Aspergers and coping with death.

Tara - posted on 01/01/2013 ( 3 moms have responded )

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My son is almost 20 yrs old and was diagnosed with Aspergers when he was 7. I am looking for advise on how to explain to him that his father commited suiside. His father has not been in his life for about 6 yrs now...no phone calls, no birthday cards, no child support...nothing. I'm not sure how he is going to handle this. Any advise would help.

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Rebekah - posted on 01/02/2013

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My thoughts are with you Tara... you certainly do have a full plate and it sounds like you have devoted your life to your children. I'm glad you got through that conversation with your son and that you were able to share the truth, painful as it was. Keep observing him and allowing him time to talk and process. Hopefully he will find his ways to come to terms with it and find some closure. Although the memorial service isn't until spring, I wonder if that will allow some time for your son to work on his feelings about it and prepare. Your explanation to your son about not letting emotions overwhelm us and take over might be a springboard into more conversations about grief and how to work through it in a healthy way. Having emotions take over is one extreme...but being detached from them--as Asperger folks can tend to be--is another extreme. Helping him to experience his feelings, tolerate them, explore them, and work through them, is important work for him to do. If he can do this in counseling or a support group, that might be really good for him.

Is he connected to any professional services at this point? It sounds like you've been his right hand for a long time. I don't know where you live or what you have access to, but I wonder, with his diagnosis, if he would qualify for a case manager of some kind? I work in mental health, but I'm not a social worker, but perhaps consulting with one might give some ideas for what could help him find his place career-wise and otherwise. I like the idea of helping him find a sense of purpose. Everyone needs this. Volunteering is a great way for him to get involved. Hopefully he can stay consistent with his meds and responsibilities. Was he going through a depression himself? He sounds very bright, but needs some help with managing adult life. I would want to check around and see if there are any services he might qualify for, so that the full effort doesn't fall on your shoulders.

Are you in the US? There is an organization called the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) that have a lot of resources for folks with such challenges, but also for families and caregivers. I wonder if you could find some help there. I'm certain there are also specific groups out there for families dealing with Aspergers and Bipolar.

Do you have any family or close friends that help sustain you? You definitely need some time for yourself. I believe too that God gives us what we can handle...but also know that God is there for us (all the time) and especially in those moments that we have to give things over to Him. We do not have to handle things alone...which includes God carrying us when we can't go on, as well as God giving us each other so that we can help deal with the hardships we have. Look for your supports, whether its family or friends, faith community, or a support group for YOU so that you can be refreshed, strengthened, cared for. In doing this, you can also model to both your children how to care for yourself emotionally.

Hang in there...you clearly are a loving mom who is doing the best you can! Be sure to take care of yourself. Moms sometimes forget to do that.

Tara - posted on 01/02/2013

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Thank-you very much for your advise. I told my son last night...i didnt go into much detail. I told him that his dad had died and let him ask how when he was ready. When he did I told him that he took his own life and that he was having emotional challanges and must not have had the strenght to fight anymore.
I told him that I'm sure he thought about him all the time but sometimes in life people get themselves in certian situations that they are not emotionally able to get out of. We all need to fight to do the right things and never let the feelings of being overwhelmed drive us. He of course was upset, he cried for a few minutes, we talked for a couple of hours then he went and played video games.
I told him if he had any questions at anytime I am here for him and we will get through this. My son does not show much emotion at all so it is hard to know how he will continue to handle this. I think that deep inside he was always hopeful that his dad would return to his life. Unfortunatly, his fathers side of the family has not seen him in almost 15 yrs so there is no support on that side and they are waiting until the spring to have a service...so no closure for a while. His uncle stated that he wanted to start a relationship with him. Time will only tell.

My son is almost 20 now physically but emotionally he is more like a 12 yr old. He (we) graduated at the top of his class and was accepted to all 5 engineering colleges he applied to...WPI, RIT, RPI, UVM...etc. He chose RIT...and didnt make it. He ended the year early with only 17 credits and that was with support. I skyped him everyday to get up, shower, takes meds and get to class...we went over homework everynight and things were working ok until he decided not to answer the phone. Then he stopped taking meds, showering, going to class etc...It was all down hill from there. He is now home and was going to community college at night...that didn't work either. I'm currently trying to help him get a job, he has signed up to be a volenteer at the local tech center for few hours a day and should be starting that next week. Maybe that will give him a sence of purpose....I'm at a loss.

Aspi life is a interesting at the very least...I'm doing the best I can to support his needs but I'm a single mom that works full time and has a 12 yr old daugher with Child-hood onset Bipolar. I haven't had a social life in over 13 years.... I know God only gives you what you can handle...but I beginning to think he has too much faith in me. Any suggestions or support is more than welcome....thanks for your time.

Rebekah - posted on 01/01/2013

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First, I'm sorry for your/your son's loss. Even though he has been out of the picture for years, its still a loss.

I know Aspergers generally implies high functioning autism. What is his actual level of function? Would he be attending the funeral, or is that already over?

I'm not sure exactly what you should say, not knowing how your son is personally. Certainly, he should know that his father has died. I generally don't advocate secrecy...things always have a way of coming out, but if there was a big disconnect between your son and his dad (is he involved with his dad's extended family?) then I wonder if he needs to know that it was death by suicide. Just wondering.

If your son can comprehend the circumstances that might lead a person to suicide (depression, etc), or if you will be maintaining contact with family that knows the truth and the truth will come out, then I would just be honest with him. Information should be shared to the degree that he is capable of understanding/coping with. He may not have had a relationship with his dad in recent years, but there may be unresolved feelings or questions about his dad's lack of involvement. Now that his dad is gone, he won't have an opportunity to pursue a relationship or get answers if he would want to. There may be anger, bitterness, guilt, resentment, etc. OR, there may be confusion or seeming indifference... depends on history and where your son is at with his perception of his father. Suicide is hard for anyone to fully understand. It would be good for your son to have as much opportunity to talk about his reaction as possible, and maybe even have the name of a counselor handy in case he needs more professional support.

I would also bet that there are books out there that can help give you the words to use. Look at books that are geared for helping children cope with death....and then tailor it up to your son's age and ability. Good luck to you... its a hard conversation to have.

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