Autism and a Death in the Family – Part 1

How will children with autism react to a death in the family?

I do not know how each child will specifically react. However, my family and I had to deal with a sudden tragedy over the holidays.

What happened?

I had a sibling pass away suddenly just before Christmas. I flew to North Carolina from California head of the rest of my California family to be with my sibling’s family, to help out with the funeral arrangements.

When I first found out, my husband was in the house, but my son was out front riding his Razor scooter. My husband and I dealt with the news.

As we began to talk about what to do next, one of the first things we discussed it telling our son.

He had gotten to know my sibling in recent years, even though he lived in North Carolina. We had vacationed together twice, and he had visited California with his family.

When we told my son about “Uncle Pat” passing away unexpected, he knew who we were talking about. He did not, however, react emotionally.

What did I expect from my son with autism?

I guess, looking back on it, my son reacted as I would have expected. He does know other family members better, ones who live in California, but he knew who we were talking about.

And, he proceeded to say all of the right things.

“Mommy, I’m sorry to hear about Uncle Pat,” he said.

What happened after telling my son the news?

In this situation, as in many similar situations, calling people and planning began. I had to talk to my California sibling as well as my Detroit sibling. I had to go to Simi Valley and tell my elderly parents.

Then, we had to begin discussions on traveling to North Carolina.

Plans had to be made, plans that were not on my son’s radar.

How did he handled the change in plans?

First, this was Christmas time. My son is very much into Christmas and his birthday, those being the two times in a year when he’s guaranteed to get presents. He has even admitted to liking Christmas a little bit better because we do one Christmas with my husband’s family, one with my parents, and one at home, just the three of us. He likes the “Three Christmases” part of Christmas.

At some point, however, my son got wind of a “change in Christmas.” He panicked and felt that all of a sudden we were trying to cancel Christmas on him.

Many children with autism have issues with a change in schedule. Especially when it’s sudden, and involves Christmas and sudden plans to travel to North Carolina.

My son got very upset at the thought of us canceling Christmas.

This happened because the early discussions about when to hold the funeral and church service was having them on the day after Christmas.

This meant flying out on Christmas day, which my son heard as “cancelling Christmas.”

My son had a meltdown at the thought of suddenly and expectedly losing out on Christmas.

It took us quite a while to calm him down. It was a big hurdle for him to overcome, especially if it turned out that his family DID have to fly on Christmas due to a sudden death.

What happened with our plans?

It turned out that my family did not have the funeral and church services on the day after Christmas, due to the availability of the church.

It was decided to hold the memorial service on the 27th and the funeral on the 28th, so they ended up splitting the services onto separate days.

Plus, I decided to fly out four days ahead of everyone else.

My sister-in-law wanted some help and support.

Me leaving three days before Christmas meant that I would miss being with my son for Christmas.

How did he take that?

As I guessed, my son said he was “sad” to not have me around for Christmas, but he was okay with it…as long as Christmas wasn’t cancelled.

True to form for a child with autism, I say.

What happened in North Carolina?

I’ll discuss that in my next blog.

 

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