Renay had a bit of a hard week this week, losing a classmate from college to complications related to cancer. But Renay is also fortunate that she has friends who know how to help her talk about the great things that got to experience with her classmate from college.
Which raised a reminder for us about the importance of teaching coping skills to students with disabilities. Life is unpredictable, can be harder than necessary some days, and above all else, the accumulation of experiences that one person will have the privilege of undergoing. And the surprise, that sometimes baffles even the most introverted person, is that life is not a solitary journey, at worse it is a parallel journey shared by many all at the same time.
And then you meet people who deal with grief and coping skills for students with disabilities who seem to dismiss the importance of handling the emotional load that comes with loss. Loss is not just death. Loss is a friend moving away, disappointment in a future you thought was possible, or even, the little things that were once a little bit of a dream but no longer an option. And no matter the age, these are hard things to deal with.
So what are things we can do to help students with disabilities through things that require extra coping skills?
- Engage the family. This will typically happen through the case manager. You’ve noticed the student with more physical behaviors than before. You’ve maybe noticed the student not engaging in with their peers. Find out what happened. Sometimes the family will come forward, but sometimes they don’t know that there are resources through the school that can help them. And of course you want to help them with the resources that they could potentially use. If it is a death in the family, this would be a helpful time to help reinforce the family views on death and how people are remembered. Even if the death is ages ago, some students with disabilities have a hard time grappling with the distance of physical time and seeing or hearing certain things can make them remember the feelings.
- Respond to behaviors strategically. This is a great time to be very consistent with responses to large behaviors with a student. Large behaviors include anything that is potentially harmful to the student or is destructive in nature. Letting campus security there are issues occurring is important in the chain of events to make sure that everyone can stay safe.
- Give the student: space, time, and guidance. Behaviors and responses to emotions for any student take time and sometimes space. This is where the phrase, “You can feel [insert emotion], but do you need to go somewhere else to be alone a little while to let the feelings go?” becomes very useful. And while the student may go over and sit by a tree in the campus quad, they are not alone, you are within perhaps twenty feet and keeping an eye on the student if they need you. Before the student goes back the class or activity, it is a good time to review things they need to be able to go back to class. Offer an option to see the campus consoler if you know they happen to be available. It is also a good way to teach students who have a hard time communicating the words they need for the moments they feel trapped by their emotions. There is not a great way to gauge if things are just being challenging or if a student is still remembering the emotions they have for their loss.
- Find skills the student can use to express their grief. Perhaps it is letter writing. Some students can draw. Other students can use their interests to help draw out their experiences. This is going to be a slow process, but has worked for many, many students.
- Give yourself some space after a behavior event to calm down. Sometimes it’s about being in another room like the library or maybe it’s grabbing lunch off campus. Changing up and getting away from the depths of behaviors from a student is just as important for you as it is for your student.
Grief is not a solitary journey. And the world is still there when you’re through. It most certainly looks different for every person. It is a life skill to find a way to respond to things we don’t like or we don’t know how to find the words for. And it is worth every moment to work through.
ParaEducate’s Blog will sign off for the summer on May 28, 2015. Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Are you interested in participating as a Guest Blogger for ParaEducate? Do you have a question for us? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here and here. ParaEducate is company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.