Many of our clients have dealt with the loss of a loved one after an accident or other unexpected situation. The grief that ensues is painful for anyone to handle, and sharing the news with a special needs child can add to the difficulty.
Will she understand the concept of death? Is he going to be fearful of his own death after this experience? Many questions will naturally arise.
As parents, we know our children best and how they generally process information. When sharing the news about a loved one’s passing with any child, particularly a special needs child, it’s important to modify your language accordingly. Jennifer Cerbasi, a teacher specialized in the autism spectrum and coordinator of home Applied Behavioral Analysis programs, recommends keeping the following steps in mind when tailoring your conversations. Although her suggestions are intended for children with autism, these concepts can be applied to children with a variety of needs and learning abilities.
State the facts: Share the news in a way the child will best understand. If he or she is a concrete thinker, for example, Cerbasi recommends explaining that you won’t be seeing the person anymore. It’s also important to state why the person passed away, so it doesn’t seem like a random occurrence.
Incorporate values and/or religious beliefs: If applicable, explain religious customs, concepts, or traditions relating to the person’s death.
Acknowledge the child’s feelings: Be clear that feeling sad, angry, or confused is acceptable after someone dies. Model appropriate expression of emotion so your child can pick up on cues.
Help the child process the situation and prepare for what is to come: Depending on how your child learns best, writing a story together or drawing pictures can help him or her process what has happened. It’s also important to explain what people might say at the funeral and services and how the day may go.
Death isn’t easy for anyone to deal with, but your child with special needs may experience particular difficulty. By taking the time to work through the grieving process together, you can minimize confusion and get on the right track to moving forward.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
If you’re a parent with a special needs child, you likely have questions about his or her well-being. John Bair can help. He is an experienced settlement planner and financial consultant. He helps families develop strategies to provide lifelong financial support for children with disabilities, catastrophic injuries, special needs, and congenital abnormalities. Read more about John’s work and his firm, Milestone Consulting, at http://milestoneseventh.com/.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).