Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Explaining The Connecticut Shooting To Your Aspergers Child

The recent school shooting may have raised many questions for your Aspergers youngster. There are no easy answers about this kind of tragedy, but it is important for moms and dads to try to explain what has happened in order to help ease their youngster’s fears and anxieties about his personal safety.

If your child will be around other kids or has access to media of any type, it’s important to discuss the shooting. It will be less frightening if she hears about it from you instead of from a classmate or reading about it on the Internet. 

To guide you through difficult discussions about school violence, here are a few suggestions:

1. Be patient. Tragic news takes time for children to process. They may express their confusion and fear in unexpected ways. Be there with lots of extra, love, support and reassurance.

2. Create a safety plan with your Aspergers youngster. Help identify which grown-ups (e.g., teacher, school counselor, coach, etc.) your youngster can talk to if he feels threatened at school. Also, tell him who will pick him up during an emergency if you are unavailable.

3. Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at your youngster’s school. Explain why visitors sign-in at the principal’s office, or why certain doors remain locked during the school day. Help your youngster understand that such precautions are in place to ensure her safety. Also, stress the importance of adhering to school rules and policies.

4. Don’t overwhelm your child with too much information. He might want to talk intermittently or might need concrete information to be repeated.

5. Empower your Aspergers child to take action regarding school safety. Encourage her to report specific incidents (e.g., bullying, threats or talk of suicide) and to develop problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Encourage her to actively participate in student-run “anti-violence” programs.

6. Encourage your child to talk about his concerns and to express his feelings. Some kids may be hesitant to initiate such conversation, so you may want to prompt your child by asking if he feels safe at school. When talking to your child, remember to talk on his level (e.g., he may not understand the term “violence” but can talk to you about being afraid or about a classmate who is mean to him). Encourage your child to talk, but respect his wishes when he may not want to.

7. Ensure that your child is not exposed to media reports about the event that are repetitive, confusing, or frightening.

8. Ensure that your youngster knows how to reach you (or another family member or friend) in case of crisis during the school day. Remind her that she can talk to you anytime she feels threatened.

9. Keep the dialogue going and make school safety a common topic in family discussions, rather than just a response to an immediate crisis. Open dialogue will encourage kids to share their concerns. When speaking with your Aspergers child, it is best to use communication that is factual, simple, clear and sensitively worded.

10. Recognize behavior that may indicate your youngster is concerned about returning to school. Some kids may react to school violence by not wanting to attend school or participate in school-based activities. They may minimize their concerns outwardly, but may become argumentative, withdrawn, or allow their school performance to decline.

11. Stay calm. Your youngster will pick up on your emotions. If you’re an emotional disaster, he is going to feel it and panic too. It’s okay to let your child see you are upset, but wait until you can discuss it without falling apart.

12. Talk honestly about your own feelings regarding school violence. It is important for kids to recognize they are not dealing with their fears alone.

13. Validate the youngster’s feelings. Do not minimize her concerns. Let her know that serious school violence is not common, which is why these incidents attract so much media attention. Stress that schools are safe places. In fact, recent studies have shown that schools are more secure now than ever before.

14. Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about your youngster’s reaction, or have ongoing concerns about his behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at school or at your community mental health center.

15. Watch for signs of prolonged or excessive anxiety. Symptoms include:
  • Behavior problems (e.g., misbehaving in school or at home in ways that are not typical)
  • Clinging behavior (e.g., shadowing parents around the house)
  • Decreased activity
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness
  • Loss of concentration
  • Persistent fears related to the shooting (e.g., fears about being killed)
  • Physical complaints (e.g., stomachaches, headaches, dizziness) for which a physical cause can’t be found
  • Preoccupation with the school shootings
  • Refusal to return to school
  • Sadness
  • Sleep disturbances (e.g., nightmares, screaming during sleep, bedwetting, etc.) 
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

As a side note, it is a sad fact that many people (including the media) who lack accurate information about Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism are going to make rather large “leaps of logic” regarding the recent school shooting. For example, “the shooting occurred because the shooter had Aspergers” …or... “all children with Aspergers are prone to violence.”

Of course, we know this isn’t true. But as a parent of a child on the spectrum, you may find yourself on the receiving end of undue prejudice in the months ahead. Thus, below are some tips to help you face those who may be judgmental, excessively concerned, or just plain ignorant about your child’s disorder.

Tips for dealing with judgmental people:

1. Develop a sense of humor. Other people's judgments can be comical when they're completely irrelevant to what you believe or experience.

2. Don’t take it personally. Most of the times, others’ criticisms reflect more about themselves than about you. They react in this manner because of certain beliefs and frameworks they have about life. You may think the critical person is all out to get you, but it’s more likely he/she reacts in this same manner toward everyone else too.

3. Just as the judgmental comments of others reflect something about their inner frameworks, our discomfort with their comments reflects something about our inner frameworks too, especially if we are bothered by it. If you ever feel uncomfortable about others’ comments, look within to understand why you’re feeling that way. Why are you unhappy about what he/she just said? Why are you feeling uncomfortable with his/her comment? What is it about it that is bothering you? The discomfort is not because of the other person; rather, it’s really because of something in you. Honest answers to these questions should help you gain closure on your discomfort and help you to directly act on the situation by your own actions, without expecting anyone else to change.

4. Nurture yourself so you don't buy into the hurtful opinions of judgmental people out of stress or insecurity. Daily meditation is a great way to let go of negativity.

5. Recognize that others' irrational concerns are their problem. Their judgments reflect their own lack of accurate information, security and/or self-esteem. Distance yourself from their behavior by realizing you haven't done anything wrong as a parent of an Aspergers child.

6. Some people may voluntarily offer criticisms, even when you’re not asking for them. These criticisms may well be out of line and done in poor taste. One way you can respond is to retaliate in anger. However, since the person must have a lot of angst to be voluntarily dispensing criticisms in the first place, your retaliation will only invite more criticism. If you can’t stop them from voicing their opinions, then you have an option of ignoring them. Give a simple 1-2 liner response, one that acknowledges receipt of the comment – but doesn’t engage further in the discussion.

7.  If the judgmental person in your life is a family member, the emotional connection may make negative judgments more toxic. It will not be easy to avoid this person, but that does not mean you have to allow any judgmental statements to demoralize you. Turn the tables by telling your family member that you are concerned about his/her negative outlook, and then begin educating him/her about the Aspergers condition.

8. Take others’ criticisms as a source of honest feedback, rather than seeing them as uninvited criticisms. At least with them, you know “what you see is what you get.” I would much rather deal with a directly blunt person than with someone who is seemingly nice – but is fake! Some people pretend to be nice and supportive in front of you, when in actuality, they are not in agreement and they are just concealing their misgivings.

9. Judgmental people may simply be insecure and covering up by insisting they know better than everyone else. A judgmental person may simply need to feel respected and to believe his/her opinions matter. Engage this person in conversation and try to understand his/her point of view.

10. Work on your self-esteem. This is the key to dealing with judgmental people. Have a firm idea of your abilities, limitations, beliefs and values. This shields you from people who try to make you feel small so they feel superior.

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