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.