Educating Your Command About Your Family’s Special Needs in Autism, Part #2, Your Values & Ethics Matter

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.”

In advocacy,

Mike

Educating Your Command About Your Family’s Special Needs in Autism, Part #1

There is something important that you have to accept as a proud military service member who is serving your country: that your family situation and the special needs required of your EFMP, autistic dependent(s) require a greater investment of your personal time and resources than that of your battle buddies in your unit. This is something that your chain of command also deserves and needs to know about you. At some point you are going to have to personally come to terms that your home life will in all likelihood be more challenging and difficult than most others. Period. Your co-workers who have typical developing kids at home have NO idea how easy they have it compared to the stress and problems you many times have to deal with when you go home at the end of the day.

The job of the parent of an autistic child never ends. When you leave at the end of your duty day, many times it is just to rush home to provide respite (even if ever so briefly) to your hardworking spouse who has been at home all day surrounded by autism and its needs. Perhaps you even have to get home to be with the kids because your spouse works part time in the evening! You don’t have the luxury of going home to a normal, typical family dinner to discuss the school day with your kids, plan the family’s weekend getaway at the beach this weekend in peace and harmony and work on the normal homework that kids bring home every day. Nope. Sorry. Many times you come home to a meltdown (sometimes it’s your spouse who today just could not keep it together without having a temporary breakdown because of the stress) and there may perhaps be screams, crying or wailing; toys being thrown around the house, confusion and disarray as the house has everything strewn into every far corner of every room as the result of the typical play of the autistic child. Dinner is eventually eaten at some point in time between when you arrive at home and before you go to bed. Then again, sometimes there isn’t even time for that! Sometimes it is even eaten by just standing at the counter in the kitchen, alone, as your kind and loving wife gives her last ounce of strength to the kids by giving them a bath as she hopes and prays to God, “Please let the kids go down easy tonight so I can have a moment to share with my husband.” There may be a brief exchange of how days were, but you know how the day was for your spouse. It was just like yesterday, and the day before that. Hard. Sometimes painful. And always exhausting. Your day started at 0500 with PT followed by a typical duty day of Soldiering and training. You may have had a very challenging day today, but you know there really is no time or outlet to be sharing those petty problems in this house dominated by the needs of autistic kids and helping your wife maintain her sanity. You keep your personal problems to yourself and you dare not share it with your sweetheart as she had already reached her emotional capacity four hours before you ever got home. Don’t get me wrong, she certainly cares about your day. She loves and is committed to you and the kids, but many times there just isn’t enough time for quality relationship and communication time with special needs in the home. Then, later in the evening at some late hour as you both try to drift off to sleep, letting the day go and giving it up to God as another day in service to your family’s needs, you know that the alarm clock is going to go off in another six hours and it starts all over again. Perhaps tomorrow will be a little bit better than today was for all of us. Many times all you can do is pray for sustenance. And then, DAMN, you remember…you have a Class A uniform inspection tomorrow morning and you haven’t even prepared your uniform yet! So, even though you were almost blissfully asleep, you are thankful you remembered your duties for tomorrow. So, you get out of bed, quietly grab all the stuff you need to build your uniform and sneak off in private to do just one more task that you don’t have time to get done that day.

Yes. These days can and have been real in our household. More than I’d like to admit. Admittedly though, not all days are like my example above. In fact, because my wife and I make a daily choice to focus on the hope and positivity many days are the exact opposite; days filled with joy and purpose…but always filled with some sort of challenge. This is only a glimpse into a day in the life of. But, if you have a personality and make-up that resembles anything like I used to have, your supervisor, Sergeant, Platoon Leader, First Sergeant or Commander has no clue what your personal and family life is like when you are dismissed for the day. Your pride and maybe perhaps ego leads you to believe that what you go through at home doesn’t need to be shared with any of your leadership. Maybe you believe that it is your problem to handle and you don’t want to trouble them by telling them the extreme challenges you sometimes have at home. Or, maybe you don’t want to share personal issues at work for fear that it may hinder your career, or that you would be treated differently, treated negatively, harassed or they may think you are sharing your circumstances so you can receive special treatment or be excused from certain work requirements. Maybe it is just too difficult for you to explain your home life to them in a way that they WILL understand, or you don’t know how or the words to use to describe those challenges at home.

If your chain of command is in the dark about your EFMP needs, what autism is, the effect it has on your spouse and family, the special medical and educational interventions that your child(ren) require, the added burdens, challenges and responsibilities that come with rearing an autistic child, then you need to finally address it with them. If you don’t, at some point some challenge or obstacle is going to radically come up and take you out of the unit’s mission temporarily. It’s going to happen. The needs that autism creates for your family are too great to not interfere with your daily work routines in some form. If you don’t properly prepare your chain of command with a thorough understanding of your home life, they may mistake your change of attitude or behavior as a potential negative event because they do not understand the underlying cause. There are going to be days that you will have to miss duty because of medical appointments, educational interventions, meetings with teachers and administrators at school, and a dynamic list of other things that autism is going to require of both you and your spouse. You have to prepare by preparing those with whom you work about potential home difficulties that may arise at some point during the time you are assigned at that unit.

In the next few postings I am going to try to provide some of the best practices that I have learned to create the open, honest communication throughout your chain of command as it relates to your family’s special needs. This is so critical and necessary to do. No Soldier likes to arrive at their new assignment feeling like they are bringing a boxcar full of problem baggage called ‘dependent issues’ with them. You may thing this throws up the red flag that you aren’t going to be pulling your weight around the unit. I want to help you get over that feeling, help you understand from a leader’s perspective why that is a false belief and empower you with how and what to say to your chain of command to help them properly help you and your family. If you embody certain values, Army Values, and principles in your character and then are able to communicate your needs in way that actually builds trust and paves the pathway for the inevitable challenges you will do more than just be able to take care of business at home, you will also implicitly label yourself as your chain of commands newest leader and problem solver. It is my hope to convey the tips and the value for doing this right away and when you land on the doorstep of your next assignment!
Until the next post!

In Advocacy,

Mike