Helping Your Child With Special Needs Mourn

By: Jackie Waters
Thursday, September 28, 2017


Death is an unfortunate part of life. However, that doesn’t make it any less devastating when you lose someone you love. You have to learn how to live without that person in your life. It’s hard, but as an adult, you can handle it.


But when your child with special needs tries to process this grief, things can go wrong. Children of any ability have difficulty understanding the death of a loved one. The special needs can make things worse. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help your child with special needs mourn the loss. You can begin by understanding how grief works.

What Grief Can Look Like

No matter what ability or disability people have, they tend to grieve the same way. As PsychCentral explains, these are the five stages of grief:

Denial: Refusing to believe the loved one has died at all.

Anger: Getting upset that the person has passed away. This can include guilt for not passing away as well.

Bargaining: Trying to offer something to bring the person back.

Depression: Getting sad, anxious, and depressed because the loved one is no longer here.

Acceptance: Finally coming to terms with the loss and getting back on track with life.


A child with special needs might not follow all five steps in that order. While it depends on the specific disorder or condition, some might start with bargaining or anger. Expect your child to experience some version of the five steps.

Helping Children Cope With Loss

Given the problems with the five steps such as depression, some people may consider not explaining the death to the child. Ultimately, that’s a bad idea. Even with having special needs, your child will eventually find out — and be understandably upset that they were kept in the dark.


There are some tips for explaining the death to a child with special needs:

Prepare your child by explaining what death is early on. This could help them process the loss more easily.

Use the word “sad” when describing the passing. This is much easier for the child to understand than terms like “grief” or “mourning.”

Also, be honest. Explain that the loved one died, not that they “went to sleep” or some other euphemism.


As the days pass by, your child with special needs will go through those five stages. explains several ways to help this grieving process, such as:

Be patient with the child. They will likely get upset or even furious, but they need to go through these feelings to finally reach acceptance.

Spend time with them, more than you normally do. Being present can do wonders when the child mourns the death.

Share happy memories of the child engaging with the loved one. Talking about them can help the child feel better.

Preparing For Your Own Passing

Talking about death will inevitably make you think about your own mortality. Because you have a child with special needs, there are a few things you need to do so your child can have a bright future even if you are gone.


If your child requires a caregiver, Redfin recommends searching for a new one. Start by listing the qualities your child needs in a caregiver. This will help when you interview potential candidates.


Of course, you need to pay for everything. That’s hard when you’re not there to earn a paycheck. That’s why you need a solid estate plan as soon as possible. Collect your personal information and visit a financial planner to see how you can invest for your child’s future.

Be Honest But Gentle

Remember that your child with special needs deserves to know about the death. Explain things gently, and be ready to support your child when they go through the five stages of grief. Then make sure your family situation can support your child even after your own death. This can help protect your child just when they need it the most.


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