Superstorm Sandy can make for very difficult moments for students with special needs. Even though we live in Missouri and Kansas, kids here may struggle with the storm. It may seem strange that students here would be overly concerned about a storm that should not really affect them, but it is important to keep in mind that due to learning disabilities, language impairments, cognitive impairments, or emotional disturbances these students may not fully understand what is going on and how it can and cannot affect us. Kids may worry (even obsess) about the possibility of dangerous weather occurring here, some may fear for the lives and homes of the people affected and not be able to concentrate on work, they may know someone who is volunteering or deployed on the coast or someone is stranded there due to flight cancellations, or some may have an affection for weather and storms and want to discuss nothing but the storm and all the possible scenarios.
Some fears may be “well-founded”. Students may have friends and/or family that live in the east and may be in Sandy’s path. There may be students who have family, friends, or neighbors who are headed to the coast to help in relief efforts. Other fears may be “irrational”, but are very real for our students. Whether fears are rational, irrational, or the storm is an obsession, here are some tips that may be helpful.
- If you have a television in your classroom, do NOT leave it on storm coverage throughout the day.
- Keep discussions about the storm to facts (preferably not how many deaths have happened or are expected). Speculating can be confusing for students with special needs.
- Send a note home to let parents know that you are discussing Sandy and give parents the opportunity to inform you of any way Sandy may affect their student/family.
- Remember that even if you love the scientific side of the storm, your excitement may be upsetting and not fully understood.
- Assure students that the torrential rains and blizzard-like snows are not going to come here.
- Keep discussions about Sandy short and teach what you originally planned. (If a student/s are struggling with Sandy, give them an opportunity to talk to you about it one-on-one or in a small group, or have them talk with the counselor.)
- If Sandy is giving you an opportunity to teach tie-in lessons, it may be best to wait until the storm is over to teach about the storm.
Sandy does give educators opportunities to teach lessons that they would not normally get to teach. Students may produce better work due to an emotional attachment to what they are seeing and hearing, but it is important to reign in the discussions and possibly make these assignments optional for students who are struggling with fear about Sandy.