What is autism?

My child was just diagnosed with autism. What should I do next?

What is the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), and why should I register my child?

What is the best treatment for autism?

How can I make sure my child gets what he or she needs in school?

What is OAR?


Q: What is autism?

A: Autism is part of a larger group of disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. Autism is a developmental disorder that emerges in early childhood with signs and symptoms appearing by the age of 18 months. People with ASD often have difficulties with social and communication skills. ASD affects each individual differently with a range of symptoms occurring at varying intensities from mild to severe. Within this range or “spectrum,” one person may have a high level of intelligence and yet not have the basic social skills required to navigate everyday life. In contrast, another person may have delayed learning of language skills and be highly dependent on others.

ASD is comprised of 3 of the 5 diagnostic disorders which make up Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or PDD. The 3 disorders are Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, and PDD Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD NOS. The remaining 2 PDDs are Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett Syndrome and are not as prevalent as ASD.

Q: My child was just diagnosed with autism. What should I do next?

A: After the shock of the diagnosis subsides, your immediate focus will be directed inward on your child and your immediate family. At the same time, from the moment of diagnosis your family’s journey with autism began. The first tasks after family are to:

  • Understand autism and its effects on your child,
  • Determine what treatment your child with autism needs, and
  • Learning how and where to access needed intervention for your child.

In addition to beginning to educate yourself and family about autism, you should immediately register in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). To learn more, click here.

Q: What is the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), and why should I register my child?

A: The term EFMP refers to two different functions: a personnel function and a family support function. The former serves administrative and management purposes and is uniform across all services. It helps the services make personnel assignments consistent with the needs of the service member’s family and the availability of required medical services, provide case management, and inform agencies providing managed care support of the specific support needs. EFMP as it pertains to family support is intended to provide a range of direct support for families that have children with special needs including autism. It is not standardized and can vary widely depending on the service and location.

DoD policy requires mandatory registration for all active duty service members with family members with special medical and/or educational needs. The registration process documents the services the exceptional family member requires, and the personnel assignment process considers those needs during the (especially when approving family members for accompanied travel to overseas locations.) To learn more, click here.

Q: What is the best treatment for autism?

A: There are many treatment options available to people with autism. Because autism can affect each individual differently, there is no universal “best” treatment.  In September 2009, the National Autism Center released a report of a comprehensive study that examined and categorized current autism treatments as “Established”, “Emerging”, and “Unestablished”. The report is available at www.nationalautismcenter.org. Be advised that you will have to provide personal information to access the report.

One specific treatment, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, has become the treatment of choice for many parents of children on the spectrum. ABA is an intensive approach that typically entails 30-40 hours of individualized therapy under the supervision of a trained professional. through ABA. Not all treatment methods produce the same results from one child to the next which is why it is important for parents to research and should openly explore all of their options. To learn more, click here.

Q: How can I make sure my child gets what he or she needs in school?

A: As a parent, you are your child’s one and only true advocate in this world. This is especially true in the case of your child’s schooling and educational rights and especially challenging for military families that have children with autism as they move from one duty station to the next. You must understand the applicable laws, do your homework on schools, schools districts, state education programs and policies before any change of station or school for your child.

Armed with this knowledge, the next challenge is taking a stand for your child while at the same time trying to build a constructive dialogue and working partnership with the teachers, treatment providers, and anyone else involved in your child’s education plan. To learn more, click here.

Q: What is OAR?

A: The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) is a national non-profit organization that is dedicated to funding applied autism research and providing practical, evidence-based resources and information to the autism community. Since its founding in 2001, OAR has awarded $1.7 million in grants to support 98 new research studies and published five community-friendly resource guides in its Life Journey through Autism series. To learn more, click here.