Whenever I read or hear of devastation from hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, fires, and other natural or human-caused chaos, I immediately think of all the victims struggling to meet their most basic needs. I am also acutely aware of how overwhelming this can be for individuals with autism.
Autism makes it difficult to process other people’s expectations, situations, sensory information, and events and to respond effectively. Typically this causes people with autism to crave routine and predictability, which provides comfort and enables them to function more successfully. Chaotic, devastating events such as this past week’s storm turn everything upside down, for individuals with autism, and for the people who care for them.
How can we help individuals with autism process, make sense of, and respond effectively to devastation and loss when it is incomprehensible even to us?
- Specifically note the positives, including the people who are helping to meet our needs or the needs of others, the tools/strategies that are in place to improve the situation, and the progress that is made from day to day, even if it seems miniscule or unimportant.
- Create a timeline to help promote hope, and to demonstrate even gradual improvement over time.
- Be sure to note the things that have NOT changed. Were some favorite items salvaged? Are family members and friends still there? Are some familiar routines still in place?
Fortunately these devastating situations typically mobilize family members, neighbors and other community members, and even partners from around the world to provide necessary supplies and funding to bring about improvement in the lives of those who have lost so much. There are also teaching tools and other resources which can be used to provide understanding, comfort, and “next steps.” (Go to www.thegraycenter.org for Carol Gray's New Social Story Book: Anniversary Edition, which contains Stories about wildfires and evacuations which can be adapted for other forms of devastation, and her Guide to Grief and Loss for helping people deal with loss in a variety of forms. Fidgets can also be helpful for dealing with stress and overwhelm
However you have been impacted by devastation, whether as a recipient or a bystander, I hope you’ll continue to promote social understanding, and use your resources to do what you can to bring hope and comfort to those who need it.