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Friday, February 14, 2020

Shortchanging Exceptional Families

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  As many posts have discussed, the challenges are especially great for military families.

Rose Thayer at Stars and Stripes:
After accusing the government officials in charge of the military’s Exceptional Family Member Program of “happy talk,” but no action, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., vowed Wednesday [2/5] to bring the six executives back to Capitol Hill every three months until they’ve met all the recommendations made for their programs by the Government Accountability Office nearly two years ago.
“We are going to be hawks on this,” said Speier, chairwoman of the subpanel on military personnel for the House Armed Services Committee.
Wednesday’s hearing was the first time in more than a decade that the committee had heard about the program, known as EFMP, which is a mandatory enrollment program for service members who have a family member with special needs requiring specialized medical care, treatment programs or educational services.
While EFMP is meant to ensure that those service members receive duty assignments to locations where those special needs can be met, testimony from two military spouses with children in the program and three representatives from military advocacy groups depicted the program is failing in several ways. About 135,000 military family members are enrolled in the program, as of April 2019.
Nikki Wentling at Stars and Stripes:
One of those family members was Shannon DeBlock, wife of Navy Cmdr. Jason DeBlock.

A few years ago, the DeBlocks were transferred from Annapolis, Md., to San Diego, where they fought with the school district for two years over the education of their son Wesley, 11, who has autism.

“They put up every single barrier they could think of to not educate him,” she said.

The legal battle ended in mediation, during which the DeBlocks agreed to move back to Annapolis, where they knew Wesley could receive an appropriate, special-needs education. While Shannon and their two sons live in Maryland, Jason DeBlock is stationed in Norfolk, Va., commanding the USS Truxton.

Though Wesley is now getting a good education, the move to San Diego had lasting effects. He went two years with little schooling, and his reading regressed from a second-grade level to that of a kindergartner.

“We chose to separate our family to avoid the conflict of a legal battle that appeared to be never-ending,” Shannon DeBlock said. “We rely on these school districts and educators to help our kids become independent as much as they can be, and to be contributing members of society. When schools do this, the impact is so huge. It could affect the rest of their lives.”