The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. Land, Air, and Sea, as a former sailor, I have to say it is also one of the best platforms to join.
In the Navy my husband and I experienced life in it's rawest form. We traveled, we learned, we lived, we loved, but more importantly we worked hard. Life wasn't always great, there were moments of desperation, hurt and pain. We (my husband and I) spent most of our career apart. We only saw each other for about two weeks of the year, we deployed often and we both experienced the ups and downs the Navy had to offer us. It wasn't all bad though, one of the biggest takeaways Henry and I had talked about in regards to being thankful, were for the life lessons, soft skills, and coping skills that we learned in our own personal journeys.
This brings me to today's topic; The 5 top lessons we learned in the Navy that helped us cope with an Autism Diagnosis. As stated in previous blog posts, dealing with the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder for our firstborn initially was really tough. We always explain it as a gut punch because that is how it felt. Regardless of our own suspicions that lead to our getting him evaluated, the actual fact a doctor was telling us our son "Definitely" was on the spectrum, was enough to take the breathe right from under us.
There is never an easy way for a parent to deal with news that your precious baby will have need of extra supports, assistance, or even the fact that he/she might not have everything you planned for them in your head. It is a hard thing to explain to another parent who has never lived this. Unless you have been through it yourself, you don't really understand the hurt and pain that comes along with being a parent to a special needs child. Don't get me wrong, there are so many wonderful things you learn about the diagnosis, and about your kids that make it all worth it, but as new parents dealing with the unknown, we wouldn't have been ready for such am important task, that is... if we hadn't joined the military first.
I don't speak for every Autism Mom or Dad out there. I know of a couple who do this everyday and are amazing at it, and they have never served in the military a day in their life. As for me and my husband, We are just speaking from our own experiences. I don't know if I would have been able to recover and help my son get what he needed without the tough love, trainings and life situations that the Navy put me and my husband in.
Enough back story right? Let's get to it then!
The first thing we learned as Naval Sailors was "Honor, Courage, Commitment". This is the heart core of the United States Navy, and it is engrained in us at the onset of bootcamp. They drill it in your head and for good reason. What is Honor? The dictionary defines honor as to regard with great respect; fulfill or keep; a privelage. Courage? The ability to do something that frightens one; the strength in the face of pain and grief. Lastly, Commitment: The state or quality of being dedicated to cause, activity, etc. and a pledge or undertaking.
Autism frightened the hell out of us. What was it going to look like? What would happen to our little boy? These questions were only two of many things we asked ourselves privately. Did we have the courage to take this head on? We knew that this was unexplored ground for us. We weren't going to shut down because of fear.
Honor... What were we doing to honor Alex? We needed to honor what Autism was in order to honor our son and help him with the supports he needed. He hadn't changed. He was still that precious baby boy that I gave birth to. Nothing really changed except the label that was given him. By diving into his world and learning all that we could, we would be able to do right by him.
Commitment... Did we have what it takes to follow through. There were so many challenges in the beginning. It was like learning a new language. We had to research, stay up late, console him, console each other. Therapies, ABA, homeschooling, changing diets, scheduling... the list goes on. We committed to see him succeed, we were commited to helping others see his worth, his beauty.
Lesson 2: Know your "Regs" aka Regulations
Learn everything you possibly can about your command, your environment, your mission, the rules, and restrictions. I can not stress how important this was. After learning of the diagnosis I used my navy training to dive deep into the books and journals, whatever I could find to give me a better understanding about Autism. I needed to know what brought results, what methods worked the best and what kind of information was I missing. Was I approaching parenting wrong. Was it a physical issue or something that I caused? It sounds dumb but I think this method of being precise and the importance of doing recon helped our journey and made it easier to handle.
Lesson 3: It's all Mental, the physical part is the easy part.
Learning to deal with the initial shock and awe was the hardest thing. We had to understand that it wasn't the Autism diagnosis itself that was so hard to deal with. Once you do recon and get the required information, Autism is easier to understand. The mental challenges we had to overcome were expectations that we had for the lives of our children and the reality that it may not be in the same way we envisioned it. Autism wasn't a terrible thing. Our son's view of the world wasn't wrong... It was different and unique. Precious at times. Overcoming the perspective that everything was going to be too hard or "not normal" was the only thing holding us back from being awesome parents. Once we learned to get over that, the rest became more manageable. We stopped caring about what others thought and just focused on loving him and helping him with what was most important.
Lesson 4: Adapt, Overcome, but never give up
If something doesn't work for you or your child, never give up. Adapt and overcome. Pivot, make moves to adjust. Do what it takes to help your child. A million people can tell you no, or that your child will Never do something... But remember until you absolutely can't and you are approaching your last breath on earth, There is always time for another try. You can do anything. It may look different that the original plan but that doesn't make it wrong. You owe it to yourself, to your child and to your loved one. In the military we had to figure out how to complete tasks and missions. Didn't matter the circumstances or the amount of gear you had. Make your objective no matter what. Autism is the same way.
Lesson 5: Never wait for anyone, if someone isn't doing what they need to be doing, or you aren't getting results, go to the person above his/her head.
Whether you are on a ship, carrier, squadron, or land based command. Chain of Command is HUGE! Results are produced by go-getters, motivated people, and people who don't sit and wait around for answers. Some one doesn't sign your request, you call until they do. If that doesn't work, you go one step higher and higher till results are produced. This is probably the only thing I was good at when it came to Autism and the different challenges we faced. I was persistent, annoying at times, but people heard me. Therapies replied or I showed up. I am grateful for this part of my military career. Getting services for your child is one of the hardest things families face with a child on the spectrum. You have to be relentless. Never stop looking and getting options for your child and never accept no as an answer.
Well, That pretty much sums everything up! Hopefully you enjoyed this blog as much as I enjoyed writing it. I always feel old talking about my military career because It feels like such a long time ago, but that is a huge part of who we were and are today. Navy life for me is filled with so many memories good and bad but without it, I can't imagine what type of life I would have.
Eva K. Vega