Katherine Scott, M.Ed/Ed.S, LMFT
Tragedy has rocked our nation for decades regarding school shootings. For now, there is no ‘fix’ for the escalation. The theme of being active members of history-making continues, which can weigh heavy on the minds of our youth. Throw neurodiversity into the mix, and the fear and trepidation surrounding our places of education can become even more complex.
Experiencing the world through a neurodivergent lens can vary drastically from a neurotypical lens. One can find numerous articles related to ‘talking to children about school shootings’ yet those articles assume privilege. With neurodiversity comes different neural pathways in the brain, which can lead to a need for different perspective validation. For example, affirming a child is safe at their individual school may be a well-enough band-aided promise of security, where as a neurodivergent mind may scoff at the lack of proof. They are not in the wrong to scoff at a well-meaning adults empty promise either. Unpredictability can send their experiences into chaos, and school shootings fall into that category.
As a mental health professional whose niche is neurodiversity, I wanted to advocate for the needs of those struggling to grapple with the fear surrounding the unprecedented time in our Nation where school shooter drills can realistically hold grave and unreliable outcomes.
Tips when speaking with your neurodivergent child about school shootings:
Validate their feelings and discomfort with unpredictable tragedy
Allow your child to verbally process their perspectives and concerns related to the shooting and hold space for their exploration. Encourage outward processing vs internal. Encourage your child access to other modalities of outward processing through art, dance, music, shaving cream, or whatever creative outlet is preferred. Judgement of one’s experiences is discouraged during these times.
Equip your child with the facts
If they are concerned about their own safety at their place of education, allow the child to see a school map and visually show them the safety features present. Perhaps request the aid of a school administrator in walking your child through safety protocol, as these measures differ from school to school. Facts are powerful in building resiliency. Knowledge is power.
Add a safety plan to your child’s IEP or 504 education plans
Many school drills do not accommodate for those with anxiety, sensory, visual, or auditory processing difficulties. When drills begin this can be extremely triggering for a neurodivergent child. Whenever one is deeply triggered a freeze response can occur, which could not only be detrimental to the goal of acquiring safety, but traumatic for a child.
Provide Role Play
Role play safety drills in different locations. This can aid in creating more neural pathways in the brain which could make the drill easier to access for a triggered child in the face of chaos and disarray.
Ask for help if you need it
Parenting kids with special needs, autism and neurodivergence can be challenging on our best days. If you need help in your journey, please reach out to friends who “get it,” or to professionals that can help. Give us a call if you’d like to find out how a therapist can help.
About the Author
Katherine Scott is our “autism whisperer” at Puzzle Peace Counseling, where she works with neurodivergent kiddos and their parents on a daily basis. Her writing has been featured in several publications including FMHCA’s In Session Magazine, and Helpful Living. She is also a blogger at Kat The Counselor where you can read more about her life as a therapist, as well as order her new children’s book, “The Tail of A Trio,” a heartwarming story of three dogs and their friendship journey.