Saturday, December 15, 2012

Talking about tragedy with students who have special needs

This past Friday has been met with horrific tragedy which will never make sense. Students everywhere are going to need to process the information they have heard in the news. This includes those with special needs who may have significant communication and social challenges. It is important to work together as a team in your school or district to have an organized plan which addresses all students. This plan must include ongoing support as well as some direction in gathering content/programming to support coping skills now and in the future. Here are some resources but there are many more. Please share your thoughts, ideas and resources.
Special Needs: Discussion around tragedy

Talking to kids about tragedy

NEA School Resources

Talking about the events of Friday

National Association of School Psychologists

New York State SEL Plan - Good example of a comprehensive social-emotional support plan.

For some students, the materials will have to be substantially adapted to support understanding and coping. This must be carefully developed and based on language they are familiar with. Keep it very simple and address concepts in small and short increments. Certain topics and discussions may need to be repeated for understanding and processing. For students with special needs, please make sure you are communicating with the families in terms of how these topics are going to be managed. Many times students who do not use spoken language and who may have more significant disabilities are overlooked during these times. They hear the same news, adults speaking and feel the sadness around them. They must be included in the grief counseling process in an appropriate accessible manner which is sensitive to their developmental thinking processes.

Make sure you maintain routines. Talk and teach about feelings all year long. One of the things we have to remember is that the more prepared our students are in managing very stressful situations, the more open they will be to working through their feelings in a manner which can be productive to their emotional health. When we integrate social-emotional learning into most aspects of our instruction (not just a separate lesson which is not effective), our students will develop and generalize those skills needed to better understand what they are feeling and to accept help which can be accessed in a manner which allows for the healing process to take place. Please also be very aware of what the students are exposed to on an ongoing basis and what types of conversations are occurring within earshot. Make sure those routines, materials etc. that typically comfort them are made readily available. Most of all, talk with each other to make sure everyone is receiving the consistent support they require.

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