Helping Children with “Special Needs” Whether the Storm


Our children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, behavior, communication and other life challenges tend to be most functional and calm and happy when they are able to have predictability in life. There are few things more unpredictable than a tropical storm, hurricane, tornado or other natural catastrophe. Those of us who live in an area where these types of events occur know first hand how traumatizing these events can be for our children. I will present several suggestions to help our children whether the unpredictable weather. 

Parents and siblings can help our children during times of storms and other events by keeping the emotional wellbeing of our children in mind. 

– Keep a positive tone to talk about the storm and keep the focus on the things you and they are able to do.

 Be direct and loving by calmly and factually discuss what a hurricane is “A big rain storm with high winds that can be very noisy . . .”

– You know your child’s anxieties, discuss the most worrisome fears and discuss what you and they can do to overcome them. “If we are not able to go outside for  a while, we can play boardgames or do some crafts”.

– Have our children be active participants, get your child to help in the preparation as if you were packing for a trip. Assign someone to check the battery supply or load the batteries into the items you will need. Give a child the responsibility to fill water bottles etc. . .

– Create an activity kit, pull together a collection of activities your child likes to do. If they like to play with technology be sure to have the devises fully charged and have additional power supplies. As power may go down, alternate both technology and non technology activities. Keep paper, pencils, and crayons available as well as playing cards and reading books. If they like to collect something, keep them available.

– Sensory issues, many of our children will become disturbed by the continuous sounds of wind, rain, generators, and even upset pets. Keep available earplugs, headphones, and gum (to stop ears from popping due to change in barometric pressure).

Food,  as many of our children are “picky eaters”, be sure to have plenty of the foods and snacks they like.

– Write a social story. Create a simple 8-10 sentence story to describe the events that may be coming. Keep the language completely positive and hopeful. Go over the story as a form or preparation. For younger children use visuals such as pictures to reinforce the story. 

– Practice, have a practice drill, prior to the development of any storms. There is nothing better than a concrete, hands on experience to prepare a child as long as it is done in a clear and calm manner. 

Some supply recommendations:

  • Cell phone, charged
  • Backup power supply
  • Water and food for 5-8 days (1 gal. water per person for each day and focus on non-perishable proteins)
  • First aid kit
  • Portable radio and flashlight with batteries
  • Full tank of gas in car if evacuation is needed
  • Medications for 5-8 days
  • A full bathtub with a bucket for flushing the toilet
  • Each person should have an emergency and identification card on them including important phone numbers (include numbers of relatives or friends who live in other areas than yours)

Empowering your children with or without “special needs” with answers to their worries  will help alleviate anxiety for many. Also, remember to have a debrief after the storm has passed, we want to focus on their strengths and to try minimizing the impact of their anxieties. This will boost their self-confidence, empower them, and help them to feel less anxious about the  unpredictable events in life. 

Dr. Eric NACH

Support for Students Growth Center of Boca Raton