Talking with Children & Adults With ASD About the D.C. Riots
Posted on 01/11/21 in Parent and Caregiver by Beth Thompson, MSSA, LSW
The recent riots in Washington, D.C. were a horrifying display of disrespect and division. The hateful speech and shocking footage continuing to come out of the Capitol has left many of us struggling to process what all transpired. So how do we responsibly discuss such a significant event to our children and loved ones with ASD?
Milestones Program Director Beth Thompson, MSSA, LSW, shares some tips on how to prepare and handle this important conversation.
Monitor input and access:
It is tempting to be glued to our computers, phones and television screens when major incidents like this happen, but it is important to remember when a caregiver is getting news, their loved one with ASD is also absorbing it even if might appear as if they are not. One must set boundaries on how much news, particularly scary or anxiety-inducing news, they are taking in at a single time or day. Set limits for yourself and your teen/young adult and if necessary, how much time you or they will spend watching/reading about this event.
Maintain a calm environment:
Keep conversations private: Witnessing violence through the news can be triggering. You deserve to feel your feelings, but your children and young people with ASD don’t need to hear or be a part of graphic, anger-fueled conversations. Make an effort to refrain from having those conversations with other adults until your loved one with ASD is out of the room.
Keep mindfulness practices a regular part of your day: Daily quiet time for reflection, stretching and emotional regulation is important throughout the year, but even more critical when there are stressful stories in the news like the January 6th riot. Learn some new techniques or get a refresher on mindfulness practices by watching our Growing Family Resilience workshop series here.
Take sensory breaks as needed: Get absorbed in the feeling of heavy blankets with your loved one on the spectrum, put stimming time in your child’s schedule and mimic appropriate sensory breaks like listening to music in your favorite rocking chair. Sensory breaks allow some individuals on the spectrum time to regulate when they are feeling overstimulated.
Seek out professional services to build up your team: If you’ve always made time to take your child to therapies, make sure you are taking care of yourself as well. Talking with a counselor can help caregivers manage their own stress instead of it causing conflict in their home. If your child or young adult with ASD isn’t seeing a therapist, inquire with them or other caregivers to see if it might be beneficial to add another professional to the team supporting your child. Milestones is always here to help you find the right therapist for yourself or loved one.
Make concrete time to talk:
Some kiddos may ask questions all day about current events. Setting time in the day to discuss important things can help alleviate the need for a children to continuously talk and will give them a concrete time to express their feelings.
You can say, “I’m so glad you are telling me how you feel about this. We can share more at (specific time) and I will give you my full attention. If you need to write down what you want to share with me, you can do this here (provide tools to write down their thoughts).
If they come back and ask again, one should remind them that there will be a designated time do have this conversation - “I look forward to talking to you about this at (repeat specific time). Write down any thoughts you have and we will discuss it at (repeat specific time).”
Sometimes, it also helps to divert and reinforce them - “If you can complete (a task they need to get done before you have the discussion) by (repeat specific time), then we can talk about everything at one time.”
If they ask again, point to the sheet of paper they can write on and the time that you will talk with them.
Explain what happened:
For small children or older teens/adults with intellectual disabilities:
“Sometimes adults get mad and can act badly and that can be scary. The people who hurt people and things in D.C. were mad because they didn’t like who the country has chosen to be president. Instead of using their words, they interrupted our leaders from doing important work with their actions. But helpers stopped them and kept our leaders safe. It’s important that everyone uses their words when they are mad. We do not hurt other people when we are mad.”
For teens/young adults:
“The people who entered the Capitol Building in D.C., did so illegally. They believed that President Trump had lost the election unfairly. The decisions they made and actions they took damaged historic property and cost some people their lives. While many people went to D.C. to participate in a peaceful protest, a group of individuals chose to break the law resulting in severe punishments for them and others. Police and other security prevented more destruction and harm that could have happened, and kept all our governmental leaders safe. Once our appointed representatives were safe, the election of President-Elect Joe Biden was confirmed. Even though the rioters were mad, their behavior did not help them achieve their goal. It is important to remember when we are mad, that we must use our words and not harm others or property because it is illegal.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Milestones Program Director Beth Thompson, MSSA, LSW, has over a decade of experience working directly with young adults with autism, guiding families and individuals toward greater independence. Prior to joining Milestones in 2011, Beth served as a Youth Transition Specialist with LEAP (Linking Employment, Abilities & Potential). Beth earned her MSSA with a concentration in Community Development and Social Change from Case Western Reserve University. She has represented Milestones on the Employment First Transition Council for the State of Ohio where she assisted with policy development and implementation and also serves as a field advisor for Case Western Reserve University Graduate School of Social Work and previously sat on the internal curriculum committee. In addition, Beth was recently appointed to a three-year term with the Cuyahoga County Council for Persons with Disabilities. She has presented on topics related to teens and adults with autism throughout the state of Ohio and national conferences. Beth is dedicated to mentoring self-advocates to become teachers for others and expanding community engagement for individuals on the spectrum.