Being a military family with a special needs child is a unique situation. There are challenges such as deployments, frequent moves, distance from family, trying to navigate Tricare in addition to any medical issues.
However, as a military family there are also countless resources, assistance and support that is available exclusively or targeted to the military community. Resources and acronyms vary from branch to branch but the available support, for the most part, is similar.
As any special needs OR military family knows, organization and planning is a huge part of reducing stress and time management. Here are a few of my tips for doing just that!
- Learn to Organize– Everything needs a place; having a place for everything may be an old saying but it holds true today. Paperwork, photos, medical supplies, medical records, food and almost everything in a household can be organized, contained as well as labeled for quickly locating and using. Home management binders, filing systems, family command centers and labeling systems are huge steps to a more streamlined home in addition to easy access to what is needed for everyone.
- Manage & Plan Time– Schedules, routines and plans help to maintain the consistency and structure both special needs children AND parents need to thrive. Military family life involves understanding plans WILL change and frequently. Just knowing that having a plan (even a flexible one) is essential is the first step to time management. Morning / bedtime routines, chores / rewards , a family calendar, and meal planning are a few ways to incorporate planning. Remember that knowing what to expect, what one is responsible for and maintaining a “to do” list can do wonders to lessen stress and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed. Using visual aids posting the “family calendar” and using charts help to keep everyone on the same page and feel like they are part of the overall plan.
- Take Care of Yourself and Marriage– The biggest piece of advice I would give for other special needs parents is to lean on your spouse during both the good & bad times. Special needs parents and military spouses have a tendency to put both themselves as well as their primary relationship on the back-burner in order to take care of everyone plus everything else. Taking care of both yourself and your marriage is essential to a healthy and resilient military special needs family. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself. Always schedule time for yourself and remember to use that time for a hobby, time with friends or even a nap. Use a family calendar to schedule in that time as well as date nights (either at home, out on the town, or on Skype with a deployed spouse). Staying rested, healthy, and in constant honest communication with your spouse should be non-negotiable aspects of your life.
- Ask for Help– One person cannot do it all regardless of what they may believe. It is not a sign of weakness to reach out and say, “I need help.” Special needs parenting and military life are both demanding high stress lifestyles. Be specific when asking for help instead of assuming people know what is needed because they do not. Military special needs lives are unique and even mysterious to friends who may not have a clue what your daily life entails. Having a friend prepare a few meals, babysit a few hours a week while you have “me time” or a date night or even just asking a friend to take you to a movie are ways they could be helpful to you. Sometimes, hiring a professional is needed and that is okay. Hiring a nanny, babysitter or caregiver that is trained in helping a special needs family can be a blessing for an overwhelmed parent. Being able to trust that your child is taken care of by a professional can give you that much needed relief to be able to run errands, visit with friends or whatever YOU need to do alone because it is not always feasible to handle certain things with your children in tow.
- Know Your Military Resources-The military has many resources to turn to for reference, assistance, guidance and support. Get to know your local, branch and national resources. Each branch may have different names or acronyms for the same service so check with your local base. In the Army, a few essential resources are the Exceptional Family Member Program- EFMP, Army Community Service- ACS, School Liaison Officers- SLO and Family Readiness Groups- FRG.
- Utilize Community Resources –Reaching out to your local community can be a great way to find support and friends. It is always beneficial to have friends who are in the same situation. Finding other special needs families and military families can help you build a circle of trust, comfort and support. It is also a great way to help others and to feel that you are not alone. Support groups, play groups, hobby groups and your children’s sports/activities are perfect opportunities to reach out and find kindred spirits. Utilizing the Internet, smart phones and tablets are perfect for today’s military special needs parent. With a few buttons, touches or words to Siri, a world of online support groups, websites, blogs and networks put you in touch with an endless variety of resources.
Military special needs parenting can be a complicated, stressful, and demanding lifestyle. However, reaching out to utilize the available resources, support, advice, and tips available can make the difference between a successful, resilient, happy family and an overwhelmed, exhausted and depressed household.
I’m looking forward to sharing more information on available resources and helping to explain the EFMP process, acronyms and other military specific programs.
If you have a specific question or would a certain resource featured please send me an email with the subject line “Special Happens- Military Series”. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Live, Love & Learn,
Raven W. Green