When raising neurodivergent kids, everything feels bigger. They tend to react harder to a lot of events and experiences. We don't tend to shield our kids from the harsh realities of the world either, but give them just little bits of information and help them process so they aren't shocked as adults when they suddenly realize how horrible the world can be. As they get older and pay closer attention, it is harder to hide things too.
This week in Michigan, there was another school shooting. It is among the 144 incidents of gun violence on school ground that have occurred in 2021 according to https://everytownresearch.org/maps/gunfire-on-school-grounds/, This one killed 4 teenagers making it the deadliest school shooting since 2018. Columbine (1999) and Sandy Hook (2012) are among the most horrific incidents in the United States school shootings history. My kids vaguely know about those events. But the Oxford high school shooting was close to home. It directly affected people close to us. A good friend knows one of the injured children and knew one of the deceased ones. In the days following this primary incident, many schools in our area received threats and needed evacuation. One was the high school Rory attended briefly for orchestra. We spent the afternoon checking in on their friends who were evacuated from the school grounds and have maintained contact with them daily to check on their mental health.
We have also kept a close eye on Rory to ensure they are ok. They aren't. They are mad, sad, frustrated, and more. They are glad their friends are safe physically but worried about their mental states and encouraging them to seek counseling. This shooting and subsequent threats also happened when Rory was trying to coordinate and see these friends, but has put their own needs aside out of concern for their friends' mental health states. This display of maturity and deference to their friends is a frequent demonstration of Rory's character at only 14 years old. But, Rory shouldn't have to act this way or feel the need to put their own feelings aside to be there for their traumatized friends.
Shockingly, Will was little affected. He reacts in a big way when his own world is rocked so I expected him to have big feelings. He said that it was sad, and he was angry teenagers could get guns, but that he didn't know anyone who was hurt or killed. This sounds very detached and unfeeling. But those with autism often struggle to empathize. While Will can now understand others' feelings and experiences feelings deeply himself, he doesn't internalize these feelings the way I do. Leigh, though also an aspie (his preferred term), is overly empathetic. He magnifies the feelings of others which we think causes him greater struggles in socialization. This week has been difficult for him too being a father and truly feeling the despair the more directly affected parents are experiencing.
So with all these big feelings dancing around our home during what should be a joyous time of year, what are we doing to help everyone?
Well, we aren't trying to overshadow the sadness and anger with joyful Christmas celebration. We are allowing our people to sit with their feelings and validate them and allow them to move on as they are able. Because our kids talk to us, we know what they feel they need. Sometimes those things aren't doable, but as often as we can, we support them how THEY need. So, how can you support your kids when tragedy strikes? First, don't pretend it didn't happen. Don't go about normal life like everything is fine. Give them a day (or more) off school/work. Fill a bubble bath and give them tea. Let them sit with their emotions. Whatever they may be. Accept their emotions. Sit with them. LISTEN when they ask to speak to a professional (I have free and low cost resources, so don't use money as an excuse)!
Tragedy will always be part of our world. Whether it is timely death due to old age, moving away from friends, homelessness, joblessness, food insecurity, or a mass shooting or war. Tragedy is here always. Don't minimize or ignore what your children experience. Whether neurodivergent or neurotypical, sit with them in their experiences and listen to them. Get professional help. Don't ignore it.