To Anyone Who Thinks My Children With Autism Don’t Realize When Their Dad Is Deployed

427474_300441636684177_1214068049_n I write about a lot about military or autism, as those are the two main components to my life. Every day those two things intertwine. I can’t have one without the other. It’s just my way of life. A very chaotic life. I know I’m not alone trying to muddle through this lifestyle, which is one of the reasons I write.

I sit here in my sleep-deprived state, watching my children, who have been up since o’dark thirty. Just how does this lifestyle work for them? For us adults, we process things differently then children. Autistic or not, children see the world differently. For us, since the children have been born, we’ve had four major deployments. This doesn’t include any of the small ones. I’m talking six or more months gone. Each deployment has been different, at a various stage of life. When the kids are young and small, they don’t understand distance and time. For them, they just know a parent is missing. I know my eldest is fully capable of letting me know how he’s feeling. I know when he misses his father. But, as I look at my other two unique children, I can’t help but wonder just how this all might seem to them.

The past couple of weeks, with my husband home on R&R, I’ve seen some good memories being made –especially with our two autistic children. Memories my husband will have with his children but also memories my children will have with their father. I think in a way, it was beneficial for all of them.

My autistic children may not be able to express how they’re feeling in regards to their father, but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience the range of emotion that comes from making those memories with their dad or those emotions that follow when he has to leave. It’s when you see the joy on their faces when they see him, the love they express when they’re near him, that raw sadness they have when he’s gone.

In their own way, they deal with this military lifestyle. Like any child, they’ll have their moments. I look back at the past deployments; I remember just how they coped. For them to find understanding, it was done through different means. Whether it was always putting daddy in drawings, asking 20 bazillion questions about him or even trying to initiate the type of play daddy normally does. I’ve found my unique children have their own ways of coping. Sure, it doesn’t fit into how the rest of the world does it, but it makes sense to them.

I think that special needs children get lost in the flag-waving, support-the-hero, military-children-are-the-bomb mentality. People assume they’re unaware of what’s going on — that they don’t understand what it means to miss someone. When my husband was in Afghanistan, people thought my daughter didn’t have a clue he was gone simply because she didn’t talk about it, while my eldest did. But if you look at all of her art during that time, it didn’t matter what the theme of the picture was, there was always her daddy drawn somewhere in the background. Even with my nonverbal 4-year-old, it has been said to me, “Well, he probably doesn’t know his father is gone.” I bet he does. Do you know how I know? Every time he sees a picture of his father or hears his voice, that little boy’s face lights up like a Christmas tree. He might not be able to express how he’s feeling, but it shows that he misses him.

I guess what I am saying is: don’t discredit these children. They experience deployments or absences in their own right. What would be nice is if all those organizations that do things for military children, would also do something for those who have special needs. It doesn’t have to be much. Partner up with an EFMP coordinator. Get something going for families with special needs who are going through deployment. I know that some areas have social mixers for special needs, but not every place does. And when you see a special needs military family out and about, remember that every child in that family is going through the same range of emotions of having a family member deployed.

This post originally appeared on
 Spouse, Kids and Special Needs Aren’t Issued in a Seabag?

Read more from Andrea Thomason:
When You Get Your Child’s Diagnosis, Remember This
My Childhood Friend Taught Me a Valuable Lesson About Special Needs Parenting

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