Children with special needs are affected by stories of children’s death’s like the children killed in Sandy Hook last year when a gunman came into the town’s elementary school and opened fire, killing eight young children and six staff. These traumatic events haunt children of all abilities and make them feel insecure about their safety. They also provide opportunities for discussion about death and to promote feelings of empathy.
However, the death of a relative or a friend is more profound for a child, including those with special needs, because of the emotional attachment and the sense of loss when that person is not longer around. When a child of any ability loses someone s/he loves, it is a traumatic event. This excerpt from a book about grief, loss, and rocks is designed to help children talk about the loss of someone they care about in their family or circle of friends:
Danny couldn't wait to see his little sister and show her his rock collection. He had a shiny black rock for her. It was his smallest rock. It was only as big as a penny. But he thought it was the perfect gift for a tiny baby girl.
"Not now, Danny," his father said. Danny's father was more than just tired. He seemed sad. Danny got scared.
"Daddy, what's wrong? Why are you sad?"
Danny's father hugged him real tight. When he let Danny go, he wiped tears from his eyes. Danny heard someone crying and turned and saw his mother. He ran to her and hugged her real tight around the waist. His dad came over and hugged them both. Danny knew something really bad had happened. Danny's little sister never came home. Her room sat empty. (Rock-A-Bye Baby by G. J. Chapman, B.A., M.Ed., Ed.Sp.)
When your child with special needs loses a relative or a friend, rituals are helpful in dealing with such losses. These rituals can be something as simple as looking at photos of the loved one with your child or writing a letter telling the loved one about your child’s feelings and/or memories about the loved ones. The following list of suggested rituals was compiled by Dr. Marc A. Markell:
Helpful Rituals for Developmentally Disabled Grievers
• The use of photographs in ritual.
Have students sit in a circle and pass around a photo of the person who died and share memories. If the child is non verbal the facilitator can share the memories “for the child” about the loss.
• Using storytelling in ritual.
Write a story about the person who has died in collaboration with the individual with the disability.
• Use of memory objects in ritual.
Put a group of objects together that remind them of the person who died, such as photos, books, clothing articles, papers etc. For someone less verbal, let child choose what goes in pile. Leave the objects for several days. Limited time for those easily distracted.
• Use of Drawing in Ritual.
Have the child draw a picture of the person who died or memories of the person and share it with others. Even if the child has limited fine motor skills, encourage the child to draw what he/she remembers.
• Use of Music in Ritual.
Listen to music that the person who died liked or that reminds her of the person who died. The song may relate to the person’s job or personality trait. Can listen, or move to music or draw.
• Use of Writing in Ritual.
• The child can write or dictate a letter to or about the person.
Perhaps provide child with a letter with sentence starters.
• Use of Stones in Ritual.
Share a memory of the person and then place a small stone in a decorative fountain or paint the rock or write a word on it. Take time daily to remember the person.
• Use of Daily Memory in Ritual.
Choose an activity that the person used to do with or to the child. This may be self-care or taking a walk, cooking or playing a game together. As the teacher does this activity intentionally talk about the person who has died. This can occur immediately after the death or delayed for weeks. Pay attention to student’s cues in order to help the child in the healing process. (Adapted from : Helping People with Developmental Disabilities Mourn: Practical Rituals for Caregivers by Marc A. Markell, PhD, 2005) http://www.griefspeaks.com/id96.html
Rock-A-Bye Baby by G. J. Chapman is available on Kindle (link below) and also for teachers with curriculum suggestions on lulu.com (links below) and has its on Facebook page:
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