Autism and Processing Grief: Feelings Change

This post is a follow-up to  and also a very late response to a comment left there. It was started long ago… but due to some things we are dealing with as a family now… it has become relevant to post…

I know now that H feels things more deeply and intensely than many people seem to do – so I have sometimes wondered if he needs to almost shut down or close off the feelings when they become too much.

I have observed that his feelings can be as strong as, and almost seem like an extension of, his heightened sensory system. When he listens to music – he can hear all the sounds at the same time. When he gets a new Lego set – he opens all of the little bags with the sorted pieces – and spreads all of them on the table. I’ve seen him do this. When he creates with his Lego – he can see all of the pieces at once and doesn’t need to search for a piece the way I would.

He sees differently.

He hears differently.

It seems his feelings are just as powerful – and I imagine that can be scary at times.  H needs support so that he knows we are there to help him handle those difficult and intense emotions, and that it is safe to feel those strong feelings. We have also worked hard to support him in learning and experiencing that feelings change – so that in the middle of an emotional storm – he has some understanding that these feelings will not last forever.

When our neighbour Mrs. L died, I took H to her memorial. Craig and I thought it was very important that he have the opportunity to attend and be a part of her ending of life ceremony. It was good for him to see that others were feeling the same way he was – and he also had the opportunity to give her family a copy of the story, Mrs. L and the Ladybug, that I had written to support him in understanding and processing this loss.

It just so happens that this same day – the new Star Trek movie was to premier. I told H that we would be going – but I need to explain here that we did not do this to ‘cheer him up’.

Our intent was different.

As those of you who are regular readers will know,  H is a big fan of sci-fi fantasy, like me (right now we are both counting the days until the new Star Wars film premiers in December 2015), so he was really, REALLY looking forward to the Star Trek movie.

Taking in the movie was fun and exciting – and this happened on the same day that something sad and difficult happened. H asked if he could go dressed as Captain Kirk – complete with TOS phaser replica… and of course I agreed. He held his own with the other fans in the pre-movie line trivia testing that spontaneously became a thing – and – to be honest – his TOS knowledge raised a few impressed eyebrows.

Experiencing these two events close together supported H in understanding that feelings change – even very intense feelings. I wanted to nurture this idea to help to build safety for the pain and intensity when he is in the middle of it all, and to strengthen his understanding that feelings are things that we move through.


This is a slide from H’s Dear Teacher presentation. Black text on a green background reads: “Sometimes feelings can really get me down especially when a loved one passes away. The feelings I have are as strong as my listening. I feel things very deeply. I need a teacher to know that I need extra support with my feelings because they are so strong they can be scary. I need it to be safe to feel those strong things and know that people will help me.” Written by H.

I am certain that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the intensity that this young man experiences with his emotions, but it is an intensity that can be frightening. So giving him the tools to deepen his understanding about his own processing is something I want to do as a parent.

I want him to welcome his tears – and to feel things to his soul – and to know that he is safe and supported in feeling those deep things… and that there is a way through. I want him to understand that whether easy or difficult… a feeling is something he can safely and intensely experience…

And just like he will encounter other emotions, he will encounter his sadness again… as he continues to process loss or grief…

It comes and goes… and that is okay…


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2015)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in acceptance, Autism, Grief and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Autism and Processing Grief: Feelings Change

  1. KarlettaA says:

    Reblogged this on Musings of KarlettaA and commented:
    Have you read “The Rosie Project”?
    I didn’t finish it when the main character ‘discovered’ he couldn’t feel love. I wanted to throw the bloody thing.
    This blog post is very well written, if you are someone who thinks we can’t feel emotions.
    We can show we care in different ways, like a caress, kind words, gifts, dedicating time with someone and doing nice things like making someone a tea.
    I hope you like the following post by Thirty Days of Autism.


  2. I would like to thank you for commenting on my son’s blog post, Running With Grief. I agree that emotions seem to be experienced intensely. Once he’s had a chance to read your post, we’ll discuss it. We’re working on creating a “distraction box” on his suggestion. His thought is that having his focus on something unrelated will help him during the intense parts.


  3. Something that happens to me, in addition to having intense hard to process feelings, is that I sometimes can’t get my feelings to “surface” to the point that they’re identifiable. Often I feel a physical sensation instead and think that’s what’s predominantly responsible for feeling bad. It’s great that you’re so actively supporting H in his emotional life. As an adult, I can see how that kind of support when I was younger would have been so helpful as I matured.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Ahhhhh… I so appreciate your insight as it helps me to be open and widen my awareness that there are other ways to express. Although it seems H’s emotions are generally expressed as such… it is important to consider that there could very well things that are not expressed or processed so much emotionally – but may actually be – can I say cross-expressed – as a physical response or ??? This is a beautiful reminder that there is seldom only one way to experience or process the world… Thank you ❤


  4. Reblogged this on includedbygrace and commented:
    All people experience grief. People with autism and people with learning disabilties are people first, and grief happens. The way they process their feelings and express them may need support and understanding in a way that is personal to them. My friend S, who has Down’s Syndrome, lost her mum a couple of years ago. She talks about her mum and I need her to know that feeling sad about losing her mum is still ok. I love this blog from Leah Kelley that explains how she is helping her autistic son cope with the intensity of emotions that come with grief. We can all learn from this.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.