How to Help Your Special Needs Child Grieve

How to Help Your Special Needs Child Grieve

Coping with grief is complex and emotional.  As the parent of a special needs child you may feel especially helpless.  Finding ways for your child to understand and heal can be overwhelming, but there is help.  Here are some tools to help your child cope with loss.  

Helping your special needs child through losing a loved one can start with a conversation.  The experts at Friendship Circle have some great advice: 

Help your child understand.

     Foundation.  Prepare your child if you know someone is dying.  Unexpected deaths are even more difficult to comprehend but it’s best to tell your child as soon as possible.  Children can sense if something is wrong so direct communication makes things less shocking. 

     Inclusion.  Your child can be included in visits to the dying person as well as in attending the funeral.  The events can provide closure.  Prepare your child with how people may act and what he or she will see.  If your child doesn’t want to go, consider a special drawing for the loved one, or to take flowers to the gravesite later. 

     Preparation.  Some experts recommend a “practice drive” to where the funeral will be to help your child understand what to expect.

    Word choice.  Begin difficult conversations with words like, “I have something very sad to tell you.”

     Some experts advise that you should model appropriate behavior.  If you are feeling sad, express this to your child.  Cry, use symbols, or otherwise show your child what you are feeling.  Explain that the emotions are okay and normal.

     Thoughtfulness.  Carefully think through what you will say.  Your child can take words literally, so terms such as “sleep” and “rest” can create misunderstandings. 


Help your child grieve.

    Celebration.  Remember and celebrate the person who passed.  Allow your child to talk about the loved one but don’t demand that he or she shares thoughts or memories. 

     According to some experts it is helpful to include religious beliefs when you are talking about death.  Discuss what your family embraces and any customs to recognize the loved one.

      Memorial.  If your child takes comfort in rituals, create a new one to remember the departed.  You could write a story together, or put together a scrapbook or memory box.  The project can be visited routinely by your child.  Similarly, if your child participated in a particular activity with the loved one you could offer to do that with your child.  Putting together puzzles, fishing, or going for walks in a particular park could help your child heal.  Talk about the loved one while you are doing the activity.

    Understanding.  Your child may ask the same questions repeatedly.  Be patient and talk, listen or spend time together as your child grieves. 

Your future plans.  Losing a loved one can bring on a storm of emotions.  As the parent of a special needs child it can be particularly tumultuous.  You may feel out of control and your fears for your child’s future surface.  This may be a good time to take back some sense of order by reviewing plans for your child’s future.  If you haven’t already done so, look at legal options and do some preparation.  According to the professionals at CNBC, you have choices. 

    Special needs trust.  This is a bit like a college tuition payment for the next sixty years.  Some families have funded it with life insurance money.

    ABLE account.  This is a savings account that is tax-advantaged.

     Both.  You should consider having both a special needs trust and an ABLE account.

You can talk with an estate planning attorney to find out what options best suit your situation.

Coping and carrying on.  Loss of a loved one is always difficult.  As the parent of a special needs child you may feel overwhelmed.  Use direct and careful communication to guide your child toward understanding.  Help your child heal with celebrating the life of the loved one.  You can feel better about the future by reviewing accommodations you’ve established for your child.  Following this advice will help you both cope and move forward. 

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