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Amy Lennard Goehner Headshot

Military Families + Autism: A Recipe for Heartache

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As the mother of a child with autism, I know first-hand the importance that routine and consistency play in helping my son learn to navigate the world. Take away routine and consistency and what do you have? Life in the military.

Military parents of kids with autism -- a figure which may be as high as 12,000 kids -- came on my radar through a project my husband is working on at Autism Speaks.

Today, these families will have a chance to tell their stories to Congress at a briefing on Capitol Hill. They will hear from military spouses, such as Karen Driscoll, whose husband is a Marine Corps officer and veteran of two combat deployments: "In addition to repeated combat deployments and long separations, add autism to that mix and you can see why all of us families are living in crisis."

The briefing will focus on the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act. The bill would assure that ALL military families would qualify for autism behavioral therapy benefits under the military's insurance. Right now, only service members on active duty qualify for this therapy. That means if a service member is wounded in action and unable to stay active, his or her child loses these benefits. Same for kids of retirees.

In addition to the stories I've heard as a mom connected to this special world, I've interviewed hundreds of families in stories I've written for Time and the New York Times website. But to me, the challenges these brave families face surpass all -- such as these painfully sad words from one Navy spouse: "During my husband's last three years on active duty, all three of our children were diagnosed with special needs, two with autism. Our frequent moves to small towns and doctors with little experience hindered the ability for my children to receive proper diagnoses. We were heartbroken to know that as retirees, our two children with autism would not qualify for any autism-related benefits. The military member may retire, but the autism does not."

I will be on Capitol Hill today, lending my support to these amazing and brave families.