President's Message

peterPresident's Message
November 10, 2009

I never served in the military, but have always admired those who did starting with my late father, who served in the U.S. Army in North Africa during WW II. Pop was proud of his service, but never talked much about what he did, which may in part explain why I enjoy reading military history within my passion for reading in general. I’ve read enough to know that it takes a special person to wear your uniforms and do what you do in service to our country. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

On the other hand, I do have a lot of experience working with families with autism and know all too well the challenges that having a child with autism can pose for the child, you as parents, and your other children and family members. Knowing how difficult autism can be under “normal” circumstances leaves me reaching for words to describe the extra pressure autism places on a military family that has a child on the autism spectrum.

I cannot speak to the challenges that military life and its environment may pose, but I will offer four points that should serve you well in your duties as a parent of a child with autism regardless of military assignment or locations. First, as this site emphasizes, you must learn everything you can about autism as it pertains to your child. Only by becoming an informed and knowledgeable parent can you make the best choices on behalf of your child. You will be faced with an overwhelming onslaught of information, misinformation, opinion, theories, and research outcomes. At the end of the day, it will be up to you to make sense of all this information and make decisions in the best interests of your child.

I’ve learned many times over, “Life isn’t fair.” It’s probably the same with respect to aspects of military life, and it’s assuredly true with respect to caring for a child with autism. While one parent or the other may, at different times, shoulder more of the responsibility for caring for their child with autism, coordinating treatments, and working with schools and teachers to ensure the best educational environment, I cannot overemphasize the importance of working together as a team and sharing accomplishments as well as challenges.

Building on that last point, autism is difficult for the child and you without a doubt. At the same time, it is not a death sentence. Your child has potential and a future. With effective early intervention, perseverance, patience, and love, a life of yet unknown possibilities awaits. Keep the faith, and press on. As you do, keep in mind the importance of finding, supporting, and capitalizing on your child’s strengths at every step along the way.

Finally, take care of yourself, and find time for R&R. I’m not talking about a week in Hawaii or some other exotic location (but don’t rule it out if you can swing it!). Autism can be all-consuming as you immerse yourself in the mission to do what’s best for your child. It can take its toll on your family, your marriage, and your health. R&R in this context is as basic as allowing yourself time to read a book about something other than autism, go for a walk with your spouse, or train for a marathon as many of our RUN FOR AUTISM runners-parents have done. Don’t ask me how, but it’s healthy and good. As the saying goes, you have to take care of yourself if you really want to take care of your child.

That’s it. Learn. Share. Emphasize ability over disability, and take care of yourself too. It has been an honor to contribute to this site. It is my great hope that it contributes to success for your family and you in each of the four points. Thanks again for your service.


Peter F. Gerhardt, Ed.D.

President and Chair, Scientific Council
Organization for Autism Research