Ben lost his first grandparent in 2003 when he was only 5 years old. Concrete concepts were easy to explain but abstract ideas like death were much harder to work with. We never wanted to use terms like "he is sleeping" where Ben might be afraid to go to sleep and describing the permeance of the situation was also a concern.
We often wrote social stories to help Ben with concepts he was working to understand. Social stories were developed by Carol Gray with the idea of explaining harder concepts in simple words and actual pictures. Being able to have the material repeated over and over in the same way was comforting to Ben and he always preferred books with real pictures rather than drawings or cartoons.
There are some wonderful sample social stories on Carol Gray's web site. We developed social stories for everything from safety concerns like crossing the street to reasons not to kick the back of dad's seat while he was driving.
Photo books work great for developing your own social stories. Taking pictures of the story you want to present and the printing words to go along with the events are inexpensive and easy to modify.
We made a social story one summer by visiting Ben's new school placement and took pictures of the room, room number, cafeteria, gym and playground. He looked at it every day and we read it over and over to prepare him for the change. Of course, he came home the first day of school exclaiming "They put me in the wrong class!" He could not explain any further than that and the office was closed by the time his bus arrived.
Momma marched herself up to the school bright and early the next day to find
out what had occurred. The office explained that they had to split the class and felt that Ben was a better fit for the other room which made sense, it was just disturbing that they would not think a change like that would be upsetting to any child let alone someone on the spectrum. Sometimes the best laid plans don't play out like we think they should.
Our faith has always been a source of strength in hard times and the belief that we will be reunited with those who die before us is a great comfort in times of loss. We wrote a social story that told Ben that "Pop-Pop was very sick, and the doctors tried to make him better but he was too sick". We hoped to covey the fact that not every sickness is something to worry about and we wanted him to know that we tried our best to help Pop-pop get better.
We told Ben that "Pop-Pop was in a wonderful place called heaven where there is no more sickness or pain and that he was with Jesus" to which Ben responded "I'm going up to heaven, to fight Jesus and get Pop-pop back". It was always fascinating to try to understand what was going on in his mind and this response just showed us how much he loved his pop-pop.
Fast forward 19 years to when Ben was 24 years old lost his Grammy. His response was so mature and demonstrated how he integrated his faith into hope and was able to feel sad about losing her but hopeful that we will see her again. He went every day to visit her, prayed with her and sang over her which brought her great comfort and helped him process his loss.
Love you more,