Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Staying Strong: Coping with Deployment

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Staying Strong: Coping with Deployment

Article excerpt

This is the second of a three-part series from Health Net, Inc. regarding deployment, its effects on children, and some of the steps that parents can take to ease its impact. The series covers possible behaviors and suggested responses during the times of pre-deployment, active duty, and the parent's return home.

Seeing his clothes in the closet, setting the table for two instead of three, waking up alone--the day after deployment, families are left to deal with their feelings of grief and fear as they attempt to establish a "new normal." During this time of transition, children--especially those with special needs--require extra support.

Take eight-year-old Neil (whose name has been changed for privacy reasons), for example, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). After his father was deployed to Iraq for a second time, Neil's behavior changed. He became increasingly hyperactive, got into trouble regularly in school, did poorly in his classes, and battled with his mother over bedtime. Concerned and overwhelmed, Neil's mother took him to see Holly, a social worker.

During therapy, Neil mentioned that his dad was lucky to return home after the first deployment but might not be so lucky twice. Realizing that Neil was suffering from anxiety, Holly devised several ways that Neil's mother and his teacher could help him cope. They put Holly's ideas into place. For example, Neil's teacher divided his schoolwork into smaller, more manageable steps. To shift the focus away from Neil's negative behavior, his mother and other military families pooled their money to buy school supplies and other gifts for Iraqi children and their families. And, to strengthen the bond between father and son, Neil and his mother drew pictures for their Soldier and his whole military unit. Holly also helped Neil's mother find support from various resources, such as Army Community Service (ACS) and Military OneSource, to prevent burnout.

General Guidelines for Unique Children

Although reactions, needs, and level of understanding about deployment vary by child, consider the following general guidelines for children with special needs:

* Symptoms or reactions may increase in intensity or be a sign of a separate condition. In Neil's case, his hyperactivity was exacerbated by anxiety.

* Prolonged changes in appetite, grooming, hygiene, sleeping patterns, and mood may indicate that the child needs help coping. If these problems persist longer than three to six weeks for children under 10, or four to six weeks for older children, consult the child's behavioral healthcare provider.

* Extra support may be needed with schoolwork, which can be addressed in an Individualized Education Program (IEP). For example, consider asking the teacher for extra tutoring, additional time to complete assignments, or modified assignments.

* Consider the child's age and developmental level when responding to a question about deployment. Specifically, answer the question that is being asked--if your child wants more information, he or she will ask for it. Reassure your child that the deployed parent is trained to do the job and is taking great measures to ensure safety.

And remember to take care of yourself, so that you are better able to take care of your child with special needs. Build a support network (and use it!); try not to overextend; exercise; and hire a babysitter once in a while.

Tips for Specific Conditions

Autism

If your child has autism, you may notice increased difficulty with social interaction. For example, younger children may throw more tantrums than usual or be more resistant to leaving the at-home parent. The child may regress in language or have repetitive behavior such as counting (typically seen in children 10 and older) or rocking (seen in younger children).

You can help your child cope with the parent's deployment by maintaining routines. …

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