Special Needs Dependents

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Darren Snider
  • 21st Space Wing Plans and Programs

There are many military members that have a dependent (or dependents) with special needs.  “Special needs” is a term that usually describes someone that has a physical, emotional, behavioral or learning disability. Sometimes it is not just children born with disabilities, but can also be an unfortunate accident or debilitating occurrence later in life. To military members, this can sometimes add a whole other level of stress to daily life. This article is not meant to be a sob story about just my situation, but to bring more awareness and understanding to military members with special-needs dependents and the added stress that they and their families deal with.

In my case, my son is on the autism spectrum. The descriptors that fall under the umbrella of the autism spectrum include attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and others. My son looks perfectly healthy to most people, and for the most part he is physically healthy, but he has suffered from seizures and has, at times, really bad behavioral and emotional problems. Sometimes those behaviors happen at the worst times and in the worst locations. For example, we have previously been in stores when he has had a total meltdown, falling to the floor, kicking and screaming because of something he didn’t agree with or was frustrated. Most people don’t understand why an older child is behaving that way; then, as parents, we get scoffed at and have rude comments said to us. I have had to physically restrain my son at times so he wouldn’t hit his sibling; that was fun explaining to local law enforcement! Although he is improving as he gets older, he still has meltdowns, often despite our best efforts at de-escalation and situational changes. My wife and I never thought we would have a child with disabilities. I think everyone knows it is a possibility but hopes it never happens. Even so, we love our children very much and strive to give them the best life possible.

I will readily admit that until my wife and I had a child with disabilities, we really didn’t have understanding of (or much sympathy for) families coping with disabled dependents. We soon found out and quickly understood how stressful it was, both mentally and emotionally. It’s funny how life happens and before you know it, you have a profound understanding and compassion toward other people’s struggles and life situations. I will never again pass judgement on a parent because their child (young or old) is having a tantrum in a store or other public venue. Yes, they may be a bit spoiled but then again, they may have developmental disabilities; it may not be that easily discernable! Now that my son is older and he goes out in society more, I can only hope and pray he doesn’t have a meltdown and someone mistakes him for being a threat and hurt him, instead of realizing he is developmentally disabled.       

I am very thankful and appreciative of the support and understanding of my Air Force leadership in recognizing the need for helpful programs through the Airman and Family Readiness Center and the Exceptional Family Member Program. Because of these programs and good medical care, we have had very few problems getting help for our son. This helps immensely in lowering the stress levels by knowing that we have support and can continue to do what we need to do to take care of our families and accomplish the mission. I hope that all Department of Defense military and civilians can use resources, such as base helping agencies, to obtain the assistance needed to care for their families and appreciate any support.