Asperger's Syndrome and Grief

BY: JoDee Coulter, MT-BC

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

​Society has certain expectations of appropriate behaviors in every situation we encounter whether in the grocery store, on the phone, or attending a wedding or funeral. These unspoken expectations of behavior are known as the "hidden curriculum" and although they are not taught, society assumes we know them and will behave accordingly. Death and the experience of grief has its own language, rituals, uniqueness, and expectations. For someone with Asperger's Syndrome (A.S.), one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders, understanding the experience and expectations of grief is more challenging.

People living with A.S. may have great difficulty fitting in and understanding the "hidden curriculum" associated with grief. In addition, their reactions are often misunderstood by the people around them. It's a challenge to not only identify but to express their feelings. We observe someone who is emotionally detached, smiles inappropriately or possibly cries unexpectedly. Emotions may appear as behaviors such as rocking, pacing or talking excessively. The person with A.S. may become hypersensitive to external stimuli or begin to express physical complaints. This is the time that much love, support and understanding can be the best medicine. Those who live with A.S. are logical thinkers and may process death in a methodical way. Later, they may show feelings which seem out of the ordinary while they are watching a movie, hearing of a death of a distant relative or experiencing the death of a pet. Just as someone in the general population can experience delayed grief so may someone with A.S.

How can you best support someone with A.S. during times of grief? Be a good listener, allow them their space, respect their perspective, look for the meaning behind the words and the behaviors, be gentle—and offer your presence.

For people with A.S., consider these choices as you move through your grief journey:
  • Accept the reality that physical behaviors such as rocking, pacing or excessive talking may be your body's way of processing feelings
  • Journal with words, lyrics, and art
  • Express yourself: play music, dance, sing
  •  Get physical! Walk, run, bike, jump rope
  •  Talk to a trusted and caring friend or family member
  • Seek professional suppor 

Whether you are a recently bereaved person with A.S., or are supporting a family member or friend with A.S., remember that we all need to grieve in our own.

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