Schools have a significant role in treating autism, but the quality of therapy offered in schools varies widely from district to district. Schools focus on only the behaviors relevant to the classroom and aren't equipped to take on the range of other behaviors that take place outside of the school-yard. Military parents often feel as though school districts try to wait them out until they move to another base rather than provide services they say their children are due under federal law meant to ensure equal access to education. Shrinking school budgets are prompting a push to transfer services to the healthcare sector, says Susan Pisano, spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans, a Washington, D.C.-based insurance industry organization.
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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