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1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Army Courtesy photo) A mother and her son play at the special needs playground on Craig Road. The Exceptional Family Member Program is for all military families who have a family member with special needs. (Photo Credit: Monica Wood) VIEW ORIGINAL
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2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Army Courtesy photo) Fort Sill children enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program enjoy a playground with rides for special needs family members. The EFMP offers Special Connections meetings with opportunities for military families with common experiences to provide encouragement, coping strategies and a sense of connection. (Photo Credit: Monica Wood) VIEW ORIGINAL

A strong support system makes everything easier and is especially important when you have a family member with special needs — and Fort Sill’s Special Connections meetings can help get that strong support system.

Special Connections are part of the Fort Sill Exceptional Family Member Program, which is a critical part of your support network. The EFMP’s goal is to help military families with special needs thrive.

There are four Special Connections meetings. Each group meets bimonthly from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Grierson Child Development Center, Building 4123. The environment will be set up in a family-style fashion and the whole family is welcome to attend.

On the Spectrum focuses on family members diagnosed with, or having, characteristics of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The meetings are April 28, June 23 and Aug. 25.

“The EFMP is offering Special Connections meetings with opportunities for military families with common experiences to provide each other with encouragement, coping strategies and a sense of connection,” said Merilee Nevins, family support coordinator, Fort Sill Exceptional Family Member Program. “We are trying to revitalize our EFMP Family Support connection groups as the community is opening back up. We have had to do virtual meetings because of COVID and we’re ready to get back to face-to-face meetings.”

Behavioral Health focuses on children and youth family members with ADHD and/or related diagnosis such as ODD, ISD and DMDD. The meetings are May 12, July 7 and Sept. 8.

Special Connections has a non-specific focus for those enrolled in EFMP or pending enrollment in the program. Meetings are May 19, July 21 and Sept. 22.

Mental Health Balance (Adults) focuses on adult family members with a mental health diagnosis. Meetings are June 9 and Aug. 11.

“Families are invited and encouraged to attend the four unique Special Connection groups we are introducing,” said Nevins.

Finding and coordinating medical or educational services can be challenging. Add in the demands of military and the isolation due to the spread of COVID-19 and it quickly gets overwhelming, according to Nevins.

“For military families — especially those with exceptional needs — there is an increased risk of isolation as they move from installation to installation. With every new location, navigating through medical and education services can be daunting and making connections with support services and fellow families can be difficult to achieve,” she said.

EFMP Family Support will also offer educational and recreational activities, focusing on specific demographic needs, during group meetings. Family members on the Autistic Spectrum, ADHD and related diagnoses for children and youth, Adult Mental Health Balance, and a general connection group for EFMP enrolled or pending enrollment.

Nevins said, “Child and Youth Services has been very generous in sharing space at Grierson Child Development Center for our meeting location.”

For more information on the Special Connections Program, call (580) 442-6818 or 442-4916.

According to Nevins, there are several ways EFMP can help your service member’s family. Each installation has an EFMP Family Support office staffed with providers who can help your service member and their family in the following ways:

- Find and tap into community resources, services and programs that will meet their needs.

- Provide information and referrals and help your service member’s family develop a family services plan.

- Offer training and other support to help your service member’s family be their own best advocate.

- Provide a warm hand-off to EFMP Family Support at the next installation when your service member relocates or PCS’s.

“Family Support enables the family to become its own best advocate by helping them identify and connect with resources, expert consultations, education and community support,” said Nevins. “EFMP Family Support provides in-person support as well as virtual self-service support through online information and resources.”