Orders and transfers to new duty stations are part of everyday life in the military.
Rarely do military families establish roots anywhere before the next set of orders has them planning, packing, and executing a move to another duty station. While moving can be a difficult transition for anyone, it can be especially challenging for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as it entails significant and sudden environmental changes.
A general rule of thumb is to start planning for the move as soon as possible. There are several key areas you will want to research and coordinate, including:
- Educational placement and special education
- Community-based support services
- Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) programming and healthcare
- Other related therapies
The steps below will help guide your efforts in making transitions related to moving as smooth as possible for your family.
Step 1: Collect Information
Collecting information on the new location is the first step in preparing for a change in duty station. Begin this process as soon as you learn that a move might be on the horizon. You can gather information from websites before making phone calls to the new location(s). Be persistent and patient, because it often takes several attempts to achieve the desired result. Here are some suggestions of places/organizations to research:
- Local school district(s): When moving to a new community, it is important to find a school placement that will continue to provide the necessary supports your child with autism needs. The education section of Operation Autism will walk you through the search and evaluation process.
- Review the websites of local school districts online. Look specifically for information on autism services and other programs that might be relevant to your child (early childhood special education classes, transition services, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral support services). Follow up with a call to the school district’s special education office. Ask questions to learn more about the types of educational placements available in the district, training and support available to teachers of students with autism, and the district’s approach to addressing behavioral issues. Once you have found a potential school, it is helpful to visit, meet with a school administrator, and ask critical questions.
- Know what to expect. Acceptance into any program other than a public school program can be very difficult to obtain. In addition, do not assume that the required services and supports for your child as established in the individualized education program (IEP) will naturally and smoothly follow, despite the provisions of law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA). Although the research process helps shift the odds of a good placement in your favor, it is no guarantee. It is not uncommon for military families to seek command and legal support as they battle to protect and ensure their child’s educational rights.
- Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy providers: Get a list of ABA providers from the new installation’s Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) personnel or the resource directory. Call the ABA providers and ask questions about the types of services that are available (clinic vs. home-based) and the credentialing of staff members.
- Community-based support services: States vary considerably in the range and types of services they offer to individuals with ASD and their families. A good place to start learning about services available in the new location is that state’s developmental disabilities council. On a search engine, search for the name of the state you will be moving to and the phrase “developmental disabilities council” to find information on resources and services available in that area.
Similarly, if your child is 14 or older, you can search for information on pre-employment transition services available through the state’s vocational rehabilitation agency. You can find contact information for the state’s vocational rehabilitation agency by typing the name of the state you will be moving to and “vocational rehabilitation” into a search engine.
- Grocery stores: Call the local grocery stores to determine if they carry food items your child needs if there are specific food preferences or a specialized diet your family needs to maintain.
Step 2: Gather Information About Your Child
The next step is to ensure that you have gathered together all the information that you need on your child as you settle into the new location. The “Creating A Record System” section of Operation Autism has tips on how to organize and store your child’s records. On moving day, make sure the records go with you (not in the moving van) to prevent their misplacement or any unanticipated delays due to movers. Here are some of the key documents/records you will want to have with you:
- Most recent copy of signed IEP
- Current functional behavioral assessment and behavioral intervention plan
- Medical documentation of disability
- Medical documentation of allergies, other medical conditions
- Information on specific medical procedures (asthma plan, seizure plan, feeding procedures, etc.)
Step 3: Get Ready for the Transition
Once you know that the orders to move is coming, it is time to start making definitive arrangements for the transition to the new installation. At this point, you will need to contact the organizations you researched earlier to make plans for your child’s arrival and arrange to start services. You will want to contact:
- Exceptional Family Member Program
- School liaison officer
- Local school district’s special education office
- Therapy providers
- Community-based service providers (e.g., vocational rehabilitation, intellectual/developmental disabilities agencies)
One Last Tip: Use Word of Mouth
Sometimes other parents and families, like Shelly Huhtanen, who wrote the Perspective column this month, can be excellent sources of information about resources and services; they offer perspectives and personal experiences that may be helpful as you make decisions. Social media networks can be great ways to connect with Facebook group for military families at the new installation. By explaining that you have a child with ASD and will be coming to the installation soon, other families in the group may be able to offer you help, answer your questions, and provide recommendations.
Are moves challenging? Oh, yes. Planning and preparation can decrease that challenge considerably for you, your child with autism, and your family. Make use of the Operation Autism website and OAR’s Life Journey through Autism: A Guide for Military Families to make that planning easier and smoother.
This article was excerpted and revised from OAR’s Life Journey through Autism: A Guide for Military Families and the Operation Autism website.