How to explain Death to a child with Autism

September 3rd, 2007

Q: I am the mother of an 10 year old boy who was diegnosed with ADHD, OCD and Autism.We are very close.

He is very worried about me getting old. Even said that he does not want me to get any more b-days because he does not want me to get old. Tonight he asked if I was going to die because my b-day is comming up. And I said that is normal that when people gets old the will die. Well, all I will say is that he had a meltdown for about 2 hrs. I know he is going to ask me again, How can I aproach this matter, without hurting him?

He was talking about not wanting to die, and that he was going to die any minute. He fell asleep crying in my arms, and to calm him down I had to say it was a mistake. It broke my heart.

Answer:

Your son seems to have verbal skills.
How are his skills at understanding the meaning of words?
“birthday” = getting oldER so, does
“getting old” = I am dying?
“being old”
“die when you are old”

To comfort your child I would suggest reading him Psalm 23 from the Bible. You can explain that the Good Shepherd is Jesus. He cares. He loves him very much. Then as you read it again show him how the person is walking THROUGH the valley of the SHADDOW of death. He is scared, but he does not die. He keeps living. After a person’s body dies, his soul The who of who I am does not die. We will see God. God loves him like a Daddy.

It may help your child to grasp the concept of lifespan
to have him take a long sheet of paper, writing numbers from one to 100. Then under the appropriate AGES on the list
write the name, or tape the picture of each person in your family. Explain most people die much closer to 100 than to the age of 10. Their body wears out and stops working.

With ocd and autism the written Story Method is often helpful.
Write what will happen, use sometimes and maybe and if when writing a short (page long) story type answer to his question about death. Try to avoid trigger words or phrases that have upset him to date. Explain in simple terms. Then read it together as many times as necessary over the next week or two. As he may have difficulty with memory, or his ocd kicks-in you may find this a helpful tool to file in a little notebook of stories. (You can get plastic sleeves to slip the papers into so they will last through many handlings)


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