Military Parents Battle the System to Help Their Autistic Children

Unmet treatment needs add to family strains from transfers and war-zone deployments.

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Military services are making piecemeal efforts to fill in where the medical coverage leaves off. In the past year, for example, the Marine Corps began offering families with special-needs members 40 hours of respite care a month and employing case managers and school liaisons to help families maintain treatment for their children and navigate the maze of services at their bases. The corps's changes were a result of Driscoll's lobbying for increased awareness about autism's impact on military families, according to Annette Conway, wife of the Marine Corps's commandant, Gen. James Conway. "She really went from being a mother struggling with the school system to a mother that ended up going to the Hill and winning legions of advocates," Conway says.

The Marine Corps is the nation's smallest service, small enough that officers' wives say they are able to form tight bonds that rival the ones forged by their husbands in combat. Conway, a former special education teacher, has become a pillar in Driscoll's support network advocating change. She applauds Driscoll as someone who looked at the problem "and said, you know, this is not the way it should be."

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