Supporting grieving children and young people with SEND
Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities need support to understand and cope with their grief. Our online resources and new book, We All Grieve, help adults to support them after the death of a loved one.
The forgotten mourners
There are an estimated 44,496 children with SEND bereaved of a parent in the UK* and, just like other bereaved children and young people, they need support to understand and cope with their grief. The needs of bereaved children with special educations needs and disabilities can be overlooked or forgotten.
Assumptions are often made that these children either need to be protected from grief or are unable to be involved in the process of grieving due to their special educational need or disability. But, we all experience grief and we all need support at times. How much more frightening is something if we don’t understand what is going on? The same is also true for children with SEND.
Do I need to tell them?
As adults we are naturally inclined to protect and shield children from difficult and sad situations. We understandably find it very hard to see a child upset, however, death is the one thing that we cannot change for children. By giving children with SEND the facts about the death, we are helping them understand what has happened and supporting them with any changes this may bring about, which is best for the whole family.
Sharing the news of a death needs to be done sensitively and honestly. Provide all of the relevant details to the level of your child’s understanding and using their preferred mode(s) of communication.
Will they understand death?
Some people may believe that a child with SEND does not have the cognitive ability to understand the loss, but we know that this is not true. Even a young baby acknowledges the loss of someone close to them, such as the absence of their touch, voice and smell, and practical and emotional changes in their environment.
At the very least, children with SEND will be affected by the death of someone close to them in the same way, and maybe in far greater ways depending on their functional level of understanding.
How will they react?
The nature of a child’s SEND may make it difficult for them to understand what death really means, and how they can manage the changes that have occurred in their life as a result of the bereavement. So it is really important that those around them know how to support them.
A child can move in and out of their thoughts and feelings about a person dying very quickly. They may be happily playing and then be inconsolable for no obvious reason. Or one minute they are angry and challenging you about why the person had to die and then they switch to wanting to know what they are having for tea.