Guide to Families with Children with Developmental Disabilities on Coping with States of Emergency
Yitzhak Hirshberg - Director of the Lubner Family Therapy Center, Beit Issie Shapiro
There are incoming rockets, sirens and a summer vacation – a difficult mix to handle. Parents are facing a situation that is first and foremost dangerous; in addition they need to change plans, break “promises” for a good time they made to their children, and try to explain that this is an unexpected and unplanned situation that was forced on all of us and that even the “grownups” can’t change it right now. The parents also don’t know what is going to happen but they do know that they must find the strength to help, support and protect their children in this situation. Thing are a lot more complicated in families with a child or children with developmental disabilities. There are difficulties both on the physical and emotional levels. These children sometimes have mobility difficulties and cannot move quickly from one place to another, sometimes it is more difficult for them to understand and often there are communication issues. Nonetheless, these children always perceive and feel the tension in their environment and they certainly sense the disruption to their daily routines.
So what should you do when you are at home with a child with disabilities:
- Make the shelter as pleasant and attractive as possible and make sure that it includes some of the child’s familiar and loved objects or toys. It should be a place where it is pleasant to spend time regardless of the circumstances.
- Maintain the family’s daily routines as much as possible: meals, bedtime rituals, shower, etc. An emergency situation shouldn’t mean that standards of reasonable behavior are let go. On the contrary, children feel more secure when these standards continue to be held.
- Give the children true information but only to the degree they can understand it. Yes, “admit” that things are different these days, that there is tension and worry. But the children shouldn’t be exposed to too much of the media’s reports of the situation.
- But also give the real message, that we have the capacity to cope with the situation, and that if we follow the rules and do what we should we will be safe.
- As much as possible it is good for the children engage in activities that will make them feel capable and successful. Play various games for instance; physical activities and movement are highly recommended.
- An important message is that the change and disruption are temporary.
- If you perceive atypical behavior, such as a significantly lower mood, highly regressive behaviors, reduced appetite or significant sleep difficulties, it is recommended that you consult a professional.
- The effects of anxiety and symptoms can appear later, even a week or more after the event, so continue to be alert and observe the children even after things return to normal.
When relocation is necessary
- It is important that the children are equipped with well-loved objects and toys.
- Make sure to provide them even at the new place with their favorite food, clothes, and that they can watch the TV shows they like. It may be helpful to leave with the child personal items of the parents that s/he can keep near.
- Maintain ongoing and regular contact through phone calls and visits as much as possible.
The general lesson here is that children, even when they have disabilities, can usually handle the kind of situations that we are facing today. The adults need to provide good enough conditions so the children will indeed be able to cope with the challenging times. The term “developmental disability” covers a very wide range of difficulties. From children with mobility disabilities to children with communication or cognitive disabilities, from children with slight disabilities to children with severe disabilities who need substantial and ongoing assistance. Caregivers must respond to the specific needs and capacities of each child to understand and communicate.