How to Help Children with Autism Cope with Death and Loss of A Family Member.
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. http://www.dynavoxtech.com/default.aspx
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.