Ways to Help Adults with Autism Cope with Death & Bereavement
Death is one of the hardest subjects to discuss with anyone. It brings up conflicting emotions and is tough to understand at the best of times. However, for adults with autism, coping with the death of a loved one can be even more challenging. What feels hard for us can be confusing, scary, and emotionally unsettling for them. If you’re looking for tools to help a loved one on the spectrum cope with death, here are a few ways to go about it.
Discuss What’s Happening
If the death happens unexpectedly, you’ll want to explain that what happened is not something that will happen to them. However, if their loved one is dealing with a disease or illness, it may be helpful to explain that illness to them. This can take the surprise out of the death and gives them a basis for understanding what’s going on around them.
Explain Death Clearly
For adults with autism, it’s often easier to cope with death if they understand what it is. Explain it as clearly as you can using whatever belief system you follow. While doing so, use clear language. Avoid telling adults with autism platitudes or euphemisms like “losing someone” or “passed away.” Such statements can be confusing and interpreted literally.
When explaining what happened, try to be mindful of the mental capabilities of your loved one on the spectrum. The type of explanation you give should be based on their capacity to understand. Remember, you know them best.
Take Time to Remember Them
Sharing fond memories is a wonderful way to honor the person who died and it’s something adults with autism can participate in fully. During that process, don’t react negatively if they show emotion. This could present as tears, anger, confusion, and even laughter. It all depends on the individual.
Be Prepared for Questions
It’s normal for both children and adults with autism to have questions after a loved one dies. Be ready for them and be willing to answer them if you can. That said, if your loved one with autism becomes overly focused on death to the point of obsession, you’ll likewise want to be prepared.
If, at any point, the obsession becomes too extreme, don’t be afraid to get help. An experienced therapist will be able to help you find the right way to redirect their focus to something that’s a bit more productive and less uncomfortable for others around them.
Just Talk to Them
The most important thing you can do for adults with autism is to talk about what happened. Don’t assume that they can’t understand or process their loss. They can. They may just need help to do it. Adults with autism have emotions, just like you, but they may express them differently.
Get Professional Advice
If you’re having a hard time figuring out what they’re trying to tell you or don’t know how to broach the topic of death, schedule an appointment and let our team give you guidance and support. We’re just a phone call away.