How do you look a battle-weary soldier in the eyes and say:
I know you are exhausted, My Love. I know it has been a long road through hell and back again –
More than once.
Yes. 25 years IS a long time.
But you cannot retire just yet, My Love.
Yes. You will have to deploy again – go through hell – again.
I’m sorry, My Love.
On the topic of our healthcare crisis in this country, there are so many arguments to be heard. So much talk about the costs; the political drama of partisan strategies and taxes, who should pay what and how should that money be spent.
When I think of the healthcare crisis in this country, so many faces come to mind.
I see the troubled face of a retired nurse of more than 50 years service in the healthcare industry. I have listened as she shared her experience in a rehab home recovering from a broken leg. “Nursing isn’t what it used to be.”
I see the tear-soaked face of a mother who has sat in a clinic waiting room for more than 2 hours with her screaming infant. With no place else to go, she prays her name is called before she has to leave because she cannot miss another shift at work.
I see the embarrassment on the leathery face of a day-laborer asking the pharmacist for just a few pills of his monthly medication, because that is all he can afford.
I see my daughter’s chubby-cheeked smile. I am terrified.
Do you see their faces?
Do you see your own? Or that of your child?
And there are so many more to see. Folks who have beaten cancer, and those who have not. The unemployed ‘wealthy’ who find themselves homeless because cancer was the last thing they could afford. The working poor in this country that are served eviction notices because a week of the flu cost them so much more than a bottle of aspirin.
I also see the face of a brave and selfless soldier.
Whether the face of a Wounded Warrior who cannot get the care he or she requires and deserves, or a father of two who has served his country for 25 years and cannot secure his own family’s future healthcare. It IS a crisis.
1 in 88 active duty military dependent children live with autism.
Only 10% of those children are receiving the autism therapies and care they require.
Though not an easy task, all active duty dependents are eligible to apply for autism benefits through the military’s TRICARE insurance and ECHO program, and therefore could theoretically obtain it. The access is sketchy at best for many of these families. With changes of duty station, cycling deployments, and inconsistent providers, even the most diligent parents fail to get what their child with autism so desperately needs.
Now hear this – the moment the child’s soldier retires – that’s it. Done.
No more ECHO. No more autism coverage.
Retirees – WHO HAVE SERVED OUR COUNTRY FOR 20 YEARS – are not eligible to access the autism therapies that TRICARE provides active duty dependents.
My husband is 43.
Our daughter is 4.
We are ONE YEAR into her autism diagnosis. My brave and mighty soldier is burdened with the weight of knowing that he must choose insurance coverage his baby girl needs over retirement he so richly deserves.
25 years of service.
Countless medals and citations.
It isn’t just autism, either.
The ECHO special needs coverage program is what we have relied on so many times throughout RM’s first years with 4q deletion syndrome. It covers durable medical equipment, respite care, supplies, formulas, and home nursing care.
THE MOMENT A SOLDIER WITH A SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD RETIRES – ALL OF THE ADDITIONAL BENEFITS ARE GONE.
Let’s do some math and then I’ll let you go.
Most career, active duty military members joined when they were just babies themselves, between 18 and 21 years old. Let’s say a soldier joins at 18 and has a child when he is 25. That child is diagnosed with autism at 3 years old when the soldier is 28. The soldier is eligible (and often forced) to retire at 38, when his child is 13. That’s it. No more autism coverage.
Did I mention that this soldier retired at the rank of an E-6 Staff Sergeant and earns a retirement check of just $1,815. per month before taxes???
I love you, Honey. I know you are tired.
If you haven’t done so, please support the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act – HERE.
We cannot change the world without first being the change we seek.
Go ahead – Ask my crumbling shower walls. They’ve heard it all.
Taken a beating and then taken some more.
Good day? Bad day? CRAPTASTIC Day? It’s all in the song…
How often do you find yourself completely enveloped in a song that seems to speak directly to you and tell of your heart in that very instance?
At the same time you are experiencing the sounds of the music with your ears – your eardrums vibrating wildly – tiny hairs across your skin dance rhythmically, your senses are heightened as every neuron in your body fires in syncopation.
The arousing intro… that first verse that captures you… the chorus that makes you want to sing your heart out… the bridge that lulls you back into the theme… before bursting forth from your very core in a declaration of every emotion that has been buried within you… slowly building and building over time… you can no longer contain it… it takes on a booming voice of its own you never thought resided inside you…
“Baby, you’re a FIREWORK!”
One of the very first things we noticed about RM was her response to anything musical. Whether it was a lullaby, a Signing Time dvd or a Sara Evans song.
I have always sung to my children before they went to sleep. A favorite of late is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”… at Christmastime it was “Silent Night”.
One evening, as I was singing to my delicious babes, snuggled in tightly together and smelling sweetly of baby shampoo, I noticed something new.
Or rather not new – but different.
If you love a child with autism, you are likely familiar with the term ‘hand-flapping’. It varies from child to child. It’s a form of ‘stimming’ or self-stimulating behavior – a mechanism by which many of our kids soothe and comfort themselves, or simply burn off an excess of nervous energy.
RM’s hand-flapping is particularly her own. For several months prior to her autism diagnosis, us proud and ridiculous parents thought she was brightly finger-spelling to herself in sign language. Go figure. She ‘flaps’ in a puppeteering motion with one hand close to her face as she stares at the movements of her long fingers.
Anyways… this night as I sang to her – her fingers began to move in such an orchestrated and delicate dance – ebbing and flowing back and forth with such precision, reminiscent of John Williams leading the Boston Pops through a 4th of July rendition of the 1812 Overture. It struck me so hard it nearly knocked the song from my lips –
My child can SEE this song I am singing.
“…Cuz, Baby, you’re a FIREWORK!…”
Synesthesia is the neurological and involuntary “crossing” of one sensory or cognitive pathway with a second. For example, a person who experiences synesthesia may hear a car horn and simultaneously feel pain, or a word written on a page may appear as each letter a different color.
I KNOW that my child has gifts.
I KNOW that she sees things most of us will never see.
I firmly believe that not only is her interpretation of the world a magical one – it is valid.
Though she may not have the words to express the song in her heart today, I know she is experiencing my love with a burst of colors that nothing can compare to. I know that my love for her will carry her through the times when she feels like she is drifting through the wind, hoping she could start again.
I know that when her skin feels paper-thin and her bundled nerves feel like a house of cards that are caving in – my love will save her. Not because it is fierce and strong and unyielding to the exhaustion of a long day with autism, but because I know that she feels my love in more ways than one can imagine.
She feels it tightly wrapped around her always – a booming firework exploding in light – smelling of sweet wildflowers and spring – and tasting like chocolate.
No in-depth articles, early signs of -, living with -, etc.
So she shared that fact with the gang of us Warrior Mamas who decided it was worthy of a smack-down…
Check it out… THIS is what the magazine responded with:
“Hello everyone! We appreciate your feedback and the reminder of the importance of events like Autism Awareness Month. Our April issue does have an item in the Kids Health section about a bed tent for kids with autism and other special needs, and we have focused on autism-related issues several times over the past year in the magazine. In addition, in the weeks leading up to and during April, we will be publishing at least two online-only pieces about parenting children with autism. We take very seriously the importance of raising awareness about autism. We understand that there is always room to improve and are grateful for your suggestions. Thank you again for your feedback.”
And here is the “item” and singular reference to autism in their April 2011 issue:
So, as you can see… this is not acceptable.
Tell Parents Magazine what YOU think about their lack of coverage regarding Autism Awareness Month.
Help them to see that it affects ALL of us.
1 in 110.
1 in 88 military kids.
Not less… just different… and not to be ignored.
PS If you haven’t yet left a comment for The President (of the United States) at Jess’ post… GET ON IT.
I had already been fighting the district for months to get them to even acknowledge that RM has autism. The following letter speaks to the lengths many families must go through to get the most simple of assistance from those that are charged with the responsibility of educating our children appropriately.
The letter written by our state’s Director of Family Services of the National Guard was sent to our district special education director advocating for permission to videotape our Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting in the SGM’s absence. He was… um… unavoidably detained elsewhere…
After weeks of attempting to get the district bully to allow me to tape the meeting, it took less than an hour for the following letter to make it happen…
Did you know that AUTISM is affecting the READINESS of our military forces here in the United States?
WHAT MAKES AUTISM A READINESS ISSUE?
More than 13,000 military dependents have Autism.
Only 10% of military dependent children with autism are receiving the appropriate treatment and therapies.
Parenting a child with autism creates a complex and stressful family dynamic.
Many families require the expensive assistance of special education advocates and attorneys to ensure appropriate educational placement and programming for their child with autism.
Families that incur significant debt to advocate for their child with autism and to provide necessary therapies TRICARE does not cover, put their soldier in jeopardy of losing security clearance.
Often, the military spouse cannot work outside of the home due to lack of affordable, qualified childcare.
In addition to the financial hardship, soldiers are challenged emotionally to meet the needs of their spouse, meet the demands of caring for a child with autism, meet the needs of other children within the family and still carry out their commitment and duty to serve.
Researching appropriate treatment, coordinating multiple therapy appointments, transportation, special dietary needs, toileting and hygiene and providing constant supervision for the child with autism is around-the-clock duty.
Families that cannot gain access to ECHO-related services, fail to receive respite care.
Caring for a child with autism can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Failure to provide the assurance of family care is critical for mission readiness.
If you think the current situation in Libya and elsewhere across the globe – TO INCLUDE RELIEF EFFORTS IN JAPAN – are not affected by autism…