In Spite of Tragedy: Helping Our Children with Special Needs Understand

How can we Help Our Children with Special Needs?

Christian Hollingsworth – from his eloquent Facebook status update.

There is no easy answer when tragedy strikes, no easy way to explain it, share it, pray about it, or explain it to your children. When you children have special needs it’s easy to be unsure how to move forward with a discussion, any discussion, with your child(ren).

Andy was home sick today, and he watched the news with us as we took in the coverage from today’s tragic shooting at a school in Connecticut. He was visibly affected by the news, struggling to understand how anyone could “hurt kids” and even said “it’s good he’s dead, wouldn’t they have to kill him anyway?”

Andy is the least affected of my boys, and the only one to catch any coverage on television. He’s also the only one we feel comfortable speaking with about this tragedy, in whatever way you can actually feel comfortable sharing something like this.

But we still had to turn the coverage off and completely change the subject to games and family fun for a while – he was too sad about the kids lost and mad about someone who could hurt them.

Bobby would obsess over it, and he wouldn’t understand the larger ramifications, only reacting to the news of death and tragedy in the only way he knows how, by becoming overwhelmed with emotions he has a hard time controlling. Logan isn’t able to take in this kind of complex subject yet.

But what do you do when your child with special needs is in the middle, somewhere between understanding the world around them, but unable to comprehend the level of grief and emotion involved with hearing about and reacting to a tragedy?

Since I knew many of my readers would be concerned about this, I spoke briefly with mom and Dr. Deborah Gilboa, MD, whose website Ask Dr. G has tackled other questions about raising children with special needs.

Parents Know Best – Can Your Child with Special Needs Handle the Truth?

The mom and advocate in me says that YOU know your child best, and you should be able to tell if they can handle a discussion about any tragedy in the news. But what if they come to you asking questions and you aren’t sure how much to explain?

That’s a hard issue, when you balance the line between explaining something about the larger world to your child (who might have special needs) and trying to keep the darker side of life away from them. (hey! We all want to protect them from news like this, it’s only natural).

But no matter how well we know our children it’s still hard to be sure.

Dr. G (as she likes to be called) suggests being careful with how much information you share, saying “Remember to only give a child as much information as he asks for AND you feel he is ready to handle.” I especially liked her next suggestion, though, which was to “use the information available to point out any stories of heroism or humanity that follow the tragedy.”

It’s so easy for our kids to become overwhelmed by the bad, by the sad … being able to point out the good, and the inspiring – that’s important too.

Remember that Your Emotions are on Display too

As I shared earlier, we had to turn the television off of coverage of the event coverage today because Andy was becoming too overwhelmed with it – and I should add to that, we were too. Jim and I were watching Andy carefully, but in the process we were both trying to deal with this horrible tragedy, thinking about those families who would be without children to hold and love and delight in this holiday season.

“Find yourself a chance to process your own feelings as best you can before you talk to your kids,” was Dr. G’s warning – which makes sense. Our kids are so sensitive to our feelings. They can become overwhelmed because they are picking up on our emotions – so it’s important to deal with our feelings as best we can before we try to help them (if possible).

No Matter What – Hug Your kids Today

No matter how you handle news like this with your children or child with special needs, you’ll likely have that urge to hold them close. I did. (even the President did). You can’t think about 20 little kids losing their lives so thoughtlessly and not want to hold your own even closer.

Those affected directly by this tragedy will be grieving, their lives forever changed. We can’t change that. As horrible and hard as it is to say, we have to remember that our kids are here, and we need to be present for and with them.

Your Turn: Has the recent tragedy affected your child with special needs? Did you need to talk with them and have trouble finding the words? Share in the comments below, maybe we can all learn and support each other as we deal with this horrible tragedy.


Katrina Moody

Katrina Moody

Graphic Designer, Wordpress Addict, Blogger at Kat's Media & More
I'm a special needs parent before just about everything else in life, but also a passionate advocate for my three boys and husband, who all have a bit of awesomeness about them. Awesomeness = Axenfeld-Rieger Syndrome, Autism, Epilepsy, Dyslexia, Cerebral Palsy, and more. It all adds up to some awesome kids and an amazing family.
Katrina Moody
Katrina Moody

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