Even though Richie still struggles with communicating with others, I know my son is smart and understands way more than we give him credit. I also know that he has a difficult time with understanding many things that other children his age might. Children and individuals with Autism and some other developmental disabilities have difficulty understanding:
Idioms – “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
And sarcasm – “Wow, that was really funny.”
If your family is dealing with preparing for the death of a loved one due to terminal illness, try to begin to explain to your child that death is a natural part of life. Explain how every living thing dies. Use examples, such as, a swatted fly on the wall, a turtle that got run over by a car while trying to pass the road, etc. These every day examples will help explain that death is experienced by everyone. Talk about how everyone in the family will be sad for a while because they’re going to miss their loved one. Tell him or her that people express sadness differently. Some people cry a lot, some people are very quiet, and some people get very angry and want to be left alone. Please make sure to tell your child that it’s okay to remember and talk about the person their missing too. It might take your child some time to learn about what has really happened. Give your child the time needed to absorb the information they’ve learned. Allow them to lead the discussion, ask the questions, or talk about the deceased family member.
When explaining things to children with autism, we need to use direct, concrete statements that are to the point. While it may be tempting and sweeter to tell your child that “Grandma has left us to go to a better place,” or “Grandpa is going to sleep for a long time,” these statements will only confuse your child. “Grandma’s heart was not working that good anymore. Then one day it just stopped working and beating.” If your child is non-verbal, try to provide as much concrete information as possible. Death means the heart stopped beating, there’s no more breathing, talking, or movement. Using pictures to help illustrate the point also helps to convey the message for visual learners.
Further explanation about after death will depend on your family’s religious beliefs and traditions. If you wish to explain heaven to your child, make sure to be clear that heaven is not a place you can visit or call. If it’s appropriate and you plan to bring your child to the funeral, a picture book will help him or her understand what to expect. A picture book or social story will help tremendously with explaining the death, funeral, beliefs and traditions of your family. Because so many people have different beliefs, it might be easiest to create your own. I created a simple and short one using PowerPoint:
Pictures to help explain death and grief
I know it’s a difficult topic, but please don’t avoid teaching your child about death and loss. Please don’t assume that because your child has a disability or cannot speak that they don’t experience confusion, loss, or emotional distress. Your child will notice that someone important in their life is missing. They’ll need to be reassured that whatever has happened to the loved one won’t happen to you, or other important family members. We don’t want our children to draw their own conclusions about what’s going on around them. Feelings of confusion about what’s happening around them could potentially increase anxiety and amplify feelings of loss. We want our children to be included in the process along with the family, even though it is a difficult one. We want our children to feel happy, safe, and loved. We want our children to know that although death and loss happens to everyone, they don’t have to worry about losing us anytime soon. Our children need to feel comfort and secure in knowing that they’re going to be in a loving family that they can count on for a long time.
© 2015 Sensory Friends