Recently, my husband’s military record changed to reflect that he now has an “exceptional family member.” Prior to the diagnosis, nothing appeared amiss. Afterwards, I experienced an array of emotions ranging from shock and anger to hurt and fear.
We denied. I cried. But, as all military families do, we pulled through. I kept my husband updated when he called (since he was deployed at the time). I got referrals, made appointments, saw specialists, and, eventually got our son the help he needed. But anyone who has ever dealt with insurance, referrals or specialists knows it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. It involved quite a journey …
Eventually though, the treatment plan started. Our family reunited. Soon, we settled into a routine. We established a new normal for us. And when we accepted it, no part of us wanted to change it. But military life changes. And our 14 years of experience told us we better strategize. We wanted to stay in the same place. We wanted to keep the same school, teachers, therapists, house, and friends — a matter of convenience for two of our sons, and a necessity for the third. Or so we thought.
A short tour in Korea crossed our minds. If my husband spent a year in Korea unaccompanied, I could stay behind and keep things the same for our children. Our exceptional family member, in particular. We also considered a permanent change of assignment (PCS). We just needed to find an assignment.
These options seem drastic but with an exceptional family member it outweighed our other concerns. Sure, the military marks your record to keep your family from relocating to a city or base without the resources to treat your exceptional family member. But in reality, you and many other military families (not to mention the civilian population) all use the same resources. And a change to the military record doesn’t account for that.
Families with exceptional family members ask themselves what happens if there’s a waitlist for services. And if so, how long can we wait before it adversely affects our exceptional family member? And believe me, I made the phone calls in an area equipped to handle my son’s needs. But the waitlists ran months long for almost all of the specialists providing services.
So we thought long and hard about Korea. We also considered not moving at all. In the end, we chose neither route and received a set of orders.
What I Experienced Moving With an Exceptional Family Member
First, we needed to find a good school for our children and services for our exceptional family member. We chose a school in a good neighborhood with a good rating from greatschools.org. They aptly handled my exceptional family member’s transition into their school. They helped him adjust to a new teacher, grade, and classmates. The school employed occupational therapists, speech therapists, and a school psychologist. The staff, including the teachers, exhibited professionalism and put any doubts or fears I had about moving with a child who needed a little more help than others, to rest. I learned that a school’s good rating shows its ability to handle the special needs of exceptional family members.
We still needed to address our need for private services in our new city. A new local doctor gave us the referral easier than expected, based on the previous diagnosis. I immediately called the therapist on the referral and several others. The dilemma lay in finding a therapist who could see my son after school. My child, and every other school-aged kid needing services, wants to be seen after school. The therapists attempt to provide services to as many children as possible in the few hours available after school and before dinner.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a speech therapist on my side of San Antonio. I was put on a waiting list because they could only see my son during school hours. So I now drive thirty minutes (on a good day) during the summer to the other side of town for those services. On days when it takes longer, I remind myself that I’m lucky he receives therapy. His therapists treat him very well. They provide him with what he needs and we are blessed.
Other Therapy Services
The other therapy my son needs seemed just as difficult to obtain. I erroneously thought that a therapist would come to our house to provide treatment, just like they did in Virginia. That is apparently not as common here in Texas. In fact, in my extensive search, I found only two therapists with availability for new patients after school hours. One office offered one day a week (my son is authorized much more) and therapy that took place in their offices.
Another office I called had just hired a new therapist who was starting in two weeks. That therapist could provide in-home treatment three times a week. And, As a Southside Independent school teacher, evenings and weekends worked for her. It seemed almost too good to be true. And two weeks later when she didn’t start, it was indeed too good to be true. Minor problems prevented her from starting on time. She started yet another two weeks after that. But once she did, she treated my exceptional family member very well.
My son has made great strides in the nine months since we PCSed with he and his brothers. And, even though he went to a good school, had great teachers, and qualified therapists, this PCS showed him that the world is bigger than our last community and that he can learn anywhere from anyone. Most importantly, my son learned that his father, brothers and I stand by his side. Any place. Any time.