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Coping with Disaster: Helping Children with Cognitive Disabilities

By Anne F. Farrell and Daniel Crimmins

People respond differently to disaster. Some may appear unaffected, and others show distress, rage, and fear. Children’s reactions vary according to many factors, including their ages, abilities, and experiences. The children most directly affected are likely to have the greatest difficulty coping, but children with prolonged indirect exposure (including seeing events on TV) may also have trouble coping.

Children exposed to trauma may respond in some predictable ways. For most, these responses will diminish over the next few months, especially if the child did not experience injury, loss of a family member, or further trauma. Some of the common reactions of children, including children with cognitive disabilities, are as follows:

General Strategies for All Children

The following are general strategies to promote coping in children:

Additional Strategies for Children with Disabilities

Children with disabilities will benefit from all of the strategies listed above. Maintaining regular schedules may be particularly important for children who rely on routine as a coping method. Because of their information-processing differences, however, children with cognitive disabilities may also require strategies that address their unique needs:

Despite all of the above, some children with cognitive disabilities may develop stress disorders related to their exposure to a traumatic event. They should be referred to a mental health professional with appropriate training in both stress disorders and cognitive disability.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from the guide, “Coping with Disaster: Suggestions for Helping Children with Cognitive Disabilities,” by Anne F. Farrell and Daniel Crimmins, published by the Administration on Developmental Disabilities. Retrieved June 6, 2007 from Anne F. Farrell is Assistant Professor in Family Development and Family Studies, University of Connecticut, Stamford; she may be reached at 203/251-8590 or Daniel Crimmins is Associate Director for the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the Marcus Institute, Atlanta. He may be reached at or 404/419-4060.



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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota ( Citation: Moseley, C., Salmi, P., Johnstone, C. & Gaylord, V. (Eds.). (Spring/Summer 2007). Impact: Feature Issue on Disaster Preparedness and People with Disabilities, 20(1). [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration].

The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at

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