Nineteen families, to include 25 children with autism and their siblings, joined the Tripler Army Medical Center (TAMC) Department of Pastoral Care (DMPC) at a Strong Bonds for families with autistic children retreat held Mar. 4 to 6 at the Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina.
With hundreds of military families with a child with autism across the island, in November TAMC Commander, Brig. Gen. Keith Gallagher, approached the DPMC asking that they conduct a Strong Bonds Retreat for families of autistic children.
"This was the first retreat of its kind in Hawaii and included Army and Navy," said TAMC Chaplain (Col.) Sherman Baker. "The focus of the retreat was to bring together families with children with an autism spectrum disorder that share a common bond in order to promote learning, support, encouragement and fellowship while strengthening their marriages and relationships. This special Strong Bonds program allowed families to recognize ways to build resilience in the marriage while living with the challenges of autism and the military lifestyle."
The one-on-one child care was provided by Kamaaina Kids complete with lots of activities and games for all age groups. The specialized care allowed inclusion of the children with autism with typically developing children. On Saturday, the school aged children went to Camp Timberline for a fun day of outdoor activities and games.
"On Saturday participants were visited by United Army Pacific Commander, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, who spoke about the high priority of commitment at senior Army leadership levels to continue to support families including those with special needs during austere fiscal times. He listened to the hardships faced by the families and to their requests for increased community and TRICARE ECHO Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) support. He, in turn, learned that families of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disorders experience chronic stress similar to that of our combat Soldiers," said Baker.
During the retreat, the group participated in discussions that addressed common challenges they face daily. These included: the four danger signs of communication, expectations, forgiveness, problem solving, sensual & sexual misunderstandings, isolation, fear, a sense of loss, worry about their children's futures, worry for the siblings, effects on the marriage and not enough funding directed to therapy.
"While participants were encouraged to examine some of the expectations they brought into their relationship, we stressed the need for forgiveness. We spoke about the language of forgiveness and the need to move to reconciliation while working through the pain and giving up the need to get even," said Chaplain (Cpt.) Timothy Stansberry.
Following the Sunday worship service, an Autism Panel Discussion offered the opportunity for questions and discussion about the special needs and issues families encounter. The panelists were Thomas Gallagher, M.D., developmental pediatrician, TAMC; Jim Partington, PhD, BCBA-D an international expert in Autism Care; Aletha Sutton, PhD, Autism District Educational Specialist, Windward School District; and panel moderator, Alan Gamble, LCSW, clinical social worker, TAMC Office of Special Needs & Services.
Questions ranged from: "What causes autism'" "How do we get siblings to understand autism'" to "What treatments work best'" A sibling workshop was held simultaneously lead by Geisha Glass-Abdullah, Army Community Services, Exceptional Family Member Program to explore and support typically developing brothers' and sisters' feelings and experiences in a peer group setting.
"This weekend was about military couples and families, ways to improve communication in a marriage and for families with children with autism, giving them an opportunity to meet with other families and do some networking, and to just have some time they can spend together to grown more intimate with one another," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jon Hollenbeck.
One of the attending family members summed it up best: "Thank you a thousand times for putting this together. My family needed this retreat more than I can express in words and actions. To your commander I thank you for this Strong Bonds program, and ask you to consider this annually for families of autistic children."
"Our plan, with Brig. Gen. Gallagher's full support, is to do just that - hold a yearly retreat for EFMP families," said Hollenbeck.
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Page last updated Fri March 25th, 2011 at 18:06