Guide to Understanding Death for Young Children and Special Needs Kids

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One Place for Special Needs - millieMy grandmother recently passed away. With the ceremonies and experiences in my mind, I thought I would address some of the anxieties and other issues that can come up for children when explaining death and going to a wake and funeral.

These resources offer matter of fact language that can assist children with autism, Down syndrome, learning disabilities, generalized anxieties and behavior disorders. They can also benefit any young child who is struggling with making sense of the loss of a loved family member.

This guide is in honor of my grandmother, Millie Kabat, a lovely woman who will be missed.

by Dawn Villarreal, One Place for Special Needs


Addressing death when you have an elderly family member - This article explains what you can do beforehand to prepare your child for a relative's death.

One Place for Special Needs - coffinTelling your child a family member is dead - How to explain a relative has died in a way children will understand and what your child is really asking you about death.

What does it mean to be dead - What does it mean to be alive and dead along with assurances that when a person dies, they no longer inhabit the body.

Why do people die? - A story written for kids that talks about life spans of animals and people, what happens as our bodies age and how no one knows exactly when someone will die.

Why do people die young? - A story written for kids that talks about different reasons why someone might die young.

Kid friendly memorials of your deceased family member - Ideas for helping your child memorialize their loved one in a way that makes sense to them.

Handling anxiety, sensory and behavior issues at a wake or funeral - This article includes several scenarios you may run into and how to accommodate your child at a wake and funeral.

Going to a wake social story - This social story explains what a child might see at a wake.

Going to a funeral social story - This social story explains what a child might see at a funeral and cemetery.

How to behave at a wake or funeral social story - This social story explains what an obligation is, the expectation of dressing nice and what to say.

Additional resources

Visiting room at a wake - This is a tasteful video that spans the length of a funeral home wake area with the casket in the distance. Children can expect to see photos of the person, flowers, chairs, etc. From cclayton13 on YouTube

One Place for Special Needs image - church hearseCloser view of casket - Here is a close up video of the person in the casket from this same wake from about five feet away.

Navy gun salute - This video shows a navy gun salute and the playing of taps at a funeral from rosalitch1 on YouTube

Military funeral ceremony - This video is five minutes long but is the best funeral ceremony video I've found honoring a young marine.  Encompasses all aspects of a military funeral. From marine1763 on YouTube

Flag folding ceremony - This video shows the flag folding ceremony along with an explanation for why it's done. From machfowler on YouTube

Playing of Taps - For kids who are interested, here is the entire playing of Taps on bugle. From dvidshub on YouTube

Going to a funeral resources - A list of resources I've collected that help explain the funeral process to children, what to wear and how to act

Explaining death - A list of resources I've collected to help children understand the concept of death

Grieving and loss - Resources on handling grief over the death of a family member

Death social stories - A few social stories on the topic of death

Death of a pet - Many children's first exposure to death is the loss of a family pet. Here are resources on handling pet loss.

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Dawn VillarrealAbout the writer

Dawn Villarreal runs One Place for Special Needs, a national disability resource that lets you find local and online resources, events and even other families in your neighborhood plus thousands of online disability resources! Stay awhile and check out the site. She is also moderator of Autism Community Connection, a Yahoo group for families of children with autism spectrum disorder. Reprint permission granted by including: Reprinted with permission from One Place for Special Needs

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