By Petty Officer 2nd Class Amanda Watson
USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, At Sea – Sailors aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower are joining together to form a support group for parents with children suffering from autism.
The father of two autistic children, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Chief Henry Cooper, V-1’s leading chief petty officer, said he wanted to form a group where other Sailors could share their stories and experiences dealing with autism as well as share knowledge of available resources.
“I sent out an email to the chief’s mess and crew, and I received 20 to 30 emails with from people whose children have autism,” said Cooper.
In a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, researchers found an average of one in 110 U.S. children have been diagnosed with the Autism Spectrum Disorder. That statistic breaks down to 1-in-70 boys and 1-in-315 girls – a 60 percent increase for boys and 48 percent increase for girls from previous reports.
“It hurts, because everyone wants their child to be perfect,” said Cooper. “But, it hurts less when you have someone to talk to – people who are dealing with the same situation.”
The Autism Society defines autism as a group of developmental disabilities caused by a problem within the brain. Thought processes and learning capabilities of someone with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged – this may impact their social, emotional, communication and behavioral skills.
While there are no definite causes for autism, common characteristics are: resistance to change, lack of or delay in spoken language, difficulty in expressing needs, repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language, laughing/crying for no apparent reason, preference of being alone, little or no eye contact, tantrums, spinning objects and non-responsiveness to verbal cues.
After a diagnosis, Cooper said many Sailors are overwhelmed and wondering what help is available. He hopes this support group will benefit them.
“Many young Sailors on IKE who have autistic children and are not aware of the programs and resources available to them through TRICARE,” said Cooper, who admits his wife struggled to find out as much information as she could on the disorder and what the available resources were to help their children receive the care they needed.
IKE’s Air Boss, Cmdr. Peter Matisoo also has two children with autism and he could clearly understand how when a family receives a diagnosis of autism, many don’t know where to turn and feel overwhelmed or confused.
“Early intervention and getting your child the skills to function on their own is a great step parents need to take,” said Matisoo. “Do not despair; do not get discouraged. Appreciate your child for the great talents and gifts they have.”
There are six different forms of autism, ranging from moderate to severe. Matisoo explained that with proper treatment many autistic children can function normally.
“How your child currently is, is not how they will grow up to be,” said Matisoo. “Work with them in the areas they struggle in to lift them up something closer to normal.”
Cooper said one of his sons has made great strides in improving his behavior skills through Applied Behavior Analysis therapy.
“He was not speaking, but after two months of therapy he started talking and holding conversations,” said Cooper, who hopes other will have success stories like his to share with the support group in an effort to encourage parents to continue seeking help.
Eisenhower is underway as part of a regularly scheduled deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Operations in the 5th Fleet AOR are focused on reassuring regional partners of the coalition’s commitment to help set conditions for security and stability. U.S. forces maintain a naval and air presence in the region that deters destabilizing activities while safeguarding the region’s vital links to the global economy.