Fort McCoy News April 25, 2014

Autism Awareness: Support available for Families

STORY & PHOTO BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

In observing April as Autism Awareness Month, organizations across the United States — including Fort McCoy — want Families affected by autism to know there is support available wherever they go.

According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, about one in 68 children in the United States has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Photo for autism article

ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is almost five times more common among boys (one in 42) than among girls (one in 189).

Additionally, it's estimated that one in 88 military Family members have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, the CDC shows.

Autism and autism spectrum disorder both are general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.

These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

Families at Fort McCoy who have Family members with autism should know there are people who understand what they are going through.

Active-duty military and active Guard/Reserve Families who are responsible for regular care of persons with disabilities can enroll in the Army's Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), said Terrence Rogalla, Family Advocacy Program and EFMP manager with Army Community Service (ACS) at the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR).

Family members with any special medical or educational needs, including a spouse, child or a dependent adult, all should enroll in EFMP so the military can provide program services and support to the Family, Rogalla said.

Additionally, Families enrolled in EFMP have access to a respite care program. This program provides a temporary rest period for people responsible for the routine care of their Family members with special needs. Care may be provided in the Family's home or other settings, such as special needs camps and enrichment programs.

EFMP Family support includes information and referral for military and community services, education and outreach, referral to other Family support providers, local school and early intervention services information, "warm" handoffs to the EFMP at the Family's next duty location, non-clinical case management including individualized services plans, and more.

Fort McCoy School Liaison Officer Rebecca Walley, also from DFMWR, coordinates with Rogalla and can help with school support services. Walley serves as a conduit of school information and is the primary point of contact for school matters for the post.

"If Families are new to the school district, I usually advise them to contact the director of pupil services of the school where the child will be attending, or I contact the director of pupil services myself with the questions the Family has and then get back to them," Walley said.

The director of pupil services at a school assists in the specific questions Families may have regarding their child's special needs and services they have been receiving at their school prior to moving, Walley said. This person is also able to describe the services the school will be able to provide.

"I remind the Families to bring any documentation and assessments they have on their child with them and provide the schools with a copy as soon as they know what school and when they are moving," Walley said. "This gives the schools a chance to look everything over and hopefully get the services and programs in place for when the Family arrives."

Families can contact Walley by calling 608-388-6814, or by emailing usarmy.mccoy.imcom-fmwrc.list.dfmwr-school-liaison@mail.mil.

For Fort McCoy-affiliated Families who are not able to enroll in EFMP, help is available as well, said Sheila Peterson, from DFMWR and a mother of a 7-year-old child with autism.

"Families need to know they're not alone, there's help and they're among friends," Peterson said. "There are some great support groups as well as resources available to them depending on the age of their child and the location they reside."

Peterson also encouraged Families to network with local county health departments and nearby autism-related support organizations.

To find out more about EFMP, call ACS at 608-388-3505, or stop by the office at 2111 South 8th Ave., on Fort McCoy. More information about autism can also be found at http://www.militaryonesource.com and use the search word "autism."