So, let’s start discussing some fundamentals first before going into specific methodology about how to approach your chain of command to inform them about your child’s autistic challenges and the unique issues this brings in your life. We need to discuss some aspects of values and ethics first as a foundation of every other piece of advice I will suggest to you. Effectively, what I am going to be providing for you is advice that will allow you some leeway in your duties and responsibilities at work. It should provide some limited ability for you to miss work on occasion in order to be there to support your family and/or your child’s medical, educational or other unique needs. To be frank, I have to believe that a very small percentage people will use this advice as a way to shirk or “get over” on their chain of command under the pretense of having to take care of business at home when none truly exists. I would surely hate to think that anyone would do that (as it will always come back to bite you), but I feel that I have to cover the foundation of values and ethics first as a disclaimer to anyone who may intend to use these strategies for less than honorable reasons or purposes.
Having said that, I am going to write this and the following posts from a stance that you are newly arriving at your new unit, that you don’t know many people and they certainly don’t know you yet. When you first get to your unit is when you are going to want to speak with your higher chain of command and educate them about autism and how it affects your family’s home life. The sooner that your higher understands the better off you, your family and your unit will be. It will be easier to make decisions on your assignment in the unit and allow everyone to set reasonable expectations for what your unique needs may present in the future. Don’t wait and don’t keep it a secret. Trust me, if you are doing the right thing and taking care of your family with autism in the household, there will inevitably come a time when you will have to get time away from duty or perhaps even have an urgent or emergency situation involving your family in some way caused by issues related to the autism in your household.
In the Army, all Soldiers are well aware of the Army Values in the acronym ‘LDRSHIP’ – Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. Every service component has their version of the values that drive an ethical and moral place to train and accomplish the mission. These values are what makes the Armed Forces one of the most well-respected and honored professions in the eyes of America. I am going to assume that you are one who takes these values seriously and one who strives to live by them in not only your daily duties, but at home as well. I am going to assume that you are a person of high character and that you are one who takes self-development and personal improvement seriously. I am also going to assume that your definition of integrity means the same to you as it does to me: do the right things always, even when no one is watching. You may read that and think, “I’m not perfect!” Well, we all fail daily while striving to achieve excellence, but it is the desire to live by these values as well as the deed that counts as well. I am also going to work from the assumption that you love your spouse and are committed to your marriage’s success. Some aren’t. So, I’m just putting it out there. If not, you need to figure out why not and work to correct it. With this comes the assumption that you are a committed family man and you put all their needs before your own. Are you there as a father or mother and leader of your household? If not, it is time to start. Nothing good happens without first good leadership!
Are you an asset to the Army’s mission? I mean that seriously? Are you one that adds value to the team by giving your personal best while on duty? Are you reliable and can your battle buddies and superiors count on you to do always do a good job? Do you work hard to improve in your skill sets required of your duty position and career field? Are you sold out to the requirements customary to the armed forces such as customs and courtesies and all the protocol that comes with respect for rank? Are you a “go-to” man or woman on the job? Do your peers and superiors personally like you? Do you get along well with others? Are you a positive person who everyone is thankful to have around? If you are a leader, do your subordinates come to you often to help them solve problems? Do people exercise their open door policy with you? Are you approachable and willing to give of your time to your Soldiers? Are you operating everyday with character and integrity and ensuring that others are doing the same? Would your chain of command consider you a role model by which other Soldiers are measured or compared?
Or are you the opposite of the above? Are you the one that takes away from the team and the mission? Are you the one to criticize, condemn, curse, complain and exhibit behaviors of a victim while on duty? On the inside, I believe everyone has a true grasp of how they are perceived and the part that they play in the mission and whether or not they are included on the short list of Soldiers who are “mission essential.” Are you one of those superior Soldiers? If not, you need to work hard to become one. Start today because your family and autistic child is counting on you to become your personal best. If you are the difficult, “project” Soldier as some are, it will not take long before your new unit figures out what you are truly made of. Within 90 days (that prototypical probationary period in every place of employment where you either get to keep your job or get fired) a leader has already classified you into a certain group of Soldier. Be in the mission essential category. Also, you are going to have a difficult time making your argument about the needs of your family if you aren’t even performing at a satisfactory or higher level on the job.
In order to set the right expectation you have to make sure that YOU are right. Right on the inside. Right in your thinking, attitude and work ethic. You can’t “fake it till you make it.” In our profession, all non-hackers are found out in short order. Any flaws in character, chinks in the armor or unsatisfactory behaviors will ruin your ability to build credibility with your chain of command. If these types of issues plagued you at your last unit, you now have a chance to do it right – especially for the sake of your family. You can do everything I am about to share with you, and if you have character or behavior flaws, the first time you need to take time off of duty is going to be questioned or perhaps outright denied – because they don’t trust you. Without established trust you are going to only decrease the pressure on yourself, your family and the positive development of your child. That increased pressure, over time, will whittle away your home life. It will whittle away at your marriage, decrease your effectiveness as a father and just make life damn depressing for you. The long term costs far outweigh the little extra effort that needs to be expended in order to be a top-notch Soldier.
Just remember that the difference between ORDINARY and EXTRAORDINARY is a little “extra.”