Tools to Help Kids Understand Hurricanes

n2y Staff

n2y created news stories and symbol-supported materials to help explain what is happening around them during hurricanes. Storms and natural disasters are traumatic events. People who experience them often see, hear, feel and do things that they have never done before and can never forget. Children and adults who have intellectual disabilities have additional challenges understanding events that seem to defy explanation in so many ways.

Suggestions for Helping Others Understand

If your situation is still tenuous, stay focused on the calmness and safety of everyone. Consider using short, scripted phrases or familiar communications until the circumstances allow for more complex communications. Some scripted phrases could include: “We are going for a ride”, “We will stay together.” “Firefighters and police officers are here to help.” “It is scary, but we going to a safe place. We need to stay together.”

If your situation has stabilized, consider repeating those calm, safe, messages and extend communications to what happened, including, “There was a big storm. A lot of rain fell.” Depending on the listener’s feedback and understanding, you could include statements such as, “Most storms are much smaller.” Or “This storm was bigger than any other storm.”

Breaking News Stories

The Breaking News stories can help further explain what happened. The Advanced Versions of the stories include large photos with captions and text. The Regular Versions of the same stories include symbol-supported text for unfamiliar vocabulary and greater understanding word by word or sentence by sentence. Consider using symbols or a communication board to discuss with individuals what has happened or will happen. Ask about his or her needs and feelings using symbols or other communication methods used by the listener.

Communication Boards

A follow-on question to what happened would be, what’s next or what will happen now? Consider focusing on calm, safe, scripted phrases. “Many people are helping. We are safe. The storm will end. We will stay together.” Again, a communication board can help with reciprocal understanding. Try to remember that there is no rush and no problem repeating calm, safe, messages with soothing voice, symbol supports, sign language, or other familiar communication methods.

The enormity of some events is difficult for nearly everyone to understand. The volume of rain was unprecedented. The second landfall is very unusual. Although many news stories report these facts as it is their duty, consider helping children to remember that most storms are not this big. Almost all storms come and go with a rumble of thunder and rain to water the flowers and trees. This one was unusual, but it too will end.

About the Author

n2y’s staff works closely with educators, in‑house experts, and program developers to share the latest topics and timely thought leadership from the field. It’s our goal to help keep you informed and ready to serve your students!