Tag Archives: Safety

Talking to Kids About Tragedies in the News

The first news coverage I remember registering consciously, was that surrounding Gulf War I in 1991 and seemingly simultaneously, something about Ukraine – probably the five-year anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I remember, because I thought at the time that Iraq, Iran and Quwait together formed Ukraine. I was five-years-old and didn’t have a clue about tragedies. Maybe I did ask questions, and maybe I was worried, as I often was later on when famine or disease in developing countries was discussed.

I was fifteen when 9/11 took place. I realized by this time that America was far away, so I didn’t feel any sadness or anxiety. Children in America, however, even those not directly impacted, often felt intense sadness and worry. Now a large tragedy didn’t impact my country when I was young – the largest tragedy affecting the Netherlands during my childhood was probably the Bijlmer airplane crash in 1992, which killed 43 people. Children of today, however, have to cope with a tragedy that is almost comparable in size to what 9/11 was for the U.S., ie. the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur last Thursday when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and flight personnel, including 193 Dutchpeople. Adults, at least those who’ve not lost family or friends, can put this tragedy into perspective, although with 9/11 in mind, even I am worried for its consequences. Children cannot do this. How do you help children cope with a tragedy like the MH17 crash?

I am focusing here on helping children not directly impacted by a tragedy. If a child has lost a family member or friend in a tragic way, they need extra help coping with the loss of a loved one as well as with the trauma of a tragedy like an accident or shooting. You can, however, reassure children who aren’t directly impacted that they are safe. In a book on coping with trauma I own, adult survivors of trauma are taught that the world isn’t safe, but it won’t get any more or less safe by worrying about it. That is not an effective strategy with non-traumatized children. They need to know that you as the parent, teacher or other adult in their life are there to protect them.

Common Sense Media advises keeping the news away from kids under seven. Preschoolers and Kindergartners are not ready to understand the news and will easily confuse fact with fantasy or fear. My parents had the radio on all the time when I was young, so I registered the Chernobyl and Gulf War news, but made really irrational connections. That being said, the Mayo Clinic recommends that parents do talk about tragedies to their kids, since they’ll likely have picked up on the news somehow anyway.

When kids get older, they start to hear about news tragedies or events from their friends. They still may see news as closer to home or more common than it is, particularly if kids are sensitive. Children between seven and twelve may still make logical errors. For example, a child might worry about their family in Amsterdam because flight MH17 took off there.

At elementary school age, you may start to explain the context of news, especially if your child is intellectually and emotionally mature. You might explain that people have different views and that news programs compete for viewers. You can also start to explain the basics of political or religious conflict. At this point, kids have a strong sense of right and wrong, in the sense that it is all-or-nothing. Therefore, you should be careful not to generalize.

When a child becomes a teen, they will likely start finding the news on their own, without your supervision. Discussing the news with them will give you as the parent a good insight into their developing knowledge and maturity. Common Sense Media says that teens will understand that their lives could’ve been impacted by such tragedies as terrorist attacks. Therefore, it is important to discuss their views and reassure them without dismissing their feelings. They may also want to help people directly affected.

Above all, when talking to a child about a tragedy, the Mayo Clinic recommends telling the truth. Explain the basics and don’t go into too much detail. Avoid speculation on what might be the consequences of the tragedy. Listen carefully to your child for misconceptions, misinformation or underlying fears. Reassure them that you are there for them to keep them safe. If your child asks the same question repeatedly, it’s possible that they just need reassurance.

Why I Can’t Live Independently

I was asked the question again, on a Facebook group for parents of bliknd/autistic children (where I share my perspective as a blind/autistic adult). When people realize I’m above-average intelligent and verbal, they often ask why I can’t live independently. That is, unless they, like my therapist, assume that no blind person can. She originally had it written into my treatment plan that, if I had not been blind, I would’ve been able to live independently with outpatient support. I had this removed because it quite likely would’ve impacted my funding.

Honestly, it is quite a painful question for me. I have somewhat suppressed the memories of the time when I did live on my own, and don’t really like to think of that time. Then again, I have to if I want to clarify my support needs.

I couldn’t live on my own back in 2007, when I tried, because I had terrible meltdowns in which I’d become self-injurious and aggressive, and I wandered. I also couldn’t do daily living tasks because I needed very clear instructions and needed lots of one-on-one instruction. I lived in an independence training home prior to this and got lots of instruction there, but I got overwhelmed very easily and had meltdowns etc. then. I was more or less kicked out of the independence training home because of my meltdowns.

In addition, I have mild motor deficits. I don’t know whether this is the cause of my inability to perform simple daily living tasks like putting a topping on my bread, but I can’t do these things. My gross motor skills are better, so I can technically operate a vacuum cleaner for example, but I get overwhelmed by the noise so much that I either forget where I was vacuuming or shut down completely. Vacuuming and sweeping are not the problem, as blind people in the Netherlands generally get fudning for a housekeeper to do these tasks. Unless, that is, you have a partner who is non-disalbed, but then again my husband has to do all the cleaning now that he lives alone, too. Same for cooking, so these are not a problem.

It is really hard to put into words what went wrong when I lived on my own. Yeah, I had meltdowns and wandered, but, as an intelligent person, can’t I just control those behaviors? With medication (including a high dose of an antipsychotic), these behaviors have become less frequent, but other than that, I’ve found nothing that helped me. The meltdowns and wandering still occur regularly enough that it’d be a safety issue if I lived independently again. Besides, the fact that I have 24/7 support available should I need it now likely causes the meltdowns to be less frequent. I have learned to delay my need for assistance, but still ultimately need a good deal of assistance during the day. Besides, in cases of (perceived) emergency, I just need to be able to reach someone. And you might say my perception of emergencies is screwed, but when I’m sensorially and/or cognitively overloaded, I can’t make that judgment. Oh, did I mention I can’t get myself out of my husband’s apartment safely using the stairs, which I’ll need to in emergency cases? I could likely learn this, but I’d need a fair amount of instruction. I do know the stairs and don’t know whether I could walk them without falling if I didn’t get assistance. For those who’ve seen me walk the stairs at home fine, these are firstly different (indoor) stairs, and secondly my motor deficits have gotten slightly worse.

When I write this, I can hear the judgment of certain people, including possibly certain readers, in my mind. Some people may want to minimize my support needs because they are in denial. Others mighht want to discredit my opinions, for I am allegedly not like their child. I was going to write about all the unsafe situations I’ve been in (and not just unsafe as perceived by me) because of lack of support, but I think it’s pointless. It hurts too bad to think of these, and most likely people aren’t going to change their perception of me unless they genuinely want to, in which case the above paragraphs should suffice.

Autism and Elopement

As a teenager, I ran off quite frequently. Sometiems, I started off with a purpose, such as going to the mall, but I ended up lost and then wandered off in a meltdown. Sometimes, I ran away because of an argument with my parents, because I was overwhelmed, or for no apparent reason at all. Running off is pretty common in young children and teens, but when you have disabilities, it complicates the matter. For example, I would not as easily have gotten lost on my way to the mall had I not been blind. Parents of autistic children often talk about elopement as if it is somethig unique to autistic children. This is of course not true – neurotypical children elope too -, but, when a child has social and communicativve difficulties, elopement does become a more dangerous thing.

In The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children wiht Autism, 2nd edition, by Adelle Dameson-Tilton and Charlotte E. Thompson (2012), there’s a specific section on elopement. Strategies advised to prevent it include the usual: put extra locks on doors to the outside, install an alarm system, etc. However, the authors also advise parents to establish a routine whereby the child knows when they can and can’t leave the home. For example, for a young child, they can’t leave the home unsupervised. Evene as an adult, I need to have a routine that says I can’t leave the ward unsupervised unless I have a specific goal and know the way there. Most autistic children outgrow elopement, but some do not. I feel that, especially with older children, explaining elopement and why it is dangerous, is vital. Social stories or pictures may help with this. The reality is, even on locked institution wards, people elope, and there are no places in the care system where your autistic (adult) child will get the one-on-one supervision you might provide them at home.

Jameson-Tilton and Thompson advise always informing trusted people in your neighborhood and the local police of your child’s risk of elopement. When I lived indpenednetly, I didn’t inform the police, but they got to know me soon enough. As Jameson-Tilton and Thompson suggest, a MedicAlert identification bracelet may be useful. In the Netherlands and I believe many other countries too, autism cards are sold which have a few key points about autism on them and on which you can write your name and an emergency contact number. For non-verbal autistics, an identification bracelet is still needed, because reaching in your pocket wihtout warnign may be interpreted as dangerous by the police, so you will need to be able to say that you have a card which explains your disability.