A loved one’s death isn’t easy for anyone, but for a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, with his difficulty in processing emotion or dealing with change, it can be particularly hard. Here are some tips on how to break the news to your Aspie that Grandpa died.
What Not to Say
Before delving into what to say, we must cover what not to say to your Aspie. Remember, children with Asperger’s Syndrome are very literal, so it won’t do your child any good to hear, “Grandpa just passed away,” or “Grandpa went home.” Avoid sugarcoating by using the word “sleep”. All this will do is confuse your Aspie.
Don’t babble on. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome are generally not comforted by empty words. Too much talking can affect their sensory sensitivities and you’re left with an Aspie who can’t process the information that Grandpa just died.
What You Should Say
When telling your Aspie that his relative died, be blunt. Use the word “died”. Keep your delivery short, and give your child with Asperger’s Syndrome some emotional cues as well. A good example on how to break the news of the death is, “Honey, I have some very sad news. Grandpa died yesterday.”
Depending on your child, if he can tolerate touch, you may want to hold his hands or have your arm around his shoulders when you tell him. This can add comfort to your news, but it can also serve to contain a physical outburst if your Aspie is prone to that reaction. However, if you have a touch-sensitive Aspie, don’t force him to hold hands.
Dealing with the Response
You can’t predict how the news of Grandpa’s death will affect your Asperger’s child, but there are some typical responses.
One response may be a lack of emotion. Aspies can’t process emotion the same way you and I can, so it may take awhile before your child can express any sort of sadness.
On the other hand, you may witness exaggerated emotion. My Aspie son Sam has two emotions he demonstrates impulsively: joy and rage. Rage is where he seems to put everything that doesn’t make him joyous, so an angry or even violent outburst upon learning Grandpa died would not be out of the ordinary.
Be prepared for the questions. Your Aspie will want to know all the morbid details of how Grandpa died, what he was doing, and who discovered him. Give age-appropriate details if you choose, but try not to let your Aspie deflect his emotions by becoming obsessed with the technical aspects of Grandpa’s death.
Coping with the Aftermath
Because children with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t process emotion well, your Aspie’s grief may come later in the week as an angry outburst or a meltdown over something seemingly insignificant.
He may be questioning himself, because he does have problems dealing with emotions. He may feel empty or confused. Your Aspie may be wondering how he ‘should’ feel. He may be filled with self-doubt, dealing with issues such as, “Well, I don’t feel sad really. Maybe I didn’t really love Grandpa. Maybe Grandpa didn’t really love me.”
All this thought-process is exhausting for an Asperger’s child, so some slips in self-control are practically guaranteed. Give your Aspie room to grieve. Encourage conversation, but don’t push him. He’ll figure it out in his own time.