Army Values Applied to The Military Dad Living With Autism # 6 – Integrity

Only two Army values left to address. Let’s tackle one of them right now.

Integrity. It simply means to “do the right thing.” I’d like to tag it with one more phrase. Integrity means doing the right thing…”even when no one is watching.”

Your best test to know if you’re doing the right thing? Would your spouse, mother, pastor, boss or mentor approve of your actions if they caught you right in the middle of something?

I could spend a lot of time on the value of Integrity, but suffice to say that your wife and special needs children need you to be doing the right thing always. If you an integrity failure, it is bound to corrupt your character. People without character have no value in our society, because you can’t build the necessary trust that cements all relationships of every type.

Your actions are influenced by what you put your focus on. If your focus is doing right by your family, then all the things you do will work to build value and support into your family. Focus on other things outside of your marriage and family, and watch out! The heart follows where the focus is.

See I love business and the pursuit of entrepreneurial endeavors. I have multiple business ideas spinning in my head and on paper right now as I type this. Some are large, some are small, but all of them will take an investment of my time. Now, parents of special needs children do not have an abundance of time as it is usually all spent serving the needs of the kids, and helping each other. So, in order for me to pursue any business interests once my active duty service is complete will require me to take time in devotion to them if they are to succeed. But, in my order of priorities, family comes before business interests. So, my heart and mind is focused first on the family, not business. Their needs will come before the needs of business opportunities. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying to turn in your separation packet. That would be foolish. You need to have a healthy financial income stream coming in to support your exceptional family. And the military has fabulous benefits to assist with their medical and educational needs. What I am talking about is any opportunities that will detract from my ability to care for family first and take my heart and mind of my priorities.

My wife and I have been having discussions about what we plan to do when my active duty requirement is up in the next year or so. Suffice to say that we have many, many good opportunities that we could both pursue and care for our family’s needs at the same time. Whatever we finally decide, however, will fit in line with our life’s order of priorities as well as making sure that each others needs and the needs of our boys come first. With enough thought and planning we may be able to even satisfy both in conjunction with whatever professional
endeavors we finally choose to do.

But, we’re discussing integrity (before I get too far off in the woods again). In order to live an effective life, it has to be…let me say that again. It HAS to be lived with integrity. Your wife is depending on you and your children are depending on you to do the right thing always…especially when they’re not watching!

In Advocacy,

Mike

Army Values Applied to The Military Dad Living With Autism # 5 – Honor

Honor is simply doing things in accordance with a positive view of your character and beliefs. It is how you would be remembered based on the actions and the content of your character.

For example, an Honorable Discharge from military service is something to be very proud of. It denotes a period of time well-served in service to our nation. It is a positive, historical record of the sum total of all the honorable actions and the reputation you exhibited. We all know who gets Dishonorable Discharges from service. Nuff said.

Honor, as it relates to our role as husband, father and leader in our exceptional family filled with the joys and challenges that autism brings, has to deal with acting in a way that is going to leave a lasting legacy in your family.

You see, every day we make choices that will either enhance or detract from the goals and aspirations we have for our family’s success. We discussed in the value of “Duty” how certain activities can take away from the service we provide to our families. We need to make choices that empower and positively impact our wives and children.

Honor can be achieved by applying the following model of success:

THOUGHTS (lead to) ACTIONS (which, through repetition, leads to) HABITS (which over a span of time leads to) YOUR CHARACTER (which, over a lifetime, leads to) HONORABLE LEGACY

So, the following is a list that comprises somewhere in the above lineage of actions applies in my life to help ensure that I will live a life of honor to my family:

1) Every day I am going to work to communicate my love and respect for the role my wife plays as my life mate, and as the incredible care-giver she is to our needy boys. I want her to feel that I truly love her, am committed to her and will fulfill my God-given role to her as her husband. This means appreciating and encouraging her in all the tasks that autism requires in the home. I need to go out of my way to make sure she understands the difference she makes in our kid’s lives with the extraordinary effort she applies to motherhood, and the difference she makes in mine for still having energy to invest into “us.”

2) I will fulfill the duties of my role and be loyal to the tasks that I am in charge of. I will do my part in our family team in the nurturing, education, protection and advocacy for our boys with the vigor that only a parent can provide in the defense of his autistic child’s needs. I will strive to better myself, educate myself and develop skills sets to that end through the reading of good books, participation in organizations and larger efforts that will help not only my family, but all families who live with autism. I will work hard to do more and get better…every day.

3) I will always be there to provide for them all financially, using whatever means I am capable to provide them all the opportunities that successful finances can provide in life.

4) I will strive to make a global impact for all families living with autism by using all of my strengths, skill sets and gifts to help the autism community as a whole. I want to encourage, support and advocate for those who everyday struggle with the unique challenges in life that autism provides in the home. I hope to do whatever I can to help other parents become better at their charge of parenting their children. I want to help those same parents be the best spouses they can for each other, and in the circumstances where there is only one parent handling the burdens at home I want to be an encouraging friend and let him or her know that even though the road can be more difficult – you can do it too! If anything, I hope to empower families with the belief that almighty God believe the most in His people that He gives some of the toughest burdens to in life. He’ll never give you anything that you are capable or able to prepare yourself for!

5) I want to be a wise educator and instill wisdom in my boys (as best as their disorder makes it possible). I will not tire in the desire in my heart to instill those beliefs in life that I hold dear. I will be the living example in thought and deed for them to emulate and learn from. Remember, that despite lack of apparent physical or mental capacity for learning I believe that there is an intellect behind that shell (link) where if you coach and model for them anyway, in their own special way you will make an impact on them for life!

On the day of my funeral, whenever the Lord chooses to call me home, there is going to be some sort of gathering back at the church or at our home. I am sure that people will be sharing cookies, coffee and other munchies while sharing stories about me and my life. It is said that your legacy can be captured in that little “dash” on your tombstone between the born on and check-out date. I want my dash to represent an honorable life to my friends and family. I want them to know that I tried hard. I want them to know that I really gave a damn and worked hard to be everything the God designed me to be. I want them to discuss the many different examples of how I served my
God, my wife, my family and the community around me – that I really worked hard to make a difference in all.

I believe that honor is best achieved through through our progressive, positive, results-oriented daily actions in the life we lead.

In Advocacy,

Mike

Army Values Applied to The Military Dad Living With Autism # 4 – Selfless Service

This is a big one for me. It also one that I struggle with personally as a human. See, it’s not naturally in the human makeup to live a life in selfless service to others or a higher purpose. We tend to be creatures who take care of our own needs first. We tend more to “look out for #1″. Now, I’m not talking about the basics of life like Maslow’s needs of shelter, food, sex, etc that we need as
human beings. I am talking about living a life that focuses on the needs of others MORE than our personal needs.

This is tough. I struggle with it all the time.

That last piece of chocolate cake in the fridge – do I eat it…or, do I save it for my sweetheart? There appears to be an elderly couple in the car right behind me as I am pulling into the parking lot of the grocery store and that front spot is wide open! Do I take it…or, do I pass it by so the elderly couple can have an easier time parking and walking into the store?

See what I mean?

Now, try to build your character around a lifetime of selfless service – putting others needs before your own – dying to “self” if you’ll allow me to speak biblically for a moment. Now, I’m not trying to preach my Christian faith upon you, but one cannot deny that the Bible is full of tried and true principles of character and integrity. It also contains some of the greatest examples of humans who lived by these examples (as well as many who didn’t and the ramifications of these decisions of their free will – always a bad ending and a lesson to learn from, lol). One verse that is on my mind as I struggle with the predicament of selfish behavior is this on in Luke 9, verse 23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

This simply reminds me that I need to focus on the higher order of life and eternity in order to act and serve appropriately here on earth.

For those in the Army, selfless service is that value where one is willing to even go as far as put their own life on the line for their comrades and for their country. These men and women are truly living the calling of “denying themselves” and focusing on the greater service to nation.

We have the same charge when we look at the exceptional needs of our autistic children and the spouse who supports the love and care through these special needs at home. Just the fact alone that you have an autistic child at home REQUIRES, yes, REQUIRES that you live a life of selfless service to the needs of your wife and your children. Leaders lead by example. As leaders of our households men, it is incumbent on us to lead by example and put the needs of our wives and children first. And we need to do this above our careers in the military, above any sports, hobbies or interests and yes, even above Sunday NFL Football! I know! I told you this is tough stuff. I struggle with this myself.

I find it easiest to get through those seasons of selfish desires by consciously (and prayerfully) reminding myself of the great charge that I have been given by being blessed with a supportive spouse in the autism battle with me and three deserving boys who deserve my personal best. Putting selfish desires first only strips my family of the opportunity I can provide them by providing proper leadership and service by caring for their needs. The whole reason I am in the Army now is primarily so I could focus on the special needs of my boys. Paying out of pocket for the required ABA treatment my boys needed was starting to break the bank, even on a good six
figure income! At the time I even had the promise of growing one of the companies I owned into a very lucrative financial position in the years ahead. But, that selfish interest in the moment was not in the best interest of my boys who needed help RIGHT NOW. The decision was easy when I followed the order of priorities in my life and put selfless service first for the benefit of my family.

God

Spouse

Children

Career

Yes, career is after family in my order of priorities. Sorry, I can always make money someplace else. And if my selfless service in the Army ever interferes with the selfless service I need to provide for my wife and children, then the Army will be removed from the picture. So, before I get to far in the woods about prioritizing or ordering your life, I’ll stop right here. We’ll save that
discussion for another day.

In Advocacy,

Mike

Autism Waits On No Deployment! Part #1 (Care For The Stay at Home Parent)

You are deployed.

Your spouse and kid(s) are at home.

You certainly have your share of deployment stress with twice as many work hours, little sleep, not very many comforts of home, frequent attacks in various forms by the enemy and that constant longing for home.

Yes, you have it difficult, but remember that your wife or husband is back at home WITHOUT YOU to provide 24X7 care to your autistic children while you are away. The burdens and challenges that you used to be there for are now solely hers. Also, you are not there to come home and help around the house, listen to the struggles of her day and just be there to be a loving arm around her, tell her you love her and lift her up for another day in her version of “the trenches.”

I am currently deployed as I write this and I was hoping to just share some thoughts for my brothers and sisters in arms who may be struggling right now through the challenges of autism during your separation. I certainly don’t have it all figured out and many times thought and deed do not always go hand-in-hand for me. But, in my absence I can honestly admit that I do not have it twice as hard as my wife does back at home without me (even with the enemy shooting at me all the time). The stress at times can sometimes be unbearable and it takes an extremely strong and committed bond to make everything work in a marriage with the added stress. Any husband or wife that has ever spent a few days all by themselves with their autistic kids KNOWS beyond belief how frustrating, difficult and stressful it can get. And that is just for A FEW DAYS! Now try managing the household and those kids for a WHOLE YEAR – BY YOURSELF! Like the last time she got away for a few days to get some time on her own, this time she isn’t coming back. You have to be the sole care-giver for the next 52 weeks on your own! Every emergency that comes up. Every sleepless night. Every tossed plate of food on the floor. Every meal that’s cooked just a little but off that now won’t be eaten and there is nothing you can do to correct it for your son. Listening to that crazy, psycho noise he does with his tongue for hours on end. Throwing up all over your bed in the middle of the night. And on and on and on. Oh…and did I mention that you have to do this…ALL BY YOURSELF!! Yes, I know, you can imagine yourself with the look of the flushed red face, veins popping out of your neck and temples, shaking…no, CONVULSING – head about to explode! Kind of like that old horror movie Scanners!

Well, that is your spouse while you are gone. The enemy isn’t so bad anymore is he. Bet you wouldn’t trade places. I know I wouldn’t. My house is a dangerous and scary place sometimes. I don’t know how my wife handles it to be honest with you. And to do it with me gone. Sheesh.

So, here is my first bit of advice and it goes to the stay at home parent during deployment. Listen, and listen carefully. You have got to get out of the house on your own, and have your own life as frequently as is all humanly possible. Or, you will go INSANE. It is not healthy, nor is it safe for your mental well-being and/or your children’s physical safety. I say that only half joking as the incidences of child abuse among special needs kids from stressed out parents is way too high in our society. Babysitting in special needs land is called RESPITE for a reason. Respite: a usually short interval of rest or relief. TAKE A BREAK for crying our loud. My wife fully knows that she has a no-need-to-explain policy of spending extra money on extra respite to get out and do things on her own. Every wife who has to endure a year on her own with the sometimes maddening days that autism can bring needs to care for and protect herself. Take breaks some how, some way. Whatever it takes. Just get them. You deserve them are are duly entitled to them.

I took the following advice from the Guide for Military Families from my friends at OperationAutismonline.org for the parent who remains at home during deployment. If you don’t have a copy of the this guide you can click here to get it.


“Independent of the impact on the child with autism, the impact of deployment on the parent who remains behind is significant. If it is true that it takes a village to raise a child then, by extension, it takes two or three villages to raise a child with autism and a mainstay of that second village is now absent. 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, specifically, you are going to need and prioritize your needs. For example, even though it may be quite helpful to have someone assist in getting everyone ready for the school in the morning, it might be more important to have someone to help out after school when you are making dinner. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. See if your child’s school has an after-school program he or she can attend. Recruit volunteers from your community of faith, extended family, and neighbors to help when you most need it.

Learn to accept the simple fact that despite all your best efforts there will be days that are, to be generous, less than perfect. If it is the result of a problem that can be fixed, do so and move on. If you find yourself having to modify your personal standards of success (e.g. accepting that getting into a battle on the use of a specific “sippy cup” may not be the best use of your time) then do so and move on. All that can be expected of you is your best effort and on days when that simply does not seem to be enough, do what you can and move on. Tomorrow is always another day.

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. Although it is a cliché, you will need to find some time for yourself 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.”

From one parent of autties to another, thank you for walking the path less traveled on the pathways in autism. Thank you for doing your personal best to give your children the very best care that is available. Thank you for your sacrifice and service to country by your service in the military. And finally, thank you for taking care of each other during your time apart. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. The time apart will not last forever and the reunion will be sweet.

God bless,

Mike