The effect of grief on children with autism is an under-researched area of study. Until recently, it was often assumed that individuals with autism did not have the capacity to grieve. Because of deficits in social skills, interpersonal relationships, and language and communication skills, these individuals are especially vulnerable as they navigate the challenging social and emotional aspects associated with bereavement and grief. Bibliotherapy is offered as supportive strategy for bereaved children, providing them with structure and guidance through a time of uncertainty and change. This study is based on two focus groups, one with teachers of children with autism (n = 8) and one with parents of children with autism (n = 5). Researchers focused on the purpose of supporting children in grades K–3 through the death of a loved one or pet. Focus group participants discussed their perceptions of how this special population of children grieves and how to support them following a significant loss, such as the death of a loved one or beloved pet. After reviewing selected resources (supportive stories), participants offered their impressions regarding the appropriateness and potential effectiveness of the resources. Focus groups were audiotaped and later transcribed. Transcriptions were carefully reviewed and discussed by two individuals to identify and summarize themes. After summarizing the information from the transcriptions and organizing the information, one individual served as a quality check, to verify the accuracy of the findings. Additionally, a member check was offered to participants to assure accuracy in the typed transcripts (for intended meaning and content). The following information and recommendations are presented based on the input from the focus group participants. Three overarching themes were identified in this study, as well as some specific cautions and warnings. Participants emphasized the importance of individualization in the selection of stories for children with autism. Readers should be aware of the child’s specific needs and circumstances when they are selecting a story. The stories should be developmentally appropriate and should help support the child through the specific type of death or loss that has occurred. Participants also discussed the importance of selecting books that are concrete, simple, and structured. As children with autism often have difficulty with abstract concepts, the topic of death and loss should be approached in a concrete and literal way. Books that present information in this manner will best help the child to understand their experience. Practitioners who use bibliotherapy to support children with autism through a death or loss should be sensitive to family beliefs. Open communication should be used with the child’s family in order to select a book that best fits that child’s needs. Children with autism will also benefit from stories that help to normalize their experience and that help them to understand the emotions that they or their family and friends may experience. Future research is recommended to further explore the use of supportive stories in aiding a child with autism through the grief and loss process. It is important to examine how children with autism respond to the selected stories and to understand how effective the stories are in their coping and understanding process.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Counseling Psychology and Special Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





grief, death, loss, children with autism, bibliotherapy



Included in

Counseling Commons