Charting a Course to Support Military Families Navigating Service Systems for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Qualitative Study

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Cramm, Heidi
Smith, Ronald Garth
Samdup, Dawa
Williams, Ashley
Ruhland, Lucia
Autism Spectrum Disorder , Children , Health Care System , Mandatory Relocation , Military Families , Phenomenology , Qualitative Study , School System , System Navigation
Most military families experience mandatory relocation, or posting, several times during their military career. For Canadian military families, who must access provincial or territorial health care systems, maintaining reasonable continuity of care is a persistent issue. Such challenges may be amplified when a child in a military family has special needs within the health and educational systems. The purpose of this qualitative study was to gain a better understanding of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) families’ experiences in navigating health care systems on behalf of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), in the context of mandatory relocation, and to determine their recommendations for improved system navigation. Methods: Parents of children with ASD, where at least one parent serves in the CAF and had faced military-related relocation, were recruited. Semi-structured interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed thematically. Results: A total of 13 participants represented 12 families and 15 children with ASD. Participants discussed two primary ways to support military families: (1) Improve communication between military-connected families with children with ASD, and (2) Improve transition coordination. Discussion: The recommendations made by military families echo those made in clinical professional association reports and recent Canadian research. International policy initiatives to offset the impacts of military family relocation may serve as examples to adapt to the provincial and territorial jurisdictions for both health and education in Canada.