Grief, in all its forms, is tough for everyone, of everyone neurotype. That’s just a fact. After all, we’re human, we are social animals, and losing someone we care about hurts, often for a very long time, even permanently.

Indeed, we don’t need to be human to feel grief. One of my own dogs died this year because another of our dogs, her mum, had died six weeks previously, and she just couldn’t cope without her. As a rescue, she had very high and specific needs, and her mum was her anchor. I still can’t say the names of our dogs that have died, months later, as our surviving dogs get distressed, they too are grieving, as are we. Grief affects us all.

Understanding and expressing grief as neurodivergents

Us autistics may struggle to show grief in ways that are familiar to non-autistics, and this can come across as uncaring and cold. This can be for so many reasons:

  • Many of us have alexithymia making understanding our own emotions and displaying them in understandable, socially familiar ways really hard.
  • We may show no emotion at all or we may go into meltdown and lose control because we don’t know how to deal with such intensity of emotion.
  • We may find ourselves unable to communicate at all. That’s completely okay – that’s us coping with our pain and not having any spare energy.
  • We may struggle to ‘perform’ in the appropriate ways when there has been a loss in the family.
  • Autistic people with co-occurring learning (intellectual) disabilities are likely to need even greater patience, explanation and support during these times.
  • All of us benefit from knowing the processes that will take place, following a bereavement. The less unknowns there are, the better we cope.

In summary, it needs to be okay for us to express our feelings in ways that feel right for us. The very last thing we can cope with during a time of loss, is to be expected to mask.

Grief for ourselves

But this isn’t the only type of grief I want to highlight here. There is another kind of grief that isn’t about losing someone else: it relates to being late-diagnosed as autistic, as an ADHDer, or any other neurodivergence that you realise that you’ve always been and not known about. This is a huge cause of grief for many of us.

This grief, from my own experience, those I know personally, and those whose stories I have read, doesn’t generally occur because we feel we have lost someone or something by discovering we are autistic, although it can. It is most commonly that we are grieving for all those lost and misunderstood years that we’ve lived through.

Like so many, I have looked back over the difficult periods in my life through a different lens, post-diagnosis. The little girl that was lonely and confused at school, judgements over my underperformance as a Standard Mother, relationships of all kinds in which I have been taken advantage of, because of my nature.

This is grief. We haven’t died physically, but we grieve for the life that could have been. That grief is very very very common for us autistics and adhders, and for anyone who realises as an adult that they’ve been living a life that doesn’t work for them. Therapy, with someone who truly understands, can be so beneficial during this time. I’d strongly recommend it.

This is quite a sad post. But it’s an important one.