happy, healthy, mommy to fight their battles and enjoy their triumphs. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help or vent your frustrations. You can do this, and you are not alone.

To read previous stories in this series, click here. For instructions on how to submit your story, click here.

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  1. by Alysia

    On April 23, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, and thank you for your service and sacrifice for our country. Military families need to be recognized for the special challenges that they face, and need the support of all of us. I’m glad you chose this forum to spread understanding and awareness here.

  2. by Spectrummy Mummy

    On April 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Oh, I know how hard this is. Being without close family for support, uprooting your family, and trying to find new services are challenges for any family, for a spectrum family it is even worse. Thank you for your service and the sacrifices your family makes. Thank you also for sharing your story so that others might recognize your challenges.

  3. by Sue

    On April 23, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    My child has never had to move, so I can only imagine how hard it must be for your child. However, I have lived far away from my family for years so this I do get. My daughter’s trouble with transitions prevented me from traveling to see my family as often as I would have liked so I do understand some of the difficulties you face. God Bless you and your family! I appreciate the sacrifices you make for our country.