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Dealing with trauma or grief for a child, teen, or adult with autism may be especially confusing. Individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities experience grief when they lose a loved one, just like everyone else. Some people may think people with intellectual disabilities don’t understand or can’t comprehend death, or just because they may not show typical signs of grief; they are not grieving. Now professionals know that the effects of bereavement may be prolonged with people with intellectual disabilities.  They may experience more anxiety, depression, irritability, and other signs of distress, or they may express their emotions through behaviors such as irritability, and sleep.

We have compiled a list of resources for individuals with developmental disabilities and their family members.

“Coping After Disaster, Trauma” by the American Psychiatric Association

“Helping People With Intellectual Disabilities Cope With Loss” by Vanderbilt Kennedy Center –

“How To Talk To Kids About Tragedies In The Media” by the Child Development Institute –

PFA Tips: Death and Grieving by Nancy Grace, Ph.D., Kennedy Krieger Institute and Shelly McLaughlin, Pathfinders for Autism.  Includes social story –

Supporting Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Coping with Grief and Loss through Death or Divorce by: Marci Wheeler, MSW. –

Books on Grieving for Teens and Adults

Autism and Loss by Rachel Forrester-Jones 
People with autism often experience difficulty in understanding and expressing their emotions and react to losses in different ways or in ways that care givers do not understand. In order to provide effective support, caregivers need to have the understanding, skills and appropriate resources to work through these emotional reactions with them. “Autism and Loss” is a complete resource that covers a variety of kinds of loss, including bereavement, loss of friends or staff, loss of home or possessions, and loss of health.

Finding Your Own Way to Grieve: A Creative Activity Workbook for Kids and Teens on the Autism Spectrum by Karla Helbert
Children and teenagers with autism can struggle to cope with the loss of a loved one, and the complicated and painful emotions of bereavement. This book explains death in concrete terms that the child with autism will understand, explores feelings that the child may encounter as a part of bereavement, and offers creative and expressive activities that facilitate healing.

It’s Ok to Feel This Way: Validating a Child’s Swirl of Emotions Amid Drama by Susan M. Funk
“It’s Ok to Feel This Way” is a Healing Art coloring book that deals exclusively with children’s swirl of emotions through trauma. While children may recognize themselves through some of the drawings, adults will also have a tool for reaching out to a troubled child. This book is a vehicle for discussion, for children to see that life happens without it being their fault.

Understanding Death and Illness and What They Teach about Life: An Interactive Guide for Individuals with Autism or Asperger’s and their Loved Ones by Catherine Flaherty 
Author Catherine Faherty offers detailed, concrete explanations of illness, dying, life after death, losing a pet, and numerous other issues. Her descriptions are written with care; even caregivers will be comforted by her words. The Communication Forms following each short topic will engage learners and include them in the conversation, allowing them to share personal experiences, thoughts, and concerns.

Books for Children