Autism in Military Families: Talking to a Serviceman's Wife about their Son
Until I did this interview I had never stopped and thought about autism in military families. How hard it has to be for the husbands or wives that have spouses serving, them becoming almost single parents at the drop of a dime [currenting Robyn’s husband is away for 4 months]. Interviewing Robyn brought this plight to my attention. I have so much more respect for the spouses of servicemen and women. The things that these families have to take control of, on their own, when their spouses are deployed or out of town on work. When you then throw autism into the mix you have the recipe to create an almost invincible parent. I didn’t think they existed, Robyn Day has proved to me that they do. She is one of them.
Some Background Information
Mrs. Robyn Day’s story is one that leaves you with the urge to find her and shake her hand. You feel like you have to find this remarkable woman and convey your admiration for her because of everything she has been through. Robyn is from Colorado and is the mother of 2. Her son, Jack, is 12 and has severe autism. She also has a daughter, Zoe, who is 11 and “neurotypical”. Robyn’s family is astounding. They are a military family. Her husband is a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. I can’t think of a more honorable family. I have come to refer to Robyn as one of the few “seasoned” mothers of autistic children out there.
Brooke: Let’s start with getting to know your family dynamics. What age is Jack now? Could you tell us a little about his dad? Do other children live in your home?
Robyn: Well, Jack is 12 now. I am married to an Army helicopter pilot and we also have a typical 11 year daughter. Thankfully, my husband has never been deployed, but, he does travel out of the country and his job is demanding. However, we do all live together at home.
Brooke: I bet having a husband in service is very hard on you Robyn. I commend him for his service though! I know Jack is your child with autism, but what is his actual diagnosis? Does he have any distinguishing co-morbid disorders that you know of?
Robyn: He has severe autism, was diagnosed at age 2 ½. A year half ago he did receive a co-morbid of generalized anxiety disorder.
Brooke: He was diagnosed young! Did the doctor(s) diagnose it right off the bat or did he go through several misdiagnoses as a lot of parents do?
Robyn: We went to a family Dr. at about age two. He wanted to wait and see, but I knew. 6 months later we got the diagnosis from the specialists at Children’s Hospital.
Brooke: A mom always knows. That is how it went with my son all those years ago too. Hearing that diagnosis is never easy, If you had to pick one defining emotion that you felt whenever you first heard that Jack has autism what would you say it was? Why?
Robyn: I was scared! He was diagnosed very young. I had an 8 month old as well. We lived in a small town and I kept thinking that my husband is in the military how was I going to get services? Could I handle doing this on my own, as my husband is away a lot!
Brooke: I would be scared too, scratch that, I’d be petrified. Another testament to how unbelievable you are. I always like to find out how other parents unwind. You know, a lot of us have one thing that we accredit most of our sanity still being intact to. What would your one thing be?
Robyn: I need my T.V. time! I’m a bit of a reality T.V. junky. I guess watching other people’s insanity makes my life seem sane, lol!
Brooke: Let’s get the last real hard question out of the way. What has been the hardest part about raising Jack? How have you coped with it? Tell me a short story about it if you want…
Robyn: For me, not being able help him get what he needs has been such a struggle. I have had therapy, a friend or two and support groups. You see our story is unfortunately unique. Six months after getting Jack’s autism diagnosis he was diagnosed with a Wilm’s Tumor and he had to have his right kidney removed. So, at that point our story takes a pause. You see, cancer trumps autism! No details needed as he healthy and cancer free today and this is about his autism. It is an important and a part of our story though and it did affect the early intervention process.
Brooke: Oh my goodness! What a hard path you have taken with Jack. You amaze me Robyn. A Wilm’s Tumor is no joke! What a strong son you have. I’m sure I know where he got that from. Ok, let’s lighten things up a bit, shall we. Tell me what’s been the funniest thing about raising Jack?
Robyn: He is the finniest kid ever! He makes me laugh every day and has the best sense of humor. Shortly after my husband took command at his new job, we were at the Christmas party and Jack was watching Nickelodeon, he was safe and as happy as a clam. Someone politely came up to me and said, “Ma’am, did you know Jack is naked in the lunchroom? That was how Jack introduced himself to the staff and as the commanders’ kid, he could do anything he wanted. He wore pj’s for the next couple of years.
Brooke: That is hilarious. Oh man. I love how our kids’ minds work. What do you accredit Jack getting from where he was to where he is today?
Robyn: Number one would be his first special needs teacher. She was amazing and just “got” him. I credit her with helping him find his voice. She is a very dear friend and will always hold a special place in my heart. Secondly, since his anxiety diagnosis we have been doing ABA therapy. For us, it has changed our lives, it is very hard work, in my opinion a lifestyle change.
Brooke: This whole disorder is a lifestyle change! I am very interested in finding out, if anything, what raising autism taught you about yourself? Do you thank the disorder for that?
Robyn: I’ve learned that I am a smart and strong. Something I personally struggled with for years. Then I started to raise a child with autism, things changed as did I. Yes, I thank it very much. That quality has made me a better wife and mother, a role model I never had.
Brooke: Very good lessons said with such grace. I have enjoyed interviewing you very much. Thank you for that. In conclusion, if you could give only one bit of advice to a fellow parent of a child with autism what would it be? Why?
Robyn: Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and feel it inside your gut! I decided early on that if something felt right we’re going to jump in and try it, knowing, you can always stop any treatment, any therapy, and any medication if it’s not working. In my case, Jack’s success is based on this: every major decision came from within and we took that leap. Oh, and advocate is my middle name-you can use it too.
Robyn is very right. Advocate is all of our middle names. It is our job to look after the needs of our autistic children in every way possible. We are supposed to advocate for them, and most of us do. Mrs. Day thank you so much for doing this interview. It was such a pleasure to hear your story. You are beyond remarkable.
Other Autism Related Stories by Brooke Price
- This Autistic Father Proves Autism may Make You Different, but Not Less
- This Mom's Love To Her Autistic and Down Syndrome Kids Will Humble You
- This Australian Mother Approaches Autism with a Great Sense of Humor and Fun
- Exemplary Father Talks about Autism, Support and Thinking Outside the Box
- Story of Mother with Cancer, Daughter with Autism and Selfless Love
- Mistakes of A Special Needs Mother: Tips From a Parent of an Autistic Child
- Piecing the Puzzle Back Together: Tips from a Mom of an Autistic Child
- Autism in a Family: This Father Proves Love and Success are Possible