Teaching kids with autism about death and dying

Read Nilda Morales’ biography.

I found Crystal Ward’s Making sense of death and autism post earlier this month very interesting. Here At Easter Seals Puerto Rico, we work with young children and adolescents with different disabilities who participate either at the early intervention program, the physical restoration program or our K-12 inclusive school. As part of our orientation / counseling / psychology program, we use different strategies to explain the concept of death.

When explaining death to the kids with autism, we work on the child’s comprehension of death just as we do with every other stage or challenge they will face in life. Death is a natural process, so there is no reason to keep it far from the usual topics. We urge families to follow some “pinpoints” to help the child’s understanding:

  • Introduce the concept of death naturally.
  • Make all explanations objective, clear, simple and concrete.
  • Keep mystical examples out so you can avoid the risk of misguiding a child to think of death as an option to “rest” or reach a blissful world.
  • Be sensitive and caring, but don’t be dramatic or unnecessarily morbid (dark, gloomy or melancholic).
  • Keep your own fears out of range.
  • Prepare and discuss a “what if” crisis management plan with the family network so you’re always ready to cope in case a loved one dies.
  • If possible, make some “rehersals” so that you might feel more comfortable counseling, and so that you can make any necessary adjustments to the plan ahead of time.

The best strategy is to make the idea of death understandable before it happens. In the middle of the confusion and subsequent grief after a loved one dies (even if the death was expected) it is not easy to properly guide someone who has autism.

Our curriculum here at Easter Seals Puerto Rico includes a “Life and Death Training Strategy Module” that focuses on understanding the cycle of life and coping with the loss of a loved one. In future posts, I will give examples of strategies we have used to help children with autism understand the concept of death. We use different strategies, depending on the age of the child and the severity of autism. One thing for sure: with all our clients, we always explain death as part of the natural life process.


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  2. La muerte y el proceso de morir. Como enseñarlo a un niño con autismo Says:

    […] la version en ingles accese la página de Easter Seals ( Teaching kids with autism about death and dying Posted by Nilda Morales Read Nilda Morales’ […]

  3. Therapy Baton Rouge Says:

    Thank you for this article. As a counselor in private practice, I can relate to this.

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