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Written by Rebecca Bardenhagen, M.Ed. and Lakshmi Mahadevan, Ph.D.

Month of the Military Child

April is the Month of the Military Child, which underscores the important role that children play in the armed forces community.  As the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) explains, “Care of military children sustains our fighting force, and strengthens the health, security, and safety of our nation’s families and communities” (2017, para. 1).  This is a perfect time, therefore, for parents, caregivers, and service providers to focus on the military child with special needs.  This entails thinking about the child’s future role in life, what strengthens the child’s health, safety and security and the child’s general life transitions.  Particularly, this April we ask that you initiate a process called Person-Centered Thinking and Planning for the child.  Person-Centered Thinking and Planning takes into consideration the child’s strengths, interests, needs and desires.  Those who are familiar with this way of planning enable the child to make informed choices and become a fulfilled and productive member of the community.


Person-Centered Thinking & Planning

Person-centered planning is most helpful for parents of children with disabilities (those eligible for special education).  However, we believe that this process can also be used for all children with special needs, particularly for military families who are facing the challenges of relocation.

Person-Centered Thinking and Planning is a process based on what the child (the Person) wants in life.  The most important aspect in this process involves deciding what is important to and for a person, which eventually leads to development of the child’s future plans.  This process happens when a group of people that know and care about the child partner with the child to develop the plan.  Note that all perspectives are important regarding what works and does not work for the child.  Parents/guardians using a Person-Centered Thinking and Planning approach can determine when to begin this process based on the child’s growth and development.


Important To and For

Discerning what is important to a person involves determining:

  • What activities a person enjoys (swimming, movies, video games)
  • Rituals and routines that are important (drinking orange juice each morning, taking the dog for a walk after dinner)
  • Ways to relieve stress (listening to music, talking to a trusted adult, physical activity)
  • Relationships (family, friends, teachers, service providers)
  • Faith (participating in religious rituals, praying)
  • Anything else that a person controls in life (participating in school meetings, choice of clothing, recreational activities)

Important for includes things that are necessary in order to keep a person healthy and safe, both physically and emotionally.  This may include:

  • Medications (including knowledge of allergies)
  • Diet and exercise
  • Regular doctor visits
  • Necessary medical equipment

Environmental safety measures may include:

  • Comfortable seating
  • Well -lit areas
  • Quiet zones
  • Awareness of allergens

Keep in mind that discussions regarding what is important to and important for a person may change over time.  This is especially so for military families as they relocate from one place to another.  For this reason, keeping an ongoing discussion about these things is necessary as the military child with special needs grows and changes.

Person Centered Thinking and Planning can lead individuals to become better advocates for what they need and want out of life.  Ultimately, it empowers military families to allow their child with special needs to lead a more connected, healthy, and fulfilling life.


Documenting Person-Centered Thinking & Planning for Your Families

An excellent way to begin to document the process of Person-Centered Thinking and Planning is through a one-page description.  In this document, the child, along with parents, caretakers, doctors, teachers, case-workers, therapist, or anyone else who knows and cares for the child, come together to detail the following:

  • Things That Are Important TO Me
  • Things That Are Important FOR Me
  • How You Can Support Me
  • What You Love About Me
  • Anything else you need to know…


Keeping this document updated is particularly helpful for military families who relocate and will need to share information with those who work with their child.  This succinct document can lead to discussions and planning regarding how a person would like to be involved in the community, procures supports at school, etc.  Additionally, the document details the manner in which the person would like to live life now and in the future.


Download this example of Person-Centered Thinking & Planning and a template to create your own! 




Helen Sanderson Associates, Person-Centered Thinking Tools.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) (2017).  Retrieved on March 13, 2018.

The Learning Community for Person-Centered Practices. Retrieved on March 13, 2018.

This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on April 6, 2018.