and Children with Special Needs:
special needs may express their grief and feelings differently, but their grief is still just as powerful.
Keep these strategies in mind when working with these studentse open and honest. Use appropriate words such as “dead” and “death”
and avoid euphemisms. Don’t lie to the child or tell half truths.
open and honest. Use appropriate words such as “dead” and “death” and avoid euphemisms. Don’t
lie to the child or tell half truths.
of telling a child that the person is “just sleeping”.
available to listen, to talk or simply spend time with the child.
Be patient as the same questions may be asked over and over again.
Allow the child to show their grief in whatever way they want, as long as it is safe. Some want to just ignore
it and have fun. That is okay too.
the child to say goodbye and see the body of the person who died if at all possible, and encourage parents to allow that.
Research shows that when children see the body, they show less behavioral acting out in the future.
· Don’t exclude the child from helpful rituals
of death, which will help them understand someone important in their life has died. Children with developmental
disabilities need more concrete rituals and explicit directions, and simplified activities.
· Rituals that are abstract may be confusing, frustrating
and of little value.
don’t try to protect the children from grief, but rather try to support and reassure them, acknowledge their losses
and help them to find healthy ways to express their feelings.
those who lack the grief vocabulary to talk about feelings, tend to express their feelings through their behavior.
· Avoid too much change at this confusing and distressing
time, if possible.
· Always give LD
children space and time to express feelings.
Some helpful ways to help bereaved children with learning disabilities:
1. Look together at photographs of the
person who has died and share memories.
greeting cards to the family, sibling, child
Encourage the grieving child to wear an article of clothing that may be a linking or comfort object to
the person who died or is gone.
a pillow or blanket made from person’s clothes helps too.
Listen to the person’s favorite music
6. Make a book about the person who died
7. Light a candle on special days and share memories
8. Make a memory box. Child chooses
what memories go inside.
books, Badgers Parting Gifts: sadness and joy in memories
them for the funeral, how to behave, what they will experience.
Grief issues specific to people with autism:
person with autism will react individually to bereavement and the approach to support needs to be a unique as the individual.
· People with autism may share the common responses
to death and bereavement such as denial, anger and despair.
grieving process of people with autism may be profoundly affected by their disabilities.
Skilled support is an important factor in helping individuals move through their grief.
It is difficult to generalize how each child will experience loss through
death, but such a loss can give rise to phobias, fears, obsession, lack of understanding, and resistance to change, which
can be considered by others to be inappropriate reactions or even callous indifference. Children on the
Spectrum depend on the security of familiarity. Often these children may have difficulty to find words to express their feelings,
which is why goodbye rituals are so important.
It is important to
balance how much information is given. Too much or too little information may make it difficult to voice concerns or ask the
right questions. There is the chance that the person will develop
clinical anxiety and/or depression.
When to refer to a professional:
· They deny that anyone has died, or act as if nothing
· They threaten
or talk of suicide (particularly difficult as many with autism also suffer with depression and may generally have thoughts
· They become unusually
and persistently aggressive or engage in anti-social behavior.
become withdrawn and socially isolated.
Remember that those with a very limited number of close relationships
experience the death of a friend or family member sometimes as a catastrophic loss and the idea of re-investing in other people
is very difficult. Many of these children become highly attached and dependent to their teachers or school
staff so when a staff member leaves the job or has died, it may be very difficult for the child.
Staff needs to empathize and not try to make the person “get over
it”. Encourage the students’ family to allow them to ‘see the dead body’ to help
them understand that the death is irreversible and that he/she is not coming back. Staff can anticipate
reactions, listen and read cues, intervene, ask how the person feels, talk about the deceased and explain the normal grieving
process. Encourage the child to keep a feelings diary to help deal with all of the feelings. Commemorating
anniversary days by developing ritual can help provide the children a time to remember and help cut down on obsessive behaviors.
routines, keep decision making to a minimum and encourage connections. Returning to school or work after a loss can be very
stressful. Some worry about their surviving parent at home alone.
Sometimes anger is directed at the person who shared the news of the death or it may be generalized.
Anger may also be apparent when activities provided by the deceased are no longer available. Enable students to express this
anger without hurting themselves, others or property, for example using exercise or a punching bag.
Remember that some won’t react at first or reacts in a way that
is different that you would expect.
Discuss with children that it is common to feel it was “their fault” someone
died, get headaches, feel numb, ask many questions, worry etc. Remind them that they need social support
and help, someone to talk to and a place to remember.
should never underestimate, and we cannot overestimate, the simple power of acceptance, affirmation and validation. It is
the key to supporting grief.” Guidebook on Helping Persons with Mental Retardation Mourn by
Jeffrey Kauffman (2005)
Don’ts for School Staff:
- Offer time (brief but regular
meetings can mean a lot)
- Be available to listen
- Talk about the good and bad memories
- Accept a student’s feelings
- Say “I don’t know” in relation to questions you really don’t have the answer
- Allow students to cry
- Watch for behavior changes
- Be aware of previous bereavement and/or depression
- Be sensitive to beliefs and cultural backgrounds
- Use rituals
- Assume that the person with autism can cope without support
- Think they do not ‘feel’ the loss
- Deny their thoughts or views on the death
- Use cliche's such as ‘You need to be strong’ or ‘You are coping well’
- Make new or sudden changes to the routine
- Think that you cannot support them
for Developmentally Disabled Grievers
- The use of photographs in ritual. Have
students sit in a circle and pass around a photo of the person who died and share
memories. If the child is non verbal the facilitator can share the memories “for the child” about the loss.
- Using storytelling in ritual. Write a story about the person who has
died in collaboration with the individual with the disability.
- Use of memory objects in ritual. Put a group of objects together that remind them of the person who died, such as
photos, books, clothing articles, papers etc. For someone less verbal, let child choose what goes in pile. Leave the objects
for several days. Limited time for those easily distracted.
- Use of Drawing in Ritual. Have the child draw a picture of the person who died or memories of the person and share
it with others. Even if the child has limited fine motor skills, encourage the child to draw what he/she remembers.
- Use of Music in Ritual. Listen to music that the person who died liked
or that reminds her of the person who died. The song may relate to the person’s job or personality trait. Can
listen, or move to music or draw.
- Use of Writing
in Ritual. The child can write or dictate a letter to or about the person. Perhaps provide child with a letter with sentence
of Stones in Ritual. Share a memory of the person and then place a small stone in a decorative fountain or paint
the rock or write a word on it. Take time daily to remember the person.
- Use of Daily Memory in Ritual. Choose an activity that the person used to do with or to the child. This may be self-care or taking a walk, cooking
or playing a game together. As the teacher does this activity intentionally talk about the person who has died. This can occur
immediately after the death or delayed for weeks. Pay attention to student’s cues in order to help the child in the
(Adapted from : Helping People with Developmental Disabilities Mourn: Practical Rituals
for Caregivers by Marc A. Markell, PhD, 2005)