Here at Along, we know that having difficult conversations with students can be challenging. However, when there’s a distressing local, regional, or national event in the news cycle, we often can’t, or shouldn’t, ignore a tough subject matter. We invite you to read this blog written by Dr. Andrew Kahn, expert of psychology and learning at our partner organization, Understood—the resource for the more than 70 million people with learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia. Dr. Kahn shares specific ways to talk about stressful events with neurodivergent individuals:
Traumatic events have become all too commonplace in our lives. Over the last few weeks, with the Texas elementary school and Buffalo shootings, as well as the many other violent acts that have taken place across the U.S. and the world, people are experiencing an endless cycle of emotions — anger, grief, anxiety, fear, and in some cases, helplessness. It’s nearly impossible for many of us to process so much pain, loss, and the resulting sense of insecurity that it has caused.
When it comes to these serious issues, words and conversations are a necessity in being able to understand and work through things that may feel unexplainable. Conversation is a crucial step to gaining perspective and to processing the emotions that we’re feeling. These discussions matter.
For some people with learning and thinking differences, like ADHD and dyslexia, conversations about violence and trauma can be extremely difficult. Neurodivergent people, including kids, often experience increased challenges with anxiety, or with managing emotions and focus, compared to neurotypical people. An unending flow of stressful events can be very challenging.
It’s often difficult to start these conversations. But there are some specific things to keep in mind when discussing traumatic events with neurodivergent individuals in an effective and empathetic way:
1. Be proactive. Discussing topics like violence and racism can be overwhelming for many, but avoiding these conversations can create more anxiety and stress for people with learning and thinking differences.
When having these conversations, ask open-ended questions to gain more insight into what they’re feeling and why. Encourage questions, and answer them as honestly as you can.
2. Be a consistent conversation starter. These are not one-and-done conversations. Unfortunately, these events, challenges, and experiences are part of our history and our current world. Ongoing conversations promote both understanding and connectedness.
To help with focus issues, break up bigger conversations into smaller chunks.
3. Be honest and open. This is particularly critical for parents, as kids often rely on them to help navigate challenges. Be honest about what you know and don’t know, how you’re feeling, and what you’re doing to help your child feel safe and supported. This openness can help others feel more comfortable about being vulnerable and asking for the support they need. For parents, tools like a feelings wheel can also help children with learning differences put words to the emotions they’re feeling.
4. Be reliant on resources to help. When it comes to the traumas and experiences associated with injustices and social issues, explore resources for yourself, your child, your classrooms, and your peers. These resources not only provide informative support, but remind us that we’re not alone.
Here are a few resources to help with discussions about recent events:
- Understood.org: Racism and violence: How to help kids handle the news
- Understood.org: How scary news can impact kids who learn and think differently
- Jed Foundation: How to cope with traumatic events
- Mayo Clinic: Helping children cope: Tips for talking about tragedy
- Sesame Street in Communities: Traumatic experiences
If you’d like to connect with others in conversation, visit Wunder.