In the wake of the recent tragedies in Florida, we feel it is important to remember that individuals may deal with grief in different ways. The following piece was written by an adult on the autism spectrum who describes how people with autism may feel and express grief and how we, as neurotypicals, can support them through this process.
What is grief? Simply put, grief is “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss”. But the truth is, grief is far from simple, especially in people with autism. I should know, as I’ve gone through it quite a few times. That’s why for this article, I’ll explain exactly what grief is like from an autistic perspective and what you can do to help.
Grief, obviously, involves loss. Therefore, the most common way people think of grief is when it involves the loss of a loved one, like a friend or family member. While this is true, let me clarify: People on the spectrum can actually feel grief over many things, not just over losing someone important. The truth of the matter is that those on the spectrum can and do grieve over losing something as seemingly trivial as a book or a pair of shoes. Not only that, but the duration and intensity of our grief can be far greater compared to the neurotypical population. Why? Remember, grief is depression, trauma, and remorse all rolled up into one, and people with autism have a harder time regulating (let alone comprehending) their emotions, so our sense of grief is often different because our brains are wired differently, too. Furthermore, some on the lower-functioning end of the spectrum can be prone to verbal and physical outbursts because they’re less able to deal with grief and the stress that comes with it. In fact, even though I’m considered higher-functioning, I still have difficulty with grief, too, and I oftentimes have tried to suppress what I’ve felt—however, that’s never a good strategy, and I’ve learned it’s much better to just reach out to others.
That brings us to how you can help. You might think that providing emotional support or talking about it would be the best options. However, while this sometimes works, my experience has taught me that simple distractions can be especially powerful. What do I mean? Well, here’s the thing: Like I said, people on the spectrum have a harder time with grief and other emotions, so usually if they’re preoccupied with something else (through some activity that either keeps them busy or entertained), this can give them time to cope with whatever they’re been grieving over. So, at the end of the day, sometimes all that’s required is some company and something to take our minds off the grief.
Grief can be a challenge for anyone, but it’s a huge one for people with autism. With all of the other obstacles in our lives, grief, at times, can seem impossible to deal with. However, if we have others to reach out to, it can make all the difference. As long as we have friends, there’s a lot less to grieve over.