Recently there has been lots of news coverage of tragic events which can difficult for us all to process. We have been thinking about how families can support children with autism with their understanding, thoughts and feelings about these events and have put together some ideas below:
Provide opportunities to talk - your child might not know how to start a conversation about things like terrorist attacks and tragedies like the Grenfell Tower fire. You could use a news programme to open up a discussion to see if they wanted to ask any questions or if they were worried about these events. Don't try to push a conversation or the topic if your child doesn't seem interested or doesn't want to discuss these issues. Remember to pitch information at your child's level. Newsround is a news programme specifically for children. You could use pictures from newspapers or websites to create a picture story with simple statements or If your child has questions but doesn't like to talk you could ask them to write down any questions and you can either research the answers together or you could write back to them with some answers.
Provide guidelines on who they can talk to - Your child might not know who they can talk to if they do wish to discuss these news stories. Children might want to talk about these topics at times or with people that might seem inappropriate. As these are quite sensitive topics you could draw up a list of people or use pictures of people to show them who they can talk to about different things.
Talk about feelings - You might need to explain that it is ok to feel sad, worried, scared, angry, helpless or confused about these events. If your child is struggling with these emotions you could see if there are any resources to help them. Our Information and Advice Service is always happy to put together information on resources that might help with understanding and managing emotions. Your child might struggle to express how they feel or might feel under pressure with a direct conversation on these difficult topics. You can always model your responses to news stories to help show your child how they make you feel and how you might deal with these feelings. For example "This news story makes me feel sad. I am sad for the people who know somebody who died and for the people who have been hurt. I might see if there is something I can do to help because this might make me feel better" or "It's quite frightening when bad things like this happen. I must remember that these things are very rare and that lots of people are working very hard to keep us safe so I don't get too scared or worried."
Offer reassurance - You can do this explaining that these events are very rare. You can tell your child that there is more security in place at events to keep people safe from attacks. If your child is worried about house fires you can show them that you have a fire alarm and practice a fire drill so they feel more confident about what would happen if there was a fire. You can also offer reassurance by having a good routine with plenty of familiar activities that support your child to feel safe and calm.
Point out the positives - When there are lots of stories in the news about tragic events it can be easy for children to think the world is a frightening place with lots of bad people and danger. The news tends to focus more on stories where people have died or have been hurt. You might want to show your child the positives that often accompany these situations such as communities coming together and offering support. You could show your child some of these positives in pictures (a quick google search will often give you a choice of images) and you can talk about them together. You could also support your child to recognise positive news stories. There are some websites dedicated to good news such as The Good News Network.
Provide distractions - It can be easy to become pre-occupied with these events because they receive so much news coverage and many people are talking about them. You might want to limit when you have news channels on and supervise your child's internet use so that they aren't exposed to too much negative news. People with autism can find it very difficult to put things into context so might feel that these events are happening all the time if they are seeing them all the time in the news.
Although it is healthy to provide opportunities to talk about these subjects you might also want to distract your child if they are becoming overly pre-occupied. You could try scheduling in some talking time each day where your child can discuss these issues and then at other times you might suggest they save their questions until it is talking time and then try changing the topic to something else or try engaging them in an activity they enjoy.