The 1,000 military children with autism in the Puget Sound community and their families will receive enhanced care and resources thanks to the opening of the new Joint Base Lewis-McChord Center for Autism Resources, Education and Services here Aug. 9.

"As a Soldier, and having raised a child with autism, I'm enormously proud to be the commander of the DoD's first facility dedicated to care of these amazing kids," said Col. Michael Place, the Madigan commander.

Autism affects 1 in every 68 children; the JBLM community has an even higher concentration of children with autism (1 in 40) as an Exceptional Family Member Program hub.

"We all know that military service poses unique challenges for all of our service members and their families … but for those families who are also facing the unique demands of raising a child with autism, those challenges are compounded due to a national shortage of providers to care for these kids and the difficulties that they typically have with transitions," said Place, who added that wait times for autism care in the local area are typically six to nine months. The opening of JBLM CARES is expected to reduce these referral times.

JBLM CARES will provide complete care coordination and support services for more than 150 patients a month, said Brig. Gen. Ronald Stephens, the U.S. Medical Command's deputy chief of staff for support. The center will help families who just moved to JBLM and need support in initiating and organizing services for their child, who need support and direction accessing care following a new diagnosis, or who need assistance locating services for children on the autism spectrum during a developmental or school transitional period.

The center, run by the Pediatric Specialty Department at Madigan, offers speech language, occupational and physical therapy on site. It also provides bridging services for autism families until they can begin therapy with civilian providers so that families living off-base can receive long-term autism care at locations convenient to their homes. In addition, thanks to a partnership with the Armed Forces Community Service, JBLM CARES also offers system navigators to ensure families know how to use their military and community resources.

Providing improved care for military children with autism can mean less stress for their families.

"This center is not just about patient care; it's also about readiness. Service members can focus on their mission knowing that their family will receive timely, compassionate and world-class care," said Stephens.

From figurative blueprints to reality, it took a dedicated team of Madigan and AFCS staff nearly two years to plan for the center, renovate the building and staff the program.

"Without their vision, tenacity, and advocacy for our children and their families, this would've never come to fruition," said Place.

The resulting center offers children with autism social skills, play skills, feeding groups and life skills.

"JBLM CARES is going to be a very important bridge so that no family faces that stressful gap in treatment and progress. In time every single one of those kids is going to find their way in the world and they are going to realize their full potential, and we will all benefit from it," said Congressman Denny Heck, who spoke at the ribbon cutting.