Processing a tragic event like a mass shooting can be difficult for everyone. For people with disabilities, unique challenges can arise when it comes to communicating those fears.
Whether heard in the news or experienced firsthand, the pain of gun violence is felt in every community.
A murder outside a fast food restaurant in November 2021 remains in Paul Kramer’s hands.
“It had a big impact on me,” Kramer said. “I can’t go there anymore. I’m too nervous to go down that road. I don’t even go to the theater anymore.”
As someone with autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Cramer can be preoccupied with certain thoughts and fears that cause a lot of anxiety. At least once a month she goes out with Social She Worker Amelia She Izzo.
“Sometimes I want to be away from that environment because I get so busy at home,” Izzo said.
Cramer said he felt more relaxed in the car and found it easier to open up.
“If you’re talking about gun violence, and how you’re dealing with fear and anxiety by going out in your community and worrying that something like this is going to happen, what works for some people is: It’s going to be different for some people, different people,” Izzo said. “So we are really focused on the language we are using. What do you like that makes the most sense to them when you’re working with them?”
Izzo found that common reactions to fear, such as avoidance and fixation, are amplified in people with disabilities and are often manifested through physical symptoms and behaviors.
“Validation is a big part, it’s a real thing like, ‘Oh, that could happen,'” Izzo said. “Those things happen and it’s really scary. It’s the biggest thing I do with people and I’m really processing like the emotions they’re having.”
Chatting in the car helped Cramer realize that he had limited control.
“Sometimes I try to avoid things or say nothing, but I’m more assertive than I used to be,” Kramer said. “For a while, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. I would shake at times. In general, I think I’m doing better than I thought I would.” People say I’m doing well.”