Combatting Stress on the Home Front: Advice for Military Families

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

When a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), every member of the family is affected. While every family’s experience is unique, there are common challenges that most families face. These include dealing with the diagnosis, choosing the best treatment options, and building a strong and supportive family structure.
For military families, the difficulties presented by these challenges are often exacerbated by the lack of proximity to family and support networks, frequent relocation, school and training schedules, and more. Managing the stress that accompanies these challenges is critical to a family’s long-term health and wellbeing.
Taking action
Suspecting that your child is not developing in an age-appropriate manner can be very frightening and stressful for parents and families. It is important to share your concerns with a physician, therapist, or early education specialist. Make sure your concerns are heard and your questions answered. Advocating for your child to get an appropriate assessment is critical.
Accessing information and taking action are two steps that can help you manage anxiety. During the waiting period after your child is assessed, it may be helpful to speak to other parents who have gone through this process. It can help you prepare to hear difficult information and think about different options that will fit into your family’s lifestyle.
If your child does have ASD, it is crucial to identify it as early as possible so treatment and intervention can begin. Evidence shows that intensive early intervention during the preschool years results in the best outcomes.
Dealing with a diagnosis
Give yourself time to absorb the life-changing information. You will need to adjust your hopes, wishes, and dreams for your child and your family. Talking to other families, sharing information, identifying all available resources, and developing both a formal and informal support network are all helpful in managing stress. For families living on military bases, spouses’ networks and neighborhood groups can provide critical support.
Support groups are beneficial because they decrease your sense of isolation and increase your ability to cope. Groups offer opportunities to share stories about finding effective interventions, managing difficult situations, and moving forward with your life.
Once a diagnosis is confirmed, it is helpful to learn as much as you can about ASD. Obtaining research information about ASD and interventions from the Internet, conferences, and reading materials helps families manage their anxiety about the diagnosis and make good choices. Be sure to share information with family and friends so people close to you can learn what you are learning and provide support and feedback.
Building support through family
One of the best ways to manage stress is to strive to maintain balance in your life and family. Designate time to take care of your other children, your relationship with your partner, and yourself.
Taking care of a child with a disability puts a lot of stress on a relationship – it is important to discuss your feelings and thoughts about interventions with your partner. Each of you may need support in different ways, and it is important to communicate about your needs. If you have a spouse who is overseas, it is even more vital to maintain a constant dialogue through e-mail, text messaging, Skype, or phone calls about the progress your child is making, how it has impacted the rest of the family, and how to support one another.
Managing stress to maintain balance
During periods of high stress, having a range of accessible activities can help you decompress. Taking short breaks can help you find balance. Other activities that might help you relax and feel good include regular exercise, listening to music, journaling, planning time away, and organizing respite care.
Attending to your own needs, maintaining an awareness of the needs of each member of the family, and putting systems in place to support the family will help lessen disruptions, keep channels of communication open, and create an environment that is healthy, loving, and supportive for everyone, including the child with ASD.
About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit