How to talk about the Boston tragedy to children, people with disabilities



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Posted on April 16, 2013 at 7:29 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 16 at 7:40 PM

The Boston Marathon bombings present unique challenges no one wants to face when it comes to confronting fear and tragedy.   In particular, children and people with disabilities have a hard time comprehending, advocates say.

“I think people make assumptions about I.Q. being relative to feeling,” explained Sylvia Fuerstenberg with ARC of Seattle. “I think that’s changing.”

Fuerstenberg said in the past, people with developmental disabilities would be sheltered from difficult news or events.

“We shouldn’t avoid the topic,” she continued, “but sometimes, we should let the person with the disability lead the understanding.”

That conversation is on the mind of Sammamish’s Janet Howe.  Howe ran in the Boston Marathon and finished twenty minutes before the bombs exploded.  She spoke with KING 5 from Philadelphia, as she prepared to fly home and explain to her autistic son what happened.

“There might be a tendency to assume they’re not aware of what’s happened,” Howe said. “There is a need to shelter, but there’s also a need to be honest.

“I don’t think I will say that somebody planted it.  I’ll just say there was a fire.”

Eric Matthes is well aware of what took place.  He has Down Syndrome and works at the ARC advocating for people with disabilities.

“It kind of gave me chills up my spine when I was at work and I heard about that,” Matthes said about the bombings. “I thought about how I would feel if something like that happened to me.”

He recalled earlier tragedies in his life, and how his parents told him what had taken place.  In particular, he remembered visiting Memphis, Tennessee, and seeing the location where Martin Luther King Jr., one of his heroes, was assassinated.

 “It reminded me of why I have this job that I have,” Matthes said tearfully, “and how important it is.”

Counselors say the key to talking to anyone about grief is telling the truth, particularly with children.  They add youths should not be shielded from bad news, but should not be subjected to it repeatedly.