WPP 033: Meredith Polsky and Arlen Gaines on autism and grief

When I brought my kids books after the death of my grandmother, they asked, “Why are you bringing me these books that are about animals? Why are you bringing me books that are about leaves falling off the trees? We are talking about my grandmother, what does this have to do with anything?” So it really got me thinking, and I realized that most of the books that we use for children try to cushion it by using animals as the main characters, or metaphors that can be really out of reach for many children, including children with autism spectrum disorder.
— Arlen Gaines
Polsky_Gaines_final.jpg

I had such a great discussion with Arlen Gaines and Meredith Polsky for this episode. Meredith and Arlen are social workers who have written a book series called “I Have a Question” for kids with autism. One of their books is about death; another is about cancer. I heard them present on a webinar for the National Alliance for Grieving Children on the topic of grief and kids with autism, and realized that would probably be of interest to some listeners.

Some of the topics we cover in our discussion include:

  • the fact that there’s a lack of literature on death and dying for kids who are concrete thinkers;

  • some common features of autism that we should keep in mind when we think about how to help our grieving children/teens;

  • developmental responses to grief that we see with typically developing kids in each age group, and how might that be different for kids with autism;

  • tips for making participation in a peer grief group or camp a successful experience for a child with autism;

  • some thoughts on how to deal with the loss of routine and schedule after the loss of a parent;

  • some of the euphemisms that our culture has around death that can be confusing to people with autism; and

  • strategies for helping kids with autism remember and honor their deceased parent.

I hope you enjoy my discussion with Meredith Polsky and Arlen Gaines.

Links & resources for this episode

I Have a Question web site
I Have a Question About Death, by Arlen Gaines and Meredith Polsky
I Have a Question About Cancer, by Arlen Gaines and Meredith Polsky
How People with Autism Grieve, and How to Help, by Deborah Lipsky
National Alliance for Grieving Children

More links for listeners

Get my guide “What I’ve learned about widowed parenting”
Widowed Parent Podcast discussion group - sign up here (free) - first Sunday of each month
Jenny’s interview on the Life Through Transitions podcast


What is your biggest challenge as a widowed parent right now?

Call our voice mailbox at (669)257-3434 and leave a message. Or, answer this quick one-question survey. I’ll pick the most interesting questions and challenges, and hunt down experts to address them on upcoming episodes.