Veterans day is a day we honor the men and women who have worn the uniform to proudly serve the country. I will take this time to also give a big shout out to my husband Kolby Shields who served as a Navy bomb technician. Kolby has impressed upon me at a more personal and intimate level the sacrifice, commitment and honor among military personnel.
The military family as a whole needs to be acknowledged – the military spouse and children who stand along side with their military spouse/parent and having to also deal with the many stressors that accompany combat deployment, injury and mental health. Stephanie Yamkovenko, a staff writer from AOTA, interviewed Gregory Leskin the director of UCLA National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Military Family Initiative, a speaker in the 2012 AOTA Advanced Practice in Traumatic Injuries and PTSD Specialty Conference. Read the Interview
He highlighted eloquently how the military family as a whole serve our country in profound ways and emphasized acknowledging their role and support. As military service, stress and injury not only affects the service member but the family as a whole.
It is estimated that nearly 2 million children and youth are connected with the military and approximately 20% or more have special needs (Military-Connected Children with Special Health Care Needs and Their Families conference, 2014). Military families have immense strength, tenacity and resilience. These military families undergo deployment stresses associated with parental separation with either one or both parents being deployed, frequent moves from one base to another causing disruptions to relationships with friends and having to readjust to new communities and schools. It is estimated that an average military personnel moves every 2 to 3 years, this is three times more than an average American (Military-Connected Children with Special Health Care Needs and Their Families conference, 2014).
Change is constant for these families as they get uprooted and constantly have to be in transitions which entailes changes in schools, medical professionals and support systems. This means a parent with a child with special needs would need to relearn the system to develop a new plan of care for their child every time they move somewhere new,
In a 2014 Military-Connected Children with Special Health Care Needs and Their Families conference, the participants suggested developing communities of care, creating more education and training for service providers. During that conference it was also highlighted that military families with special needs face complex issues and are dependent with both the military and community based programs. It is imperative for us to realize that it is equally important to know the stresses the family undergoes and how to assist these families. Understanding how to support the parents of special needs children in the military is important as they experience a range of emotions such as anxiety and depression. The need for respite for the couple/ parents and workshops was addressed in the conference.
An article that caught my attention as I researched children in the military was “Traumatic Grief in Military Children – An Information for families from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Read More
I found this article which I thought would be especially helpful for parents to understand how to manage not just typical developing children but also children with special needs. It is important to understand how they express grief as we all grief in may different ways. There is no right or wrong way or timeframe to grief. It is also important to realize that not all children develop traumatic grief from the loss of someone close but some do develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Table 1 in the article is especially helpful. Understanding the underlying behavior may bring forth a better understanding and an appreciation of the grief process the child may be going through. Some of the behaviors that may manifest out of the grieving process are:
- Change in sleep pattern or increased crying
- Regression of behavior
- More complains of aches and pains
- Anger and irritability
- Irritability and isolation
- New fears or problems in school
- Increase in tantrums or emergence of tantrum behaviors
- Losing interest in things
- Risky behavior
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has also developed Tip sheet for parents to recognize and help their child with traumatic grief. Learn More
Example provided in the tip sheet reads:
“ I want you to know that” -“I may isolate myself and feel lonely because I am not with my military friends who “get it” and understand my life.
The response reads “You can help me when you”- “Help me form new friends. Encourage me to decide for myself how I want to keep my past military identity alive”.
“ I want you to know that” – “I really miss my service member. It is confusing to feel really proud and also to feel upset or angry that they died by serving their country.
The response reads “You can help me when you”- “Accept my different feelings and help me find ways to manage my grief, anger, or confusion”.
For children with special needs Social stories is a wonderful medium to use to break down the process for them in a picture form, written form or a combination.
The use of Social stories can be an effective and powerful tool to help your special needs child to understand when a parent or a sibling will be deployed which is a challenging time for the family as a whole. Social stories are short and straight forward describing the deployment in detail with social cues for the child to understand. The social story will help your child understand the change in the social situation and what to expect thereby decreasing their anxiety. The social story also gives the child time to process the information and develop coping skills. Learn More
Helpful resources for military families with special needs are:
Getting SSI for a Child’s Sensory Integration Disorder
Only when SID is quite severe can a child get SSI disability benefits.
The Exceptional Family Member Program: A Program for Families With Special Needs
Helping Children Cope When a Loved One Is on Military Deployment