11-year-old Emily* lives in Devon with her Mum, Dad and brother. Emily’s Dad serves in the Royal Marines and since Emily was born, her Dad has spent more time living away from home than he has at home, due to long deployments overseas and long-distance postings, which have made weekend commuting impossible.
Since Emily was little, she has struggled with sensory processing and understanding emotions and the family has struggled to get Emily the support she needs from their local mental health team. Long waiting list have delayed Emily being seen at all and when she finally met with a mental health practitioner last year, she was diagnosed with autism, which led to her being transferred to a different team and pushed back to the bottom of the waiting list.
Emily does not like change and this makes life especially difficult when her Dad is away from home. During these times she is more prone to nightmares and chooses to sleep with her Mum. She worries constantly that someone is going to break into the house and her anxiety can be triggered by the slightest thing. For instance, learning about volcanoes or tornadoes at school can cause her weeks of worry that she is in danger.
The nature of Emily’s Dad’s job also means that family plans often change at the last minute, which can be very upsetting for Emily. In 2019 the family had to cancel a one-in-a-lifetime holiday to Florida at short-notice due to a deployment.
Emily’s Mum believes that being a military family was one of the barriers to Emily getting the help she needed. She explains: “Military children are expected to be resilient and my daughter is very good at pretending that everything is fine when it isn’t and that’s half of the problem. The school and GP were quick to say that her experiences were a normal part of military life but I knew that she needed extra support.”
Although the family live near relatives and friends in Devon, not living on a military patch means they are cut-off from any military-specific support, which can be isolating at times. The last two years have been particularly challenging for the family as Emily’s Dad was deployed for 12 months when he was already working in Scotland on a two-year posting, hundreds of miles away from home.
It was during this time that Emily’s mum read about the Little Troopers Therapy Programme in Emily’s school newsletter. She self-referred Emily to the programme and within a few weeks, Emily was contacted and offered a six-week, one-to-one programme of therapy.
The therapist came to the family home every Thursday, covering a different topic each week and tailoring the session to make Emily comfortable and best meet her interests and needs.
Emily’s Mum says: “The Little Troopers Therapy Programme has been amazing and a real godsend. The therapist built a real rapport with her and she would look forward to the session each week. Although she didn’t want to talk about it afterwards you could tell that she enjoyed it and was really engaged. Although it was only an hour a week, she visibly grew in confidence and by the end she was bubblier and more self-assured.”
While Emily was attending the Little Troopers sessions, her CAHMS referral finally came through and she will now receive support on the NHS. Emily’s Mum is also planning to explore continuing the therapy sessions privately.
*Names have been changed