April marks the Month of the Military Child. Military installations all over the country celebrate the youngest heroes in the military community. It is also Autism Awareness Month, a time to bring awareness to the abilities of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder as well as the challenges they face. I thought that it would be fitting to highlight one of the programs available to military children with disabilities and their families that many may not even know exists.
The Department of Defense has numerous initiatives and programs to provide support to military families. Leadership in the military recognized long ago that in order for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coast guardsmen to do their jobs well and meet the missions put before them, they had to be confident knowing that their families were taken care of back home. And military leadership took it upon themselves to do just that.
The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) is one of many resources that help military families thrive. Each service has their own version of the program, with a lot of overlap in services and best practices. EFMP connects service members and their dependent special-needs family members to services and support that they need at each duty station.
To qualify for EFMP, a dependent with special needs must be included and noted in the service member’s official record. For those with family members with special needs, it is mandatory for the service member to report it once it is identified, via the appropriate forms and channels. For the purposes of EFMP, “special needs include any special medical, dental, mental health, developmental or educational requirement, wheelchair accessibility, adaptive equipment or assistive technology devices and services.”
Many of the services focus on medical care, specialized equipment or technology, and education-related services. For families facing frequent relocation, having a liaison to connect them to what they need in their new area (or make sure that they are not required to move to an area that is unable to provide necessary services) can be life-changing.
Another key component of the program is providing ongoing support to the families and caregivers. This can include training, support groups, and respite care.
For children with special needs, experts agree that early intervention is key. Providing additional support and intervention in needed areas when children are young can change the course of their entire lives. It can increase their independence, help them become self-advocates for their needs as they grow, and give them the necessary skills to find their way in the world. EFMP makes sure that all military kids with special needs have the chance to get the services that will help them grow and learn.