Frontline Initiative Coping with Disaster

Helping People you Support Cope with War and Terrorism

  1. Be honest and give age and developmentally appropriate explanations about the traumatic event. Only provide answers to questions that the people you support are asking and do not overwhelm them with too much detail. Use language that is appropriate for the people you support. Monitor your own and the people you support’s exposure to visual images that are terrifying in the newspapers or television. Use adaptive ways to communicate with the individuals you support.
  2. Help the people you support to express how they are feeling about what they have seen or heard. If the person you support has difficulty verbally expressing their feelings, work with them to find another outlet for expression. Ask the people you support, “What is the scariest or worst thing about this for you?” or “What is worrying you the most?”
  3. Tell the people who you support that what they are feeling (e.g., anger, anxiety, helplessness) is normal and that others feel the same way.
  4. Reassure the people who you support that you or another trusted direct support professional will be there to help them through any traumatic event.
  5. Help the people who you support to release their tension by encouraging daily exercise and activities.
  6. Structure and routine are very important to many people with disabilities, so try to keep daily routines on schedule and close to what people are used to doing.
  7. Recognize that war or a tragic event could elevate psychological or physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, abdominal pain or chest pain, nightmares). Anger and symptoms of illness can be a signs of anxiety. Check with a health care professional if escalation in symptoms persist beyond a couple of weeks.
  8. Use this opportunity as a time to work with the people who you support on their coping skills. Use coping strategies which you know are typically helpful for the people you support since each person copes in a way that is best for him or her (for example, prayer, doing things to help other people, listening to music).
  9. Remember that emotions are contagious. If you are highly upset or anxious, there is a chance that the people around you will feel the same way. If you are having difficulty coping with stress or with what is going on in the world around you, it is important to talk with someone who can help you to cope.
  10. Remember that this can be an opportunity to build future coping and life skills.

Adapted with permission from Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk, PhD, CPNP, NPP, FAAN, founder and chair of NAPNAP’s KySS (Keep your children/yourself Safe and Secure).