Navigating Grief: Healthy Goals to Help Neurodivergent Individuals to Heal
By Guest Blogger Justin Black
Both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals may experience a wide range of emotions while grieving the loss of a loved one, from anger and restlessness to trouble eating, drinking, and concentrating. Grief can also affect one’s self-esteem and independence, leading to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
While five stages of grief are commonly observed among neurotypical individuals, those who are Autistic won’t necessarily cycle through these stages in the same way or at all after the death of a friend, family member, or other loved one. The stages are outlined thus: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often struggle to express their grief in an expected way, or their grief may be delayed. The overwhelm they experience while grieving may also cause them to behave aggressively or display feelings of excitement. They may have trouble understanding death or navigating social situations such as funeral services.
Bereavement may affect neurodivergent individuals differently than neurotypical people, but it’s just as important for those with ASD to talk about their grief and express themselves as best as possible. Here are several healthy goals for neurodivergent individuals to work toward while grieving the death of a loved one, from seeking talk therapy to familiarizing themselves with the different services and events that commonly take place after someone dies.
Familiarize Yourself with Funeral Services & Other Social Events
When someone in your life dies, several types of services and events commonly take place as a way of remembering the deceased person. These include pre-funeral events such as visitations, viewings, or wakes; funerals; and post-funeral gatherings and receptions. You might also be asked a lot of questions you didn’t expect to be asked, either by well-meaning acquaintances or by officials like the Coroner or funeral home (if you are the next of kin). You may be asked to make decisions which might feel overwhelming. There will be an expectation from others about how you behave, how you grieve, you do not need to conform to their idea of what grieving is.
It’s possible that you might feel deeper emotions when a cherished animal dies, and that is perfectly okay. There are no rules about how you must feel or how deeply you are affected by any kind of loss. You do not need to engage with guilt, or regret or anxiety about how you are supposed to react. Sam told me she cried for two weeks straight when her beloved cat Suki was killed in a horrible accident, yet when her human Auntie died, she cried for a few hours when she heard the news, but that was it. Sam found she was affected more by empathizing with how other people were affected, like her Mum who was devasted about losing her sister.
As an autistic individual, understanding grief and navigating social situations such as funerals and visitations can be challenging. It’s important, however, that you’re included in all pre- or- post-funeral events when a loved one dies. These social situations can be made easier if you familiarize yourself with the venues and events in advance: try visiting the venue before the event takes place, looking at pictures on the venue’s website, or asking friends and family what you should expect to happen at the funeral service and other social events.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Talking about your grief, the feelings you’re experiencing, and the behaviours you’re displaying is also important after the death of a loved one. Be sure to talk to your family members and friends about the emotions and behaviours you’re experiencing, as this can help you to understand your own feelings and how others may be feeling as well.
In addition to talking to your loved ones, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be helpful for neurodivergent individuals who are grieving. Look for an autism-friendly therapist, or use the National Autistic Society’s online Autism Services Directory to search for knowledgeable professionals near you.
If you prefer to work alone, you can find many books and videos to support your learning about CBT and so that you can access it for free. Here’s a list you can use to find those books. For videos you can start here.
The Grief Recovery Method can be very impactful if there are ruminations or unresolved issues after someone has died, or if you have experienced any kind of loss (job, relationship etc). If you prefer to work through the method on your own you can buy the book here.
Set Healthy Life and Career Goals
Grief looks different for everyone — especially for those who are Autistic — but losing someone often reminds us of how precious life truly is. It encourages us to make changes in our lives and careers if we’re unhappy and make the most of our time on Earth.
If losing your loved one has encouraged you to make changes in your life or career, you might consider working with an autism-friendly life or career coach. There are also lots of free resources to help you achieve your career goals, from resumé/CV templates to online word processors.
For example, if you use a Google Docs template to create a new resumé, you can then save and download a PDF version of your Google Doc so it can be shared via email or uploaded when applying for jobs online. These free online resumé templates make it easy to include your contact information and details about your education, professional experience, skills, and accomplishments. For a great guide on how ensure your CV or resumé is in tune with modern recruitment expectations see the tips here.
Help is Available
Grief is incredibly challenging, but specialized help is available to neurodivergent individuals who need additional support while coping with the death of a loved one. Life and career coaches, for instance, can help you to update your resumé and set new goals for yourself — while autism-friendly therapists can help you to talk about the feelings you’re experiencing. You don’t have to grieve alone: lots of help is available to you as you learn to navigate the loss of someone you love.
Sam Warner is an autistic interpreter, communications specialist, and speaker.
Connect with Sam online or visit get-your-message-across.com to learn more.
firstname.lastname@example.org +44 7973 490150
Justin Black created his bereavement site to be a safe space for others to share their stories, read the experiences of others, and remind everyone that they aren’t alone in their grief. You can take control of your grief in a positive and healthy manner, and his hope with the site is to help you do just that. Connect with Justin online or visit https://www.bereaving.net/