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Not being able to see, talk, or hug a loved one again can be completely overwhelming and confusing. But for autistic children and adults, it can be completely hard to understand. Understanding and coping with loss can be even more difficult for children with autism spectrum disorders. Autistic children and autistic adults are normally very routine-oriented and any form of t ransition can be extremely rough. When change is necessary, as much planning in advance as possible is ideal for our routines. So as you can imagine, the death of someone close truly upsets our routine as well as causes emotions and behaviors we are just not used to.
With life, death is inevitable.
How People with Autism Grieve, and How to Help
Below are some ideas about how to help kids with autism understand and handle death. In my life, I have dealt with death quiet a few times. When I was growing up, autism was not commonly diagnosed especially in girls. The use of literal and concrete words made things much more understandable for me,. The first time I ever dealt with death was when my grandmother passed away. It was just a few weeks prior to my sixth birthday, and very unexpected at that.
I remember crying for a short while, then crying again on our way to the funeral when I saw my dad cry. From there, I did not cry on my own accord again. I was extremely close to my grandma seeing them every Saturday of my life up until then. Even at such a young age, I felt no need to cry again.
I had an understanding in my own mind that I knew my grandma would not want me sad. I remember the confusion this caused my cousins and my cousin Junior age 8 at the time getting mad at me because I was not crying. Though I explained to him that grandma would not want us sad, he could not understand why I was not crying. As you can imagine by the fact that this is engraved in my memory, this was very upsetting to me.
I saw death as very concrete. I understood that her soul was no longer with us and all that remained was a body.
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The only part that ever confused me was why others responded to her death the ways they did. Even though my parents did not have the resource on explaining death to an autistic child back then, they did quiet amazing all considered. There will be the crying that come with the initial news, then a second smaller spell, then the tears stop. Not because I no longer grieve, but solely because that is just my process.
Use very concrete, clear descriptions when it comes to describing death. As you may have already figured out, those with autism speak and think very literal. We all want to make things easier, but baby talk and sugar-coating it will make it much harder for an autistic child or adult. Explain that their body was not able to work anymore, or unable to be healthy anymore.
You may have to reiterate that they will no longer see grandma anymore. We are christian, so my parents explained to me that through death, her soul had moved on but the body had remained and was not longer grandma. That is was her earthly shell. For me, this explanation helped me to grieve her loss. This may or may not work for your child. The important thing is for you to remind them that they can ask you any questions and you will do your best to answer them. I had a basic understanding that people would cry and be sad.
All he saw was me acting as if nothing had happened, not showing what he felt were appropriate emotions.
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This goes the same for those with ASD. Your child may grieve for a very long time. There is also the possibility that your child like myself may grieve only a short time. That does not mean their love is any less, and should not be looked down upon. We all grieve different and need to accept that process is different for everyone. Helping a child with autism through loss and grief is not an easy process. Each person is different, so their amount of involvement may be different but does not need to be removed.
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