BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La., Nov. 1, 2019 —
It was more than five years ago when a family took their son in for a normal check up, however, their world changed when the doctor pieced together all of his observations and broke the news of a life changing diagnosis.
Before Airman 1st Class Joshua Bruner, 26th Operational Weather Squadron weather forecaster, joined the Air Force, he was working two full time jobs to make ends meet but the truth was, they were living paycheck to paycheck. He and his wife, Deana, were newlyweds when they found out their son has autism.
In denial, the Bruner family had their son, Dominic, re-evaluated multiple times out of fear of the unknown path ahead. After exhausting all efforts, the Bruners began adjusting to life with autism.
It wasn’t long before their daughter, Juliana, was born. Although times were tough, life became more complicated when both Dominic and Juliana were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD.
“Neither one of us wanted to accept it,” Deana recalled. “It was such a scary time for us. It was so hard not knowing what was going to happen.”
Everyday brought new challenges to the surface. Dominic struggles with sensory overload. His sensitivity to light and different fabrics can be overwhelming and continued to change as each day passed.
“Each year he'd show improvement with sensory issues as we continued to work on them with him, but he'd also develop different issues,” Deana said. “We were constantly adjusting to those issues as well. He was picked on in school and had a hard time making friends because he had such a different personality.”
MAKING THE MOVE
Although the Bruner family was still learning how to cope, they chose to take a leap of faith toward a path that would change their lives forever.
“I knew that I had to make a change to give him and my family the best life,” Joshua said.
After lots of meaningful conversations and prayers, they stepped into a new world of possibilities and challenges.
“We decided together that the Air Force was a good option,” Deana added. “I remember saying, ‘If this is God’s will then let it happen,’ and it did.”
The journey was rough for Deana and kids following Joshua’s career and saying goodbye to their home, family and friends.
“We didn’t anticipate how hard the move would be for the kids, especially Dominic,” said Deana. “My mother and him were extremely close and I remember he would come home and just cry. They would video chat and he would try to hug her through the phone.”
The Bruner family was out of reach of their support system and still needed to learn how to best take care of their children. They didn’t know their options and all of their resources.
Upon arriving at Barksdale, the Bruners were curious about what their new home had to offer.
When they heard of the Exceptional Family Member Program, they were excited to see that the military had programs in place for families who were situations just like theirs.
“Dominic has made some new friends and feels like he fits in,” Deana said. “I love that the EFMP hosts events tailored to kids like mine.”
One of the Bruner's favorite events are the movie nights. This is because they are created for kids with sensory issues, so they minimize the brightness. With his light sensitivity, Dominic also doesn't do well in large crowds and the movie nights are a great, smaller group setting that allows him to interact with other kids, but doesn't feel too overstimulated in, Deana said.
The EFMP not only provided a place for Dominic, but also an opportunity for Deana and Joshua to learn how to grow with him.
“We’re still new to all of this,” said Deana. “We call and ask EFMP for help all the time and they’re always so sweet. I’ve never had a family-like connection with the military before. You can tell this is more than just a job for them.”
Ever since their leap of faith, this family has found their way in both the world and the Air Force due to the dedication of the EFMP team.
“All I want for my family is stability,” said Joshua. “The Air Force and EFMP were the tools that my family needed to get it. We are lucky to have that now.”
For more information about EFMP, contact the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 318-456-8400.