Bereavement and trauma


Sadly, most of us will experience bereavement at some point in our lives.  Bereavement is what happens when we lose someone or something we care about, such as a family member, friend or a pet.   

Each person copes with bereavement in their own way.  Some individuals may respond in a way which is unexpected, but there is no right or wrong way.  For autistic individuals, it is important to be aware that at times of bereavement, the challenges they usually experience in everyday life may be more pronounced and require additional attention and support.  

When supporting children and young people experiencing bereavement, it is better to talk about the situation rather than avoid it. It is important to keep in mind the child or young person’s stage of development and level of understanding. Consider your choice of language, aiming to be clear and direct, and avoiding ambiguous language and euphemisms, such as ‘gone to sleep’.  Social Stories can be helpful to prepare children and young people at the conversation partner stage for what to expect, for example, seeing others around them crying or acting unexpectedly, or unfamiliar situations such as visits to hospitals or funerals.  

Further information and resources

The National Autistic Society has created a series of guides for autistic adults, parents and carers and professionals on how best to support autistic individuals experiencing bereavement.   

The National Autism Implementation Team (NAIT) has created guidance on supporting autistic learners with bereavement.  


Educational resources about childhood trauma have been included in the Autism Toolbox because children and young people with neurodevelopmental difficulties, such as autism, can be affected by trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACES). Practitioners need to be mindful that trauma and autism can co-occur. For example, it might be hard to tease these issues apart in a child who has experience of the care system. Ignoring either factor will limit our understanding of the child or young person and could potentially weaken the support we offer.

The impact of ACES is illustrated in the following animation.

The role of the workforce in making a positive difference to those affected by adversity is illustrated in the NHS Education for Scotland animation which is available here

The animation below was developed by NHS Education for Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish Government. It is designed to be relevant to all workers within the Scottish workforce who work with children and young people. It aims to support staff to understand the impact of trauma and to know how to adapt the way they work to make a positive difference to the lives of children and young people affected by trauma.

Further information is available in online modules produced by NHS Education for Scotland. The following e-learning resource unpacks childhood trauma further (note you need to sign up to this website to access the resources). The link is:

The NES Trauma Training Framework is available here.  

Education Scotland published a paper entitled ‘Nurture, Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma informed practice: Making the links between these approaches’ which helps practitioners join the dots between the concepts of nurture, ACES and trauma.