JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO–LACKLAND, Texas —
The Exceptional Family Member Program at Joint Base San Antonio brings awareness to the Autism Spectrum Disorder during April along with the services and support they offer to the military community.
ASD can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASD may communicate, interact, behave and learn in ways that are different from others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website at http://www.cdc.gov.
The disorder occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
Some infants can show hints in their first months though symptoms may become obvious as late as three years old and can affect development. They can range from no engagement, limited eye contact, little response to stimulation to very few or no words. Common symptoms include repetitive movements such as rocking, spinning or hand flipping, according to the CDC.
The CDC estimates one in 59 children has been identified with ASD and it is four times more common among boys than girls.
The EFMP at JBSA is partnered with Autism Lifeline Links to help families cope.
“We’ve worked very hard here to make sure we have a direct point of contact with the organizations that we work with,” said Marcia James, 802nd Force Support Squadron EFMP family support coordinator.
Creating positive relationships with local Autism organizations is important because EFMP want to ensure JBSA families are connected to the support and resources they need, James added.
Once an official diagnosis is made, 40 hours of respite care a month is available for military children. EFMP also educates families whose children are diagnosed with ASD on the extended care health option, or ECHO benefit, which provides applied behavior analysis for each case. Clients can use those benefits by having a registered behavioral technician work with their child at home or at a center.
“In the Air Force, they’ve always done a great job – a phenomenal job – of putting family first,” James said.
JBSA also hosts a variety of ASD supported events such as special movie screenings at both the base and local theaters. In order to provide a more comfortable setting for individuals on the Autism spectrum, movie auditoriums keep their lights turned up slightly and the sound turned slightly down. Audience members are also able to stand up and stretch as needed.
They also hold performances like magic shows on base specifically tailored to those with special needs.
Careful consideration is given to every autism-related event.
“At one of our movie events, one kid just started yelling, but the parent told me later that, because she knew who the (other) people were in the theater, she wasn’t embarrassed,” James said.
EFMP also provides a wide range of resources for families with special needs that extend beyond support for those with Autism. They include workshops on what EFMP offers, TRICARE benefits, education rights, transitioning children from early years to adulthood and guardianship alternatives which may be appropriate for each family’s situation.
“Hopefully, we give that reprieve to those families; that support, community, and information (they need),” said Adrienne Beard, EFMP family support coordinator.
For more information, visit the EFMP Facebook page or call 210-671-3722.