Hurricane Florence and Emotional Recovery


The trauma of Hurricane Florence and the catastrophic flooding is overwhelming for children with autism.  While every child’s response is different, there are some common behaviors and reactions.  Emotional recovery involves caring adults responding to and supporting children at their unique developmental levels.

Common Behaviors and Reactions

  • Regressive behaviors (reverting back to earlier stages of development)
  • Problems sleeping and eating
  • Physical problems or complaints
  • Tantrums, acting out, anger, aggression
  • Withdrawing, non-responsiveness
  • Fears about safety, loss, and recurrence of the disaster
  • Intense sadness or hopelessness
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Depression

beach-beautiful-cloudy-1030320Helpful Strategies for Families at Home

  • Limit media coverage and conversations about the hurricane and flooding
  • Validate concerns and fears
  • Reassure your child about being safe and loved
  • Answer questions and concerns in an honest but comforting manner
  • Address changes in environment and schedules (loss of electricity, school closings, etc.)
  • Provide increased choice-making opportunities to allow a sense of control
  • Encourage play and exercise activities
  • Provide opportunities to do something to help others in need (donate items, volunteer, etc.)
  • Stress the positives of first responders, volunteers, and donations

Helpful Strategies for Families in Emergency Shelters

  • Set up a physical environment that best meets your child’s needs (advocate for the best match regarding lighting, noise level, etc.)
  • Model for staff the methods of communication that your child understands (visual supports, understandable words or gestures, simple statements and questions, simple directions, etc.)
  • Give food choices whenever possible
  • Entertain with play activities, movies, art, music, and games the child enjoys
  • Provide opportunities to move around and exercise
  • Avoid media coverage and conversations about the hurricane and flooding
  • Validate concerns and fears
  • Reassure your child about being safe and loved
  • Take your child’s lead in interactions
  • Keep a calm demeanor and a slow pace
  • Minimize demands and unwelcome intrusions
  • Give opportunities for your child to help
  • Point out the positives (first responders, volunteers, donations, words of support, etc.) 

In the days to follow, many children will return to a school setting.  Remember that each school has student services and support personnel who can assist with a child’s individual needs and concerns:  school counselors, school social workers, school nurses, school psychologists, special educators, etc.  These professionals work with other area specialists on many levels.  Emotional recovery is a process that requires time and support.

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Rose Marie Sherman
Parent Advocate/Special Projects; MA in Education, MA in Counseling
Rose Marie is a parent advocate and special projects assistant.  She is a certified educator and counselor who became a strong proponent of ABA when her son was diagnosed with autism.  Rose Marie utilizes her personal and professional experiences to help children and their families.

Read more about Rose Marie.

Text copyright © 2018 by Rose Marie Sherman


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