FORT BLISS, Texas -- A child was born not knowing how to play, or how to make friends, and lacks imagination. The same child grows to be five years old and finds interest in reading the dictionary. Now, at six, this boy made friends at church, enjoys playing with other children, and is a good leader amongst his siblings.

Meet Andrew, the six-year-old diagnosed with Aspergers (a form of Autism), Attention Deficit Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. Through the Exceptional Family Member Program offered by Army Community Services, Andrew's mother and others are able to attend training classes to discuss, and implement new ideas of raising a child with disabilities.

"The EFMP brings in quality individuals to speak at these seminars," said Kiersten Newby, mother of an 8-year-old EFMP member and Army wife associated with the 62nd Army Band. "I would say ... it's a master's level of a free seminar, and you can't beat that. People pay a lot of money to go to a seminar to hear different people speak on their expertise and [the EFMP] offers these monthly, for free."

Newby's son, Alden, is an exceptional family member for his Down syndrome diagnosis. After attending training and workshops, Newby said she gained more than insight; she gained reassurance in her parenting abilities.

"It helped give me new ideas, how to be a better advocate for him; and, equally so affirmation that what we are doing okay as parents."

Laura Prater, Andrew's mother and spouse of Staff Sgt. Clayton Prater with 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, also benefited from the training and said it had a monumental affect on Andrew's behavior and her ability to raise him with least frustration.

"We went from him throwing stuff out of his room in rages to ... he's pretty calm now," said Prater. "Before I had no idea what to do. 'How do I get him to stop these rages'' ... 'How do I even get him to the point where I can teach him these social and behavioral skills''

"Taking the classes through EFMP has been a wonderful help for me as a parent," Prater said.

One of the things Prater learned is how releasing endorphins helps Andrew with his fits and has since brought in the use of a trampoline. She said this is instrumental in calming his tantrums - before they start. Prater credits the knowledge she gained from the Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy training for the breakthroughs in her home.

"When you go exercise you release stress and endorphins," said Prater. "When he goes out there and he jumps on the trampoline he's releasing those endorphins and in just a few minutes, it will turn around what could have been a major tantrum. And he comes back in and he is perfectly fine.

"I didn't have a clue how to do any of this stuff before getting this training," said Prater.

"When you have a special needs child, what works for average children is just not necessarily going to work for our children," expressed Newby. "The workshops, when they give you suggestions ... it's because they know that [certain behaviors are] normal - it's his normal."

Prater's training may have begun with workshops, but it did not end there. In addition, an instructor comes into their home and works with Andrew, teaching him responsive behavior and shows the family how to appropriately cope and how to educate the child on suitable social behavior.

"We have been getting services since September/October timeframe and he has made tremendous strides," said Prater.

Having done plenty of at-home research on her son's diagnosis, Newby said nothing can replace the face-to-face interaction of the seminars and workshops.

"It's great to read books and it's great to study but when you can be in a room with people, you get a lecture or two and you're dialoguing," said Newby. "There is nothing better - you've got feedback, you've got ideas going back and forth; questions can be answered right there as they form in your mind. It's invaluable."

In order to participate in the training offered through the EFMP, Soldiers must register with the exceptional family member program at Army Community Services.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16