The death of a parent is one of the most difficult and painful experiences for a child. Though some children cope and adjust, many don’t, and thus may go into a form of shock, causing great difficulty in coping and moving through successful adjustment.

For children as well as adults, the realization of the loss may be quite traumatic and the beginning of a long and painful life journey. In many instances, the loss of a parent will profoundly affect a child’s development and sense of security within himself or herself. This can also lead to chronic depression at the time of the loss as well as at certain times in adult life.

Recognizing the importance of this pivotal event for children is as important as acting to address the child’s needs. Timely and effective response to the child’s needs
is critical to ensure that both short-term difficulties are addressed and a foundation for long-term communication is established. As such, it is important for caregivers to consider what they can do to help their child cope with life-changing loss. Here are some practical tips for helping children in this situation.

1. Listen to Your Child: Caregivers helping their child cope with the death of a parent need to listen to the child and explore and gain insight into how the child understands death. Children have different ideas about what death means to them and how they feel about it. This information can help build better rapport for ongoing communication and support with your child about death and loss.

2. Communicate About Death: Caregivers need to let their children know that talking about death is important and acceptable. Although death remains a subject that is often considered taboo in modern culture, when death occurs and has such a significant impact on the child, honest communication will be important. Communication allows the child to express his or her feelings while deepening the relationships with caregivers providing support.

3. Understand a Child’s Limitations: Children of different ages will have unique reactions to a parent’s death. Educate yourself about how different age groups respond to death in order to better understand your child’s reaction. While a child’s reaction may seem unusual, it may be appropriate given their age and level of cognitive maturation. Understanding these nuances may provide you with better insight into how to support a child during this difficult time.

4. Take Care of Yourself: The death of a loved one can have a substantial impact on your life – one that is overwhelming and difficult to address while providing care for a distressed family. Recognizing your own needs and limitations will enable you to take better care of yourself. Seek counseling and activities that can help you feel better. This will be important for coping with the demands of helping your children to cope more effectively.

5. Know Your Limitations: Even though caregivers can provide important supports for children following loss, there may be instances in which caregivers are unable to meet all of the needs of the child. Children who become severely depressed or experience traumatic shock as a result of loss may require additional supports provided by professional counselors. Caregivers of children who have experienced loss should carefully consider the needs of their children as well as their personal limitations in meeting those needs.

If a child is inconsolable, contemplating suicide or exhibiting extreme changes in behavior, the caregiver should seek help from a community counseling center or a mental health professional. Expertise provided to children during this time may be necessary to facilitate healing and to address mental health issues that may result from loss and grief.

Although the death of a parent is indeed a significant event in the life of a child, caregivers can provide the supports needed to help children adapt to this life event. Caregivers that are responsive to and understanding of the needs of children during this critical time can make a significant difference in how children develop emotionally over the long-term.

While the loss of a parent will be difficult for the child, it is possible through the grieving process to eventually move forward toward resolution and a brighter future for the family.

Contributed by Dr. Michael Clatch

Dr. Clatch practices at the Courage to Connect Therapeutic Center, 2400 Ravine Way, Suite 600, Glenview. For more information, call 847-347-5757 or visit


Imagine the following situation. You’re out in a crowded mall shopping with your family. The environment is hectic and noisy, and just as you are getting ready to leave your child begins to scream loudly and behave inappropriately.

While many parents of toddler-aged children would view this event as a temper tantrum, for parents of older children with Asperger’s Syndrome, this situation may be all too familiar and quite embarrassing.

Overstimulation, anxiety, and the inability of that child to appropriately express his or her frustration may result in a breakdown that leaves spectators wondering why your 10- or 12-year-old child cannot control his or her emotions.

While you may be tempted to shout “My child has Asperger’s Syndrome!” at the top of your lungs, the stares of parents and the desire to calm your child prompt you to act quickly and leave the mall as soon as possible, much to your lament.

Caregivers of children with Asperger’s experience the reality of social embarrassment and ridicule all too often
as a consequence of their child’s behavior. Developing strategies for improving your child’s behaviors are important steps toward preventing future negative social outcomes.

When emotional outbursts do occur, caregivers need to have strong coping mechanisms and a standard or contingency plan in place to help them deal with the reality of their child’s behavior. Here are four strategies for coping that may provide you with the support needed to deal with challenging social outings.

1. Educate Yourself. Understand the specifics of your child’s diagnosis and mental challenges and what can be done to help soothe your child when outbursts occur. Education and awareness of the psychodynamics of the child’s outbursts is a powerful tool in effectively managing the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome.

Each child is unique, and the goal is to know what works, and how to optimize positive results. If possible given the level
of your child’s cognitive understanding, have the child learn basic stress management and self-regulation techniques so they also have strategies for difficult times in outside activities. If not, try to find what works for you to help soothe the child and reduce his or her anxiety.

2. Develop a Contingency Plan. Caregivers of children with Asperger’s should develop contingency plans when structuring family outings. Contingency plans, or options under different challenging situations, may enable the family to change activities without too much disruption to the needs of other family members. Recognizing the child’s limitations and creating a family structure of support and preparation can enable parents to avoid embarrassing social situations while allowing the family to still have fun and to maintain understanding rather than resentment.

3. Build Support. Work with friends and community organizations that understand your situation. Discuss ideas offered by others who have been through similar challenges. Find peer and group supports that can help you cope with parenting a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and dealing with outside social events.

Be aware of support systems in the locations you frequent, and prepare for such challenges before they occur. Awareness of the environment and practicing rehearsal strategies will be vital in managing your feelings and finding new techniques that may improve social outings.

4. Talk About It. Talk about your experiences with family members and with siblings of the child with special needs. Discuss your feelings and listen to their feelings so that you and your family members do not feel alone.

Communication before events may improve your confidence and provide your family with the intimacy needed to cope with these challenging situations.

Arguably, parenting a child with Asperger’s Syndrome has its challenges. Effective coping strategies, awareness of options, and rehearsal of strategies prior to leaving for outside social events are instrumental for caregivers navigating these challenges.

Dr. Clatch practices at the Courage to Connect Therapeutic Center, 2400 Ravine Way, Suite 600, Glenview. For more information, call 847-347-5757 or visit

There is a growing recognition among healthcare professionals and the public regarding the prevalence of pervasive developmental disorders in children, particularly Asperger’s Syndrome and autism. Asperger’s Syndrome is often regarded as

a mild variant of autism. This classification may provide parents and caregivers with a basic understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome, as considerably more has been written about, and growing awareness has also occurred through greater discussion in the media.

However, there are clear differences in
both disorders which fall along the autism spectrum. Asperger’s Syndrome is considered a higher functioning form of autism, enabling such children to live a more mainstream lifestyle than those who suffer from moderate to severe autism.

There are many differences in the needs and treatment goals of each level of disorder, though overall, enhancing communication skills and social abilities are most important for all children who suffer from mild to severe autism. For this reason, it’s important to outline some basic differences between a diagnosis of autism and that of Asperger’s Syndrome. Understanding such difference between these two diagnoses will provide loved ones, educators, and caregivers with
a better grasp of the specific deficits and challenges experienced by children with Asperger’s Syndrome when compared with children diagnosed with more severe autism.

Is it Asperger’s or autism? Comparison
of symptoms in children who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome consistently demonstrates that while such children may display some of the more severe autistic symptoms, including unusual or inappropriate behavior and ritualistic tendencies, many of the cognitive challenges may be absent or reduced. Thus, such

children may show high aptitude and be quite bright in school, and articulate well verbally.

The main challenges for a child with Asperger’s Syndrome may occur on a social level, and lead such children to have difficulty in relating to peers and acquaintances,
and in fostering both casual and intimate relationships. This may include difficulty in understanding basic as well as more abstract social cues and behaviors and nuances of body language, thus limiting the child’s ability to connect or join in social situations. Engagement in unusual and/or repetitive behaviors may lead to criticism and ridicule from peers, and exclusion from social groups.

The inability to connect with others in social situations, behaviors that are central
to autism, are also present in children with Asperger’s syndrome. However, children with Asperger’s typically do not have difficulties in language and communication, may appear to be “normal,” and thus may not elicit
the compassion and understanding other individuals may provide for a child who displays more obvious and severe cognitive challenges.

Children with more severe autism often have significant deficits in speech that
can impact their ability to communicate effectively with others, and as such, they may avoid social contact all together. In contrast, children with Asperger’s Syndrome may

seek peer relationships and acceptance and be more aware that they are excluded and often ostracized for their challenges. This may impact self-esteem, increase anxiety and depression, and cause loneliness and isolation, often to the child’s lament.

Additionally, many children with Asperger’s Syndrome may display normal levels
of general intelligence and have greater opportunities to succeed in academic goals and certain occupations. Children with more

severe autism typically do not have such choices and often remain dependent for their basic needs.

What does it all mean? The differences that exist between Asperger’s Syndrome and autism do at first appear to be
subtle. However, one must be cautious
in assuming that the higher functioning child with Asperger’s Syndrome is capable of understanding basic social skills and behaviors and navigating mainstream social situations.

As such, interventions to improve the functioning and lives of children with Asperger’s Syndrome should focus on teaching and coaching basic social skills and empathy, appropriate behavior, self- regulation, and self-control strategies. Because children with Asperger’s Syndrome often have normal levels of general intelligence, these children are better able

to grasp basic concepts and foundations for

social interaction, to learn how to act in social milieus, to be taught how to regulate stress and anxiety, and to be coached on how to improve the ability to socialize with peers and make friends. Though challenged, they often seek help and may be coachable at varying levels.

Through the eyes and experience of a child with Asperger’s, they, like all children, want to fit in and feel special and included. Therapists working with children with Asperger’s can help them to realize their well-deserved potential through caring, motivation, encouragement, and good social skills coaching.

Contributed by Dr. Michael Clatch

Dr. Clatch practices at the Courage to Connect Therapeutic Center, 2400 Ravine Way, Suite 600, Glenview. Call 847-347-5757 or visit Image

Welcome to! This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.

Happy blogging!