Emotions of Suicide Loss

Reaching out to fellow Aspies, Lisa Morgan proffers her insight and advice to ensure that others on the autism spectrum don’t have to face suicide loss alone. Her book, Living Through Suicide Loss with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD): An Insider Guide for Individuals, Family, Friends, and Professional Responders is an honest look at the immediate aftermath of suicide loss, how emergency responders can help, and the long-term implications of living with suicide loss for individuals on the autism spectrum.

“A suicide loss can elicit such intense emotions that a person with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) can be quickly overwhelmed and flooded with out of control feelings.  The complicated grief, possible trauma, and relationship difficulties are some of the reasons for the emotional flooding a person with AS might experience.  I have experienced emotional flooding many times since my husband completed suicide in 2015.  I am going to share with you the coping skills that worked for me as I continue to understand and gain control over my troublesome emotions.”

  • Complicated Grief

“Complicated grief is grief that is coupled with anger, rejection, and feelings of guilt to name a few. Anger is the lion of my emotions. It’s wild, ferocious, and can maul my heart before I even know what is happening. I have learned to let it out slowly in small, manageable bits.  There are different ways this can be done. The easy way is to recognize when you are feeling angry and go with it while still maintaining control. Hit a pillow, punch the couch, or the mattress on the bed until you are spent and have no energy left. Go for a brisk walk or a run. For me, the coping skill is to do something physical. I have found emotions caused by rejection and feelings of guilt can be reasoned away somewhat by logic. Accepting that the decision to complete suicide was not up to you, but was responsibility of the person who died by suicide is the first logical step. I worked at accepting my husband’s decision and releasing myself from feeling any rejection and guilt.  There were uncomfortable emotions I had to sort out, but the comfortable logic of reason helped very much. It doesn’t happen overnight. Healing from complicated grief is a process that will take time. It’s an investment in a future of hope, happiness, and health.”

  • Possible Trauma

“There is possible trauma involved in losing a loved one to suicide. There are people who witness the suicide, find their loved one after the suicide, or who reach their loved one in time to try to save them, only to have their loved one still not make it. The trauma added to the complicated grief can bring out confusing emotions and flood an adult with AS. When I experience emotional flooding I shut down. My senses are extremely hyper-sensitive. I can’t control my anxiety which leads to lots of crying, and all I want to do is to withdraw inside of myself. When my emotions flood, I try to reach out to someone who can ground me and help me to regain control. It’s usually very helpful to have someone repeat truths until I can feel that my emotions are calming down. If I can’t find someone to reach out to, I can stay emotionally flooded for a long time. Instead, I try to draw, write, listen to music, take walks, and use the coping skills I know have worked before until I feel better. It can be difficult to actually start using the coping skills, but with determination it can be done.   One thing that I have learned with all the emotional flooding I’ve experienced is it will dissipate eventually. The more coping skills I use, the faster I have felt better.”

  • Relationship Difficulties

“I have yet to completely understand how some relationships disintegrate for the survivor of suicide loss at a time when those relationships are needed more than ever before. It’s a painful absence for sure. I had friends tell me they would stay with me no matter what I was going through and then- leave soon after the worst experience of my life. As an adult with AS, trust is extremely important, yet dreadfully hard to do because of my early school years where I learned to not trust anyone. The reason I can still trust after some relationships died with my husband, is because I still have some friends that were true to their word and stayed with me the whole time even until now. The emotions of losing the relationships I did—were painful, confusing, and left a big hole of emptiness in me.  The pain that comes with relational loss is deep. I thought those friends would be my friends for life. Acceptance is the key to coping with lost relationships. Remembering that the friends who left decided to go and there’s nothing I could do about it. Is it difficult to accept? Yes! Is it impossible to accept? No.”

“Nothing that has happened since the loss of my husband to suicide has been easy. Knowing that the aftermath of suicide loss is terribly hard has helped me to take up the challenge to succeed, to thrive, and to move forward. I’m worth it, you’re worth it, and we all matter.”

To learn more about Lisa Morgan’s book or to purchase a copy, click here.

Living Through Suicide Loss is a valuable addition to suicide grief literature. Morgan’s account of the challenges she faced, following her husband’s death, will resonate deeply with all suicide loss survivors.  The special challenges she documented as someone with Asperger’s syndrome, will sensitize and empower all involved in such tragedies.”

—Ronnie Susan Walker MS, LCPC, Founder: Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors

“The excellent and much-needed book deals with the specific issues—emotional and practical—faced by people on the autism spectrum when a loved one completes suicide. Written from a personal, lived experience perspective, this sensitive and valuable book validates the experience of readers and helps them to manage what is essentially unmanageable.

—Jeanette Purks, autism self-advocate and author of
The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum


Self-Help for Adults on the Autism Spectrum

In another blog post for Mental Health Awareness Week award winning JKP author Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson discusses some of the challenges facing adults on the autism spectrum—

The dramatic increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions among children and adolescents and the correspondingly large number of youth transitioning into adulthood has created an urgent need to address the problems faced by many adults on the autism spectrum. Nearly a half million youth with autism will enter adulthood over the next decade and most will continue to require some level of support. In addition, there is a large and diverse group of adults whose autistic traits were not identified in childhood and have not received the appropriate interventions and services. Although autism symptoms may improve with age, co-occurring mental health issues may worsen in adolescence or adulthood. As a result, there are a significant number of adults on the spectrum who are now seeking help to deal with feelings of social isolation, interpersonal difficulties, anxiety, depressed mood, and coping problems. Unfortunately, mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and even the diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition itself often go unrecognized. Although the rate of co-occurring mental health issues for adults on the spectrum is high, accessing services to address these symptoms is frequently difficult and the extent of the problem will only increase as more and more youth transition to adulthood.

Evidence is beginning to emerge for interventions addressing the mental health needs of this growing and underserved group of adults, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT has direct applicability to adults on the autism spectrum who often have difficulty understanding, managing, and expressing emotions. It has been shown to be effective in changing the way a person thinks about and responds to feelings such as anxiety and depression. With CBT, the individual learns skills to modify thoughts and beliefs through a variety of strategies which improve interaction with others in helpful and appropriate ways, thereby promoting self-regulation and mental health. It is a goal oriented approach and primarily emphasizes here-and-now problems, regardless of one’s past history, traits, or diagnosis. CBT also provides a more structured approach than other types of psychotherapy, relies less on insight and judgment than other models, and focuses on practical problem-solving. Moreover, because individuals learn self-help in treatment they are often able to maintain their improvement after therapy has been completed. Evidence-based CBT holds considerable promise as an effective intervention for improving the quality of life and psychological well-being of adults on the autism spectrum.

Despite the availability of effective psychological treatments for anxiety and depression, a substantial number of adults on the autism spectrum do not seek professional help. Common obstacles to mental health care access include limited availability and affordability of services, confidentiality issues, lack of insurance coverage, frequent delays and long waiting periods, and social stigma. Likewise, many service providers do not have the experience or expertise to work with individuals on the autism spectrum, particularly those with co-occurring mental health issues. Self-help interventions represent an increasingly popular alternative to therapist-delivered psychological therapies, offering the potential of increased access to cost-effective treatment for a range of different mental health issues. They provide an opportunity for the individual to gain some useful insights and begin to work through their problems with limited guidance from a therapist or mental health professional. Research has clearly shown that self-help strategies are effective, practical, and acceptable for many individuals in reducing mental health problems such as mild to moderate anxiety and depression, often alone or with other forms of treatment. Self-help interventions have the potential to play an important role in providing effective treatment to the large proportion of adults on the spectrum who are experiencing mental health issues.

While there is no shortage of books describing the controversies and challenges related to the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum conditions, there is a need for a practical resource for adults on the spectrum that promotes self-understanding and directly teaches effective ways of coping with their emotional challenges. Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT presents strategies derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), adapted specifically for adults with autism, to help them overcome anxiety and depression, and improve their psychological well-being. The author takes the best of CBT therapeutic techniques to facilitate greater self-understanding, self-advocacy, and better decision-making in life-span activities such as employment and interpersonal relationships. This self-help guide provides evidence-based tools that can be used to learn new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing. It includes questionnaires, forms/worksheets, and exercises to help the reader:

  • Evaluate his or her autistic traits and discover their cognitive style.
  • Identify and modify the thoughts and beliefs that underlie and maintain the cycles of anxiety, depression, and anger.
  • Apply therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness, positive self-talk, guided imagery, and problem solving.
  • Accept the past and achieve unconditional self-acceptance.
  • Deal effectively with perfectionism and low frustration tolerance.
  • Avoid procrastination and learn to maintain positive changes to their progress

Used alone or in combination with therapy, Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT is an essential self-help book for adults across the spectrum looking for ways to understand and cope with their emotional challenges and improve their psychological well-being.


About the Author

Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, NCSP, CPsychol, AFBPsS is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, chartered psychologist, registered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He has published widely on the topic of autism spectrum disorders both in the US and internationally. Dr. Wilkinson is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, also published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and editor of a recent volume in the American Psychological Association (APA) School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools.

All Things Poop

JKP author Kate Wilde, Director of The Son-Rise Program®, shares advice on a key problem area for parents raising a child on the autism spectrum.

“Feces, bowel movement, Number 2, stool, excrement are just a few of the many names we give to what everyone does…poop. Our children on the autism spectrum can be very protective about where and how they poop. They can push us away, preferring to poop by themselves alone in a corner. They can hold it in for hours and even days. Our children may pee on the toilet happily and easily but will only poop in a diaper. They may like to eat it or smear it. When it comes to poop our children can give us some interesting challenges to tackle. Below are two perspectives to adopt while we help them acquire the skill of pooping in the toilet.

  1. Embrace the way your child poops or interacts with poop.

Some of you may be thinking.That’s crazy—I can’t embrace poop—it is smelly and disgusting that’s just a fact.’  Well actually it’s not a fact but a perspective. Poop is neither disgusting nor is it wonderful, it is just poop. We then put our own perspective on it. We get to choose how we want to think about it. I worked with a lovely and lively boy with autism who would pick his poop piece by piece out of his bottom with his finger, then try and give it to the nearest person. As you can imagine, this was not well received by the people in his life. His parents, understandably, did not like it when he did this and dreaded his pooping each day. They felt like they had tried everything to help him change and nothing had made even the slightest difference. They visited my center, The Autism treatment Center of America®, we helped them first feel comfortable and embrace the way he pooped. When we worked with this boy everything we did with him came from a deep sense of embracing and loving him. The way he pooped was part of him also, so of course we embraced this too. When he picked some poop out of his bottom and offered it to us, we celebrated him and thanked him for giving us his poop and lovingly wiped his finger with a piece of tissue. We then told him that he could give it to us anytime and we would gladly wipe it off it finger. We did not run from it, or scold him, or tell him no, or put him in time out or ask him to do it differently. We embraced the way he did it. From this alone he stopped pooping in this way in just 1.5 days. It turned out that he was doing it because of the big reactions he was getting from the adults around him. Offering people his poop had also become a good way to get people to leave him alone. Once he realized that we were not going to leave, and we did not give the big “don’t do that” reactions he stopped. When we embrace something we move towards it and learn much more about it. It is the first step to finding reasons behind why our children are doing a particular behavior.

2. Your child is doing the best that they can.

At times you might think that your child is just being difficult or naughty. You might say to yourself, Well if he can pee on the toilet then he can poop on the toilet,’ or ‘He knows I do not like it when he smears, he is just doing that to spite me.’ I understand that it may seem like that at times, but it really is not the case. A lot of our children have different sensory challenges, the way they experience the world through their senses is so different than ours. Pooping can be an intense sensory experience for us Neuro Typical adults—I can only imagine that it is a thousand times more intense for some of our children on the spectrum. Our children also have a lot of digestive challenges. If your child is a picky eater or limits their diet to only a few items, or has chronic diarrhea or constipation, these are signs of a possible digestive challenge. If this is the case for your child it could mean that they find the process of digesting and eliminating food painful at times. Their controlling ways around pooping could just be their way of taking care of themselves, and getting through the process in a way that is the easiest for them. It is not an attempt at being naughty or challenging your authority. Let go of any feelings that your child is being naughty or mischievous. This will allow you to view the situation with more clarity and possibly see what is really going on for your child so that you can help them in the best way.

With these two perspectives and attitudes, any action we adopt to help our children with their pooping challenges will have more clarity and be more effective. In my book Autistic Logistics, I not only share concrete step-by-step directions on how to deal with the pooping challenges mentioned above but also cover other toilet training topics, sleeping challenges, tantrums, hitting issues and many more everyday challenges we face while parenting our children on the autism spectrum.”

Now available for purchase, click here.

Alenka Klemenc – my story

Klemenc, AlenkaAlenka Klemenc is a psychologist and parent of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Alenka explains how she adjusted to parenting a child with ASD, including the benefits of receiving a supportive diagnosis.

Since his birth, I began to notice that my child was different from the other children. My husband and I had great difficulties in attempting to create a rhythm of feeding and sleeping. He was crying a great deal and it seemed that everything disturbed him. He was often restless and gave the impression of being anxious; it was very difficult to comfort him. Even in his first year, he was very disturbed by physical stimuli, particularly sounds. He also rejected people and physical contact. I remember constantly being in search of an excuse, when somebody wanted to take a peek in the stroller or attempted to talk with him. His most common response was to burst into tears and turn away. I, a young mom, hastened with “Sorry, he just woke up,” or “Sorry, he’s not feeling well,” which was, of course, not true.

Most of the time, I felt like a complete failure as a mother. Our days were filled with effort upon effort, uneasiness and exhaustion. I simply could not establish a harmonious relationship with my child no matter what I did; there was always something wrong. Wherever we went and whatever we did, our outings, visits and activities constantly ended in tears and restlessness, which I was unable to understand at the time.

As a toddler, he was more interested in the physical world around him than in other children and people in general; he would be taken with stones, water pipes, running water. Entering nursery was arduous and long; he rejected it very openly. After a while, when she got to know my son better, a carer in the nursery once remarked, “Your son is, well, somewhat different”. She was very careful in choosing words that would not offend me. I, on the other hand, felt great relief in that finally someone from the outside confirmed what I had been suspecting for some time.

When he was about three, his love for the routine and rituals became very apparent. He wanted everything to be the same every day, in the same order and in the same manner. Whenever there was a change (for example, putting on his trousers first and then the T-shirt instead of the usual T-shirt-first-trousers-second routine), there would be no end to his crying and screaming. We had to undress, put the pyjama back on and start from the beginning; otherwise it was a ‘mistake’ in his mind. Sometimes I knew where the ‘mistake’ occurred, but very often I did not. We would be walking down the street and, all of a sudden, he would start screaming “Wrong, wrong!” I was clueless as to what was wrong. When this happened, we sometimes retraced our steps to the point when the mistake occurred and then continued, but sometimes there was simply no time for this. In those instances, the crying and screaming went on and on. He would cry for several hours, which was utterly exhausting for both me and my husband.

At every stage of his life, my son had certain activities or objects in which he took a consuming interest (water, level-crossing barriers, tunnels). He could watch or talk about them for hours on end. In the level-crossing barrier period, for example, he knew every level-crossing barrier in our vicinity, talked about them to the exclusion of everything else, regardless of whether other people were interested or not. He had a great difficulty in picking up on when his talking became excessive; he was very loud and dominant. He also generally preferred adult company to that of his peers; he always found children uninteresting and unpredictable.

When he was five years old and still not properly adapted to the child care centre and his peers, I began realizing that we needed to find a specialist who could help us. My husband and I did have a rudimentary knowledge of the autism spectrum disorders, but we still had many questions and worries. Our son was about to start school and we wanted it to be a sort of a new beginning for him, but also for us. We wanted him to be properly diagnosed and, through that, be able to properly adapt and be adapted to. We also wished that the adaptations would not be regarded as whims of over-protective parents (as we had heard so many times), but rather as recommendations, of an expert, as to how we could help the child in the most effective way, but also help ourselves to lead a more peaceful life.

The diagnostic process was a process of relief. It was, on the other hand, also a very emotionally taxing time, because we had to face the finality of our child having an autism spectrum disorder that would stay with him, in one form or another, for the rest of his life. We were seeing a special education worker until he entered school, after which my son was officially diagnosed, while my husband and I were equipped with skills for raising such a child as well as skills for taking care and protecting ourselves from constant exhaustion.

The period before school was for me also a time of a deep and gradual internal process. As a young mom, I naturally longed to connect with my child, to be able to calm his anxiety and help him connect with the world around him. I patiently tried to help him not reject physical contact, with my body and emotions I tried to understand the source of his anxiety, maintained contact with him even when his distress seemed almost intolerable. All this effort exhausted me to the point of falling ill. But it was this effort as well as my deep love of my child that allowed me to inch my way towards a better understanding of him, towards an understanding ‘from within’. When the diagnosis was established and before I fell ill, I felt the need to put the child’s inner world that I carried within me in writing. It took me no more than two hours to describe, from the point of view of the child, how he experienced the world, how he felt and thought and how we, the adults, could help him.

The text was initially meant for his first-grade teacher, to help her to better understand, accept, care for and help my son. When it fell into the hands of some of my friends and fellow psychologists, and inspired a friend to draw illustrations to it, however, suggestions were soon made for the text to reach an audience wider than the first-grade teacher. I finally decided to publish it in a book.

The long years of efforts pKlemenc - what is it like - pic252aid off in my family and the school really did bring about a new beginning. My son entered a school that takes his particularities seriously and puts great effort into accepting him. As a consequence, he began taking an interest in his classmates, taking part in their games and activities, he gradually learned to defend himself from the disturbing stimuli and to accept that things in life change rather than follow the same course every day. In school he is monitored by a special education worker and his progress is immense. It is best visible in our life as a family, which has become much calmer and relaxed; it even happens that he calms or entertains his younger brothers. He has fewer fears, he developed a special sense of humour and his great wish is to become a physicist.

It is often said that children with autism spectrum disorders are unfeeling and that their interior is empty or incomprehensible, but this is not true. It is simply harder to find the key to their interior and harder to persist at their side. They can learn a great deal and, provided with a steady support, they can come to have a good understanding of the world around them and be able to share in the diversity of relationships. Step by step and success by success, they become more and more confident and creative, and see themselves as interesting, accepted and loved.

Alenka Klemenc is the author of What Is It Like To Be Me? 2013 published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.