Military duty often requires service member to be away from home for extended deployments for training or combat operations. Depending on your child, the immediate impact of such absences may vary from near-calamitous to barely noticeable. Nevertheless, there are some things you can do to help mitigate the effect, including:
- Create a “countdown calendar” with your child to mark the days until you or your spouse is to be deployed. If possible, include dates on the calendar for emails, Skype, phone calls, and the eventual return. Reverse the process when a parent deploys, and create a “Homecoming Calendar” to mark the time until the deployed parent returns.
- Develop a series of short videos of the soon-to-be-deployed parent and show them to your child on a regular basis.
- Encourage siblings, extended family members, or even neighbors, to, at times, fill in for the deployed parent (e.g., during a trip to the doctor). Independent of the impact on the child with autism, the impact of deployment on the parent who remains behind is significant.
Some recommendations for how you, as the stay-at-home parent, can best deal with the challenges of deployment include:
- If you know a deployment is pending, plan ahead. Determine what additional help you are going to need and prioritize your needs. See if your child’s school has an after-school program they can attend. Recruit volunteers from your community of faith, extended family, and neighbors to help out when you most need it.
- Learn to accept the fact that despite your best efforts, there will be days that are “less than perfect.” All that can be expected of you is your best effort, and on days when that does not seem to be enough, do what you can and move on.
- Network with other parents—both inside and outside of the military. Other parents are often great sources of ideas and strategies to make each day go as smoothly as possible.
- Find time to take care of yourself. Whether it is regular exercise, reading for pleasure, meditation, carpentry, or anything you prefer, the more you can work the activity into your daily or weekly schedule, the better you will be able to deal with stressors associated with a pending or current deployment.
This post was adapted from Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Military Families. Click here to download or order the guide.