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How to Help Children with Autism Cope with Death and Loss of A Family Member.

Updated on January 17, 2012

Grief for Child with Autism

The lose of a family member can be and in most instances is a life altering event. We are both faced with our loved one's absence but also our own acceptance that we too are finite. This is especially true when one is confronted with prolonged illness like cancer for the child that is non verbal with Autism.

A child with autism is as sensitive if not more sensitive to this fact. As an educator, parent, family member and health care provider it is exceptionally important to be sensitive and understanding during this time of grief. In most instances the child with Autism will go through the exact same stages of grief and despair as their non-disabled peers. Therefore it is important to maintain a routine, add new new experiences and provide new memories for this child. For the child with autism there are augmentative communications devices I suggest.

But if you are unable to obtain this device I recommend a three pronged approach.

1) Be creative in helping the child with autism experience their grief. Creating new memory albums. These are important tools for these special needs children and they also serve as a historical guide. In the event of a death in the family, I recommend creating a new memory book so the child is able to conceptualize life after the lose of a loved one. And while he/she will have a tendency to look back, as we all do, at the photos of our departed loved ones they will also have new experiences to draw upon.

2) Exercise each day will also help minimize depression as well as chocolates. Yes, chocolate increase serotonin levels in the brain and helps fend off very mild depression. For the more serious forms of depression a health care provider must identify and manage.

3) Maintain adequate hydration and diet. This may sound like common sense but children with autism usually have feeding troubles before the loss of a family member. During grief feeding issues can be quite excessive. Maintaining proper hydration and diet helps the body heal after such a great loss and can help minimize feeding problems. Health, time and understanding is the best cure for grief.

As counseling is usually not an option for the non-verbal autistic child, it is very important any and all members of the child with autism's community recognize a non verbal child's grief is as equal to the non-disabled peer without the ability to express it verbally. A little understanding and acceptance goes a long ways towards helping all children deal with grief from death of a prolonged illness of cancer.

I would really like to recommend books to you one the subject of Children with Autism and Grief but there seems to be very little written on the subject and nothing based on scientific data which is my litmus test for publication.

All of us have the ability to help all children through the loss of their loved ones especially children with Autism. We just have to be a bit more educated, creative, understanding and supportive.

Autism and Grief

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    • profile image

      Jt Walters 

      8 years ago

      Hi Denise,

      We all cope how we cope and there are days which are harder than othrs. My condolences to you as well. Christmas deaths are bad we lost Mom at that time as well.

      I a doing the best I can given the circumstances I am delaing with and tryig to preserve our dignity.

      Thanks for reading, commenting, providing feedback and offering support.


    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi JT-my sincere condolences for the loss of your mother. I lost mine on christmas morn to cancer in '03 and the one year anniversary was the most difficult Christmas I ever spent!

      I'm glad to know you try to be productive and it is difficult when the grief hits hard. My husband died of cancer in '05 and each August I have a difficult time.

      Take care of yourself and your sounds like you are doing an awesome job!

    • JT Walters profile imageAUTHOR

      JT Walters 

      8 years ago from Florida

      Thank you I was a special educator/ professor while I worked on my PHD before I had my son. He has autism and we just lost my Mother after a two year battle with Cancer. This one is personal. I write rather extensive on Cancer and Autism as both have touched our lives. Thank you for forwarding the article because so little research is done on autism in general there is almost no guideline on how to assist a nonverbal child with autsim through grief.

      I lost my Mom and my son's Nana so I don't feel like a dear I feel like a loser. And everyday I try to turn that around and be productive. We are still fresh in our grief and a bit raw. It will be six months she has pasted and we still miss her everyday.

      My goal in this article was to inform the community of children with autism's grief and how they can assist these children through what is a very difficult painful transition. Maybe in a year or two I will be able to reflect better and provide better information. Right now it is all I can do to keep trying things to get my son through it.

      Thank you again for forwarding it and thanks for telling me I am a dear...hopefully someday I will feel like a good person again.

      All My best,


    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      An excellent hub. Your opening paragraph touched me so, as I lost a son to cancer. Your compassion and knowledge of autism is impressive and I hope many people read this hub. I will forward it on to friends and family. Thank you so much. What a dear person you are!


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