Defence special needs

Life in the Defence Force with special needs

28 February 2020

Defence Special Needs Support Group Chief Executive Officer Kim Collins shares what life is like as the mother of two children with special needs and how her organisation supports the Defence community.

By Kim Collins

Any parent of a special needs child will tell you that absolutely nothing could prepare them for the complete and utter heartache – but also the unimaginable joy and elation – that comes from raising a child with special needs.

Unless you live it every day you cannot possibly know what it’s like or how it feels. So, as a mother of five sensational children – two of who have special needs – here are some unspoken truths I believe come with being a mother or carer to a child with challenges.


We are always planning, pre-empting or waiting for a trigger, or anticipating the next hurdle our child will need support overcoming. It’s a case of always observing, being on edge and ready to manage whatever might come our child’s way that they won’t be able to handle themselves.

They need us to be there, thinking ahead and planning, because they can’t do this themselves. This state of hyper- vigilance is exhausting and can even contribute to anxiety issues, because it’s extremely hard to calm down and relax.

Behind every special needs child who appears to be handling their challenges well, is a fierce mother or carer fighting for their cause.

Over the years I’ve lost track of the amount of times people have told me that my child with special needs “looks” normal to them – as if it was something I fabricated for fun! The truth is, only a parent of a child with unique needs knows the effort required to help them achieve their goals.

Being an advocate for a special needs child is a full-time job in itself. If our children look well, it’s because it’s a team effort by all involved. What you don’t see is the patience required and the many hours of therapy, research and appointments with specialists necessary for us to get there.

People don’t see the ongoing meltdowns and the constant battles between our siblings as we try to keep the peace by helping them understand these meltdowns. There is also the reassurance and protection bubbles we create to calm them down. It is a huge battle for all those involved – emotionally, mentally, physically and financially.


The lives of service families can be very different from those in the civilian world. We move more frequently and often have less control over our destiny. While these experiences can enrich our lives, the upheaval of postings, deployments, uncertainty about the future, lack of choices and the isolation of being far from friends and family can make life more difficult.

The challenges of military life are greater when you or a member of your family has a disability or an additional need.

There are many questions to consider: When will we move? Will the housing be suitable for our family’s needs? Does the local school offer adequate support? How far are the local hospitals? What is the transport like? Will the same treatment, medications or services be available? What is the waiting list like?

Military lifestyle brings a range of opportunities and experiences, but it can also create specific issues for families when they are experiencing isolation, continual mobility, and separation due to deployments and training.

Special needs families live a unique lifestyle and the stresses placed on them is vastly underestimated.



The Defence Special Needs Support Group (DSNSG) is a well-respected national organisation with many local support groups. We have a total of 4,000 members and dependants located around Australia and overseas. DSNSG provides support, information, assistance and advocacy for all Australian Defence Force families who have a dependant (child, spouse or other dependant) with special needs.

Our national co-patrons are Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel the Hon Darren Chester and Chief of Defence Force General Angus J Campbell AO DSC. Our ambassador is Air Commodore Henrik Ehlers AM.

DSNSG is run by a group of volunteers comprised of current and ex-serving Defence members and their spouses.



  • Advocacy: Liaise with Defence and other federal and state departments concerning issues that affect families with special needs, particularly those being mobile.
  • Assistance: Assist families with housing/ posting issues and liaise with Defence Housing Australia, Toll Transitions, Defence Community Organisation and Defence Families Australia.
  • Programs: Computer 4 Kids, Drive Safe, FYI, Posting Plans, grants and family events.
  • Support: Local area coordinators, a closed Facebook page for families to connect with other special needs families and unlimited resource of information.

Find out more at or via 1800 037 674.

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