Autism & grief

The loss of a loved one is a sad process for many of us. Although it is often assumed that children / adults with autism feel nothing or have no emotions about it, the death of a loved one for someone with autism is indeed a radical event. Because of their "autistic thinking" they can get confused because they can not place their own emotions. In the event of the death of an attachment person, problems may arise in, for example, the processing process.

Children in turn experience a death differently from an adult with autism. Children with autism often have an emotional developmental delay and information processing, so that a death does not seem to have any impact at first sight, they will not react emotionally "the same" as peers. It is therefore important to focus on the mental age of the child with autism in such a case and not to use the calendar age. Guidance must then be coordinated in the right way.

Children in the age of 3 - 6 years do not yet know the difference between life and death; dying is a kind of "sleeping". So there is no awareness of a final farewell. Children can often ask practical and practical questions, where it is important to take them seriously and to respond patiently. Do not make a taboo of it! Of course these are never the "nice" conversations in life, but it is part of it.

Children aged 9 - 12 often have a different approach to the "death process"; they are more aware of the fact that death is something definitive. The behavior of the child must then be closely monitored. Many children with autism do not yet know well if they feel sadness and how they should express this. Adults soon expect that a child will know how to behave in such a situation. Children with autism benefit most from someone who understands them and explains that "grief" is not something like a play, but that you really have to feel it. Do you feel no sorrow? Then you do not have to cry and the environment will have to respect that.

It is good to realize that children / adults with autism interpret different ritual - associated with a funeral / cremation ceremony - differently. Nothing is self-evident. A "cozy" coffee table and cheerfully coloring flower arrangements are hard to reconcile for a sad event. Spoken words, texts & poems can be taken literally. Too many "sad" people in one room or the fear of sharing their own emotions, it can be just arguments for someone with autism to avoid these kinds of ceremonies.

Always be as concrete and clear as possible to a child / adult with autism, what he / she can expect from such a ceremony. It is good for children / young people to let them do something concrete that is fully attuned to their perception and need.
The treatment process of a child / adult with autism, therefore, in many cases will be different and differently experienced than that of the "non-autistic fellow man". This is expressed in:

  • Excessive display of "tricky" behavior;
  • Expressing more aggression and anger;
  • Quieter than usual, withdrawn and / or isolate themselves;
  • Origin of (illogical) fears.

Because a child / adult with autism has an emotional developmental delay, it can happen that at a later stage - after the death - he / she will have to deal with a "delayed" emotion. Bit by bit, all the pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place and the emotions seek their way out. At such a moment, a child / adult with autism can still experience violent emotions.

Never project your own emotions on a child / adult with autism, because they can not do anything with it. They struggle enough with their own emotions and seek their way out. By applying appropriate guidance, the processing process in children, adolescents and adults with autism can be properly completed and the loss can be given a place.

Video: The Signs of Autism

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