Explaining Death to an Autistic Child November 12, 2008Posted by hopeauthority in Autism, Children, Family, Parenting, religion, special needs.
Tags: Autism, death, dying, explaining death to children, religion, school, special needs, thankfulness, Thanksgiving
I recently read a newspaper article authored by a well-respected spiritual leader in my community that addressed this issue as it pertained to a nine year old autistic child who lost a grandparent. I was intriqued at the thought of him providing us with some guidance on just the right way to explain this delicate mystery to autistic children.
According to him, you handle it the same way you’d handle the topic with a “typical” child. At first I felt “jipped” out of some deep expert advice…like the good rabbi had copped out. But then I realized he was right on with his response.
We know better than anyone that our kids (for the most part) understand far more than people give them credit for. Maybe it’s because many autistic children struggle with language and have limited or no verbal capabilities. People forget that they not only hear, but they also understand what you are saying in their presence. And many people tend to underestimate just how much these kids do know.
This particular rabbi beautifully explained in a non-denominational way, that many children can understand a concept of the body and the soul. (I, of course, am about to butcher his beautiful essay in an attempt to summarize it!)
Okay. The body and the soul. The way to explain why they won’t see the physical person again on Earth is because the body dies and goes back to the earth. (This explains the funeral/cemetery/cremation.) And the soul lives on and goes back to (insert your God of choice) where it gets to see all the rest of the family who’ve died before them (like a reunion to be happy and less scared about).
So, as the parent, it is your job to determine how much of the above description your child can handle. I guess we just take our child’s developmental age into account when deciding. Otherwise, the same general rules apply for our kids as for typical kids.
I’m not sure exactly how well my son would understand the above explanation just yet, at only six years old. Death is certainly one of those tough concepts to explain to a kid of any age, especially if the departed was someone very close.
That brings me to another tough concept: thankfulness. For a Thanksgiving project in school, ‘C’ was sent home with a yellow construction paper heart on which he was to write a word depicting what he was thankful for.
After all the attempts at priming him to answer with the altruistic “my sister, ‘N’” or “my family” like most of his peers will no doubt bring in on their hearts, he repeatedly…and somewhat emphatically…answered “Presents!” So, with a sigh on one hand…and a laugh on the other…I encouraged him to write “Presents” on his heart. After all, it was his choice. His informed choice.
Now there’s something to be thankful for.