Bereavement, whether of a family member, friend, or even a pet can be a difficult thing to deal with for anybody. Depending on the age of the person, the precise relationship, and closeness of that relationship, a complex set of emotions can arise. This isn’t easy for anybody, but if somebody is autistic and finds it hard to recognise and deal with their emotions at the best of times, then it can be especially difficult and complicated. Below are a few things to take in to account when it comes to autism and bereavement.
Talk About Death
This is important for anybody, autistic or not. If the concept of death is unknown or unheard of it will be even more difficult to deal with when it strikes. Depending on their level of understanding, somebody with autism may or may not be able to understand the concept of death. But if not, at least they might become familiar with the words. And even this may give them some small level of understanding and comfort when they do suffer a bereavement.
Let people grieve in their own way.
If someone has suffered a bereavement – autistic or not – they can react in many ways. Somebody with autism may seem not to react at all. But there is no point in family members telling them they should be behaving differently. On the inside they may be suffering with the same emotions as everybody else. Just because they don’t show this the same on the outside doesn’t make it any less real for them. Everybody reacts to the grief of a bereavement differently and there is no right or wrong way. The last thing somebody with autism needs when they have just lost somebody close to them is to be told that they are somehow grieving in the wrong way, or just doing something wrong altogether by acting in a certain way, or saying a certain thing that helps them cope.
Understanding the grieving process
This will affect different people in different ways. For some much of the grief may come out in one go, immediately after the event. For others it may take longer. But specifically focussing on people with autism delayed reactions to emotions are not uncommon. Meltdowns, outbursts, and stress related illness can occur weeks or even months after the event that has triggered them. The person may appear to be absolutely fine in the weeks after the bereavement, and then the true impact can suddenly start to show in their behaviour, and emotional state. Each person will handle this in their own ways, but the important thing to remember is this – the strength and severity of an emotional reaction cannot be judged on when it takes place.
Remember the autism
One of the most difficult things for people with autism to do is to put themselves, and their autism first. But this often leads to more problems than it solves. In the event of a bereavement it may be necessary for the autistic person to put themselves first for a while. If they need more time on their own or more time spent focusing on their special interest then they should have this. Ok it might appear selfish on the surface, but if it prevents meltdowns and outbursts, then it is actually helpful for everybody, not just the autistic person. There is no point in somebody pushing themselves past the limit of what they know they can endure. This will just have a negative impact on them and on everybody around them.
Bereavements are always going to be difficult – they are supposed to be. And there is no easy way of making the grief go away. But there are ways of minimising the impact of the autism-related issues around bereavement. Hopefully some of the tips listed above will prove helpful. The chances are it will be a very difficult and unpleasant time for everybody, and there is no point in this article trying to say otherwise. But at times like this any positives, however small, are always welcomed.