Transitions with Autism | Organization for Autism Research

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Change. Every military family will experience it at some point in time when they choose to serve. In fact, it seems to be the only thing a military family can count on as the service member changes positions and moves to another installation. When I sense the edginess and anxiety in the faces of our military friends and neighbors, I know springtime must be quickly approaching. Summer is the time when many families move, and we all hope that maybe we’ll have an idea of where the military wants to send us by spring so we can plan.

It can be a stressful time for families with typical children, but for families who are planning with children with disabilities, this time of year can be borderline agonizing. One of the worst feelings is loneliness because many other families do not understand the work, stress, and anxiety that we experience every time our family needs to move.

Our son with severe autism needs applied behavior analysis (ABA) services and a school program that will honor his individualized education program (IEP). It is difficult to explain to other families who do not need ABA services that ABA is such an intimate therapy because it involves a tutor who works one on one with your child many hours a day.

My son, now almost 13, has been in ABA therapy since he was 26 months old, most of his life. His tutors slowly become our family because they spend so much time with our son. I know these women’s lives. I listen to what their morning is like before they receive my son, and I listen to how their weekend went when I drop him off every Monday. They hear about how well he ate his dinner the night before and acknowledge they need to be more patient when he didn’t have a good night’s sleep. They know my son like I know him:

  • We celebrate together when he masters skills, and they are genuinely excited when his set of skills improves because they are eager to see how he will adjust to the bar being set yet a little higher than before.
  • They experience the same frustration and weariness as I do when he shows regression.
  • We’ll sit together and try to figure out how to get him back on the journey towards progression.
  • His team will work with us because they care and they are invested. They work hard and truly believe he can improve because they believe in him. This is the ultimate reason why I trust my son’s team. They believe in him.

We will move again this summer, and yet again, my husband and I will have to find another team that will work with our son. Again, we will not try to find just any team. We will, yet again, have to find a team that sees our son as we see him. We will, again, have to find a team that we can trust and who will invest their time and care only to realize that we will have to move again in a few years.

Transitions are difficult for every military family. It becomes a way of life, letting go of what we can’t control and only focusing on what we can each day. What military families experience while raising a child with disabilities pushes us to do extraordinary things and compels us to reach out and build relationships that many other families will never experience. We do this because our children still deserve services that will push them to new heights. As long as we can see our children thrive with a caring team, we will still serve.

For help in making transitions related to moving, read this month’s How To.

Shelly Huhtanen (1)Shelly Huhtanen is an Army wife stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. She enjoys sharing her experiences of day-to-day life caring for her son with autism while serving as an Army spouse. She authored Giving a Voice to the Silent Many and owns a blog,, that includes many stories of raising a child with autism in the military. She is passionate about autism advocacy for our military and works to bring awareness to her local legislators and command about providing better support for our military autism community, such as better health care and education.

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