Autism Spectrum Australia

The Eternal Blink

  • Posted: 24/07/2014
  • Author: Thomas Kuzma
  • Comments: Loading.. .

Hello viewers, welcome back to Aspire. This week has been interesting, I caught up with friends, watched a movie or two, but the biggest thing to happen over the past week was the news that Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing 298 people. This means there are currently many people suffering from loss around the world; from here in Australia to people in the Netherlands. This is a horrible tragedy and my heart goes out to all those who are currently experiencing loss. So what is it like for someone on the spectrum to experience losing people?

It’s a sad fact of life that we all die. Human beings are the only people on the planet who know they are going to die, yet live their lives normally. But what do we do when someone dies?  Kicks the bucket? Goes out to pasture?  Sleeps the eternal sleep? Checks out?

A Professional Opinion

As I pondered the mountain ridge between life and death, I decided to talk to Aspect Positive Behaviour Support specialist Elizabeth Low about dealing with death and bereavement.

“Going through bereavement is difficult for anyone, but it may be particularly difficult for someone on the spectrum, particularly when the loss is sudden and unexpected because of the changes this can bring to their normal routine. These changes to routines can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety. Bereavement can also be particularly difficult if the bereaved person does not understand the abstract concept of death.  As well, if other people around them are using euphemisms and metaphors to talk about the death (eg, “he went to sleep”), some people with autism may take a literal interpretation of language which can cause confusion and anxiety.

It’s also important to realise that it can  be particularly difficult for those supporting the bereaved person on the spectrum, especially if they are also bereaved themselves (e.g., if a grandparent has died and the parent is supporting their child on the spectrum through the bereavement).

It is a good idea to provide some general education about death and bereavement, as this can help better prepare the person on the spectrum when a bereavement does occur. Some researchers have suggested that this could be introduced using insects or animals using a life-cycle approach. For some individuals, using naturalistic opportunities as they arise to explore death and dying can also be helpful (eg, when a character dies in a movie). Using these opportunities to talk about death and to help people with autism have a better understanding of it can also be enhanced through using visual supports. These need to be adapted to each individual.

It is also important that when talking about death that we use clear and accurate language and avoid using metaphors. When someone has been bereaved it is helpful to maintain normal routines as much as possible, and also give the person the option of being involved in the rituals surrounding the death (eg, the funeral, viewing the body). Allow the individual to ask any questions that they have and give them honest and accurate answers. We can also assist the bereaved individual to learn coping strategies to help them through the bereavement (eg, helping them to identify and have a plan of things they can do when they are feeling sad).

For some bereaved individuals on the spectrum, their reactions to a death may be delayed and their expressions of grief may appear different to what we might see in neurotypical individuals. For example, we might see seemingly unrelated changes in the person’s usual behaviour that may indicate that they are grieving.”


My Two Cents

I have been lucky. I haven’t yet had to deal with anyone close to me dying. On the other hand maybe I am unlucky. For when that first death comes, it will be too much for me.  The closest person I know who has died is my grandma in Poland, or Babcia on my mother’s side. It is a shame I didn’t really know her, but that was partially because of the language barrier and the fact she was on the other side of the world.

Both my grandfathers are  dead. But they died long before I was born, so when we have gone to the cemetery, I haven’t understood how death affects others, until recently. I mean, I have gotten upset by characters dying in fictional worlds, but that’s nothing compared to the death of loved one. They say you can try your hardest but you will never be prepared for death. Man this week’s topic is morbid. Maybe this is why we have religion, because death can’t be the final part. Surely there is an afterlife. What do you think? Is there an afterlife? A place we all go when we die, whether it’s a heaven, a hell or something random like a swimming pool?

Hopefully when the time comes I will handle it better than when my friend Lauren told me that her dog had died. I responded with a story about the time my uncle euthanised my grand auntie’s very old disabled dog after he puked on the authentic rug. Lauren was in shock, while I thought I was just relieving pain and trying to bring humour into the situation.

In conclusion

Death is an inconvenient necessity. Nothing lasts forever; if we were meant to be immortal many evil people would still be alive. Life would be boring and risk would become dull. Death isn’t about the end but a reason for us to live our lives. Now I am not saying YOLO, because YOLO is a term used by drunken douchebags to go about causing trouble. I am saying Carpe’ Diem, seize the day! Try something new, go to an event, tell a friend how you feel, live in the moment. No for tomorrow, not afraid of the past but in the now.

Aspect has just published a fact sheet on bereavement and autism, so if you would like to learn more just go here. 

So until next time folks, remember everyone makes the mistakes, even the guys who made the death star! and we all know how that turned out. So make sure not to be big headed like the Easter Island heads! (last week's riddle).


What am I?

I'm a black slug trapped in a bottle

i'm used over and over to scribble

I am as dark as the knight

and used to hide from a fight

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The Eternal Blink