How to explain death to a child with autism

August 19, 2017

Experiencing, understanding and coming to terms with the loss of someone close are some of the toughest parts of the human experience. For children it can be magnified and can be more confusing and overwhelming than it is for adults. For those children with autism the experience can be tougher still.

Death can be a difficult concept for children with learning difficulties or autism to understand. Many people with autism will rely on routines and benefit from lots of planning and preparation before a change is made to their daily routine. This makes the loss of someone close very problematic as it naturally disrupts that routine that they have settled into and know well.

If the child does not understand the concept of death then they may be confused as to where their loved one has gone, feeling that they have just ‘disappeared’ and understandably may be worried that another person close to them may also ‘disappear’.  They may also be confused as to why the people around them are upset or angry.

One of the best ways to tackle the disruption that can be caused by a loss is to slowly introduce the idea that their loved one may indeed die soon before it happens. While this isn’t always possible, with sudden deaths for instance, if it is done carefully over time by telling the child about a person’s illness and how one day they may not be around anymore, it may help to soften the blow and consequent disruption to their routine.

If the death is sudden and there is not a chance to do this then an alternative strategy may be to introduce the child to the concept of death, by looking at photos of the person who has died, explaining calmly that they won’t see them again, the difference between death and life and using a timeline to show the child what their new routine will look like without their loved one. This may help to ease some of their worries and also to understand why the people around them may be behaving differently due to their grief.

While these suggestions might be useful to some children it might not work for everyone. If your child is struggling to understand what has happened and you feel like you need help you should seek further support from your social worker, school or GP.

For further advice on understanding the grieving process and bereavement, please click here to read our article on coping with the loss of a loved one.

For help and advice on organising a funeral, please contact us on 0151 228 3900, or leave us a message through our contact us page by clicking here.