Autism and the Sudden Loss of a Teacher

My son’s 7th grade Computer Applications teacher died suddenly last weekend.

What happened?

The students and parents were informed that the teacher died of a sudden heart attack.

It was a typical day on the Friday in question. My son had this teacher for fourth period, as per usual.

The school broke for lunch after fourth period.

During fifth period, this teacher began to not feel well. I don’t know all of those details, but the students were asked to leave the class and an ambulance was called.

We received a school robocall that night explaining that a teacher had fallen ill and had to be transported to the hospital.

It wasn’t until Sunday evening that the school informed us that the teacher had passed away.

How did my child handle it?

This teacher was popular and well-liked. I remember liking him when I met him on Parents Night.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the school newsletter which announced the death of the teacher until Monday morning because I was sent out later than I was used to. It had been sent out later than it was usually sent out.

This led to me seeing the news on Monday morning, only minutes before taking my son to school.

I had to tell him, of course.

I sat him down and told him that he teacher had died suddenly on Friday.

He said he had heard of “something” that had happened in school on Friday, someone had been taken to the hospital. But, he said he didn’t realize that it had been his teacher.

He was sad, I could tell.

As we talked, I asked if he wanted to go to school a little later. We could sit and talk for a bit.

He did not want to be late, so he said he wanted to go.

One thing we did discuss is the suddenness of the death. Our family had just gone through such an event with the sudden death of my brother. My son stated, “Is this like when Uncle _____ died?”

We discussed my brother and his teacher. They were both nice, decent people who went long before they should have gone, and both left behind families.

We discussed that this is a sad event.

I brought that up at the precise moment when I noticed my son was smiling.

Why was my son smiling?

It was not a smile of happiness.

My son smiles when he’s nervous or mostly during a time when he doesn’t realize that he’s doing it—and that he socially shouldn’t be doing it.

It is not something he means to do.

But, it is something I need to point out.

I was just about to send him to school.

What did I do?

Before taking him to school, I reminded him that a lot of the kids are going to be sad. If they see your smile, they might misinterpret it.

I reminded him to try his best to be aware of his facial expressions.

He promised me to try.

I don’t know what happened that day. I didn’t receive any reports of inappropriate behavior by my son. I didn’t hear about anyway. I’m not saying that a smile or two didn’t creep into his facial expressions. I asked him at the end of the day if he had any issues, and he said no. So, I believed that he, at least, tried.

What happened during the rest of the week?

The school had counsellors available all week, and I told my son that if he wanted to go talk to one of them that he should feel okay to do so. His father and I supported that.

The school kept my family informed throughout the week.

A permanent substitute was hired to replace the teacher. My son was familiar with the substitute, so that was good news.

That Saturday was the funeral.

I asked my son if he wanted to go. I told him that if he wanted to go, I was more than willing to take him.

He thought about it and decided that he didn’t want to go. He said he liked the teacher and felt badly, but his uncle’s funeral was too fresh in his mind and, if it was okay with me, he rather not go. He said he wouldn’t be very comfortable.

I was not going to push him. I really felt that it was his decision.

It was a very sad experience for our family, especially my son. I can’t imagine what it must feel like at age thirteen to suddenly lose a teacher. I have memories of my favorite teachers. It’s simply a situation that really is unique to our son (and his classmates and peers).

All I can offer on this one is talk to your child. Answer his/her questions. Listen to them. And, listen to how they’re feeling. I really couldn’t force my son to attend the funeral, especially since our family had so recently dealt with loss.

I continue to talk about the teacher with my son. I have connected with the new teacher as well. We all understand that this is an unusual and difficult situation.

Another life lesson for our child.

 

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