Children with Developmental Disabilities Are at Risk of Disenfranchised Grief

October 10, 2022

Excluding Kids with Needs from the Concept of Death and Death Rituals Can Be Detrimental

Last month, SafeMinds Shares discussed the concept of complicated grief. Specifically, we reported how this type of despair is more prevalent in people with intellectual disabilities. This month, a new review from the University of Maryland, Baltimore has been published that adds to this topic by investigating the grief experiences of children with broader developmental disabilities. The author, Arlen Gaines, discovered that children with developmental disabilities were adversely affected by death, even if their disability impacted their comprehension. He also found that these children were confused by metaphorical language about dying and understood death best by using concrete explanations. Additionally, his review reported on emotional and behavioral responses to grief that kids with needs may exhibit due to challenges surrounding changes in routine, concrete thinking, rigidity, and expressive language problems. Gaines noted that children with developmental disabilities were at risk for secondary losses, especially if the parent or other family member who died was the child’s primary caregiver who best communicated with them and navigated their unique needs. A key finding of this review is that children with developmental disabilities are at risk of experiencing disenfranchised grief, especially when excluded from death education and rituals. Disenfranchised grief is grieving that doesn’t fit the larger society’s attitude toward dealing with death and loss. Individuals who suffer from disenfranchised grief often experience a lack of support which causes prolonged emotional pain. Ultimately, Gaines believes his study sheds light on the crucial aspects of the grief experiences of children with developmental disabilities. He urges further research to build a guiding theoretical framework, especially given the increasing prevalence of autism spectrum disorder.  

For more information on disenfranchised grief, listen to the podcast below featuring the study’s author, Arlen Gaines. 

Original Review Abstract

Autism and Grief Podcast

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons