Helping RCAF children with special needs: Melissa’s story

News Article / May 14, 2021

RCAF Family Advocate

When Melissa Harrison found out her family was being posted to 19 Wing Comox, B.C., she couldn’t have foreseen the help she would get for her autistic son.

Melissa, 25, and her husband Trevor, an Air Weapons Technician, are parents to Declan, 5, a young boy with autism. His special needs, coupled with the uncertainties of military life, made the first few years of his life even more challenging for his family.

Melissa first suspected her son may have special needs when he was just two years old.

“He was really delayed for speaking and he was really explosive,” says Melissa. “He was a classic case of your textbook version of a two-year-old with autism.”

Autism Speaks defines autism or autism spectrum disorder as “a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication.”

Declan was first diagnosed as autistic when Melissa and her family were posted to CFB Borden. But when they were posted to 19 Wing, they learned that the province of B.C. does not accept an outside diagnosis for autism.

“We were looking at having to get re-diagnosed and that was another 12-16 months on the waitlist,” Melissa says. “There were only two pediatricians in Comox. So I did what I knew to do and went to Facebook. I thought, ‘I’m going to make a video and someone is going to be able to help us’.”

Her video went viral and was eventually seen by the 19 Wing family advocacy team (with her spouse’s unit), who immediately provided her with support.

“The advocacy team was so helpful. They messaged me all the names of the developmental centres and speech therapists in the area,” she says.

Melissa credits Lynnette Crellinn, a Family Liaison Officer with the Comox MFRC at the time, for connecting her to the local programs and resources for special needs families. She says as soon as they arrived in Comox, Lynnette gave her the names and numbers of contacts to reach out to for support.

“If it weren’t for Lynnette, the MFRC and the wonderful people who connected with us over Facebook, we wouldn’t be here,” she says.

Harrison says what she expected to be the worst posting turned out to be the perfect opportunity for her family.

“Turns out this is the best place for a child under six with autism,” she says. “It feels fantastic to be here, just a relief. I am so thankful we got posted to Comox. I know the military was looking out for us.”

When asked what advice she has for other special needs military families (besides connecting with the local MFRC for support and resources), Melissa had one message.

“Trust in the process,” she says. “For the most part in our experience, the military is taking care of you even though it might seem like the opposite. But it is looking out for your family’s best interests.”

If you’re an RCAF family looking to get help caring for your child with special needs, visit:

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