Every person’s way of coping with grief and loss will be shaped by their own strengths and experiences. Often referred to as “grieving styles,” these responses may be influenced, but are not determined by, factors such as gender, ethnicity, and culture. While grief in the neurotypical population has been widely studied, the study of the experiences of grief in adults with autism is an emerging field. Interviews with autistic adults as well as anecdotal experience from professionals who work with these adults suggest that people with autism have grieving styles like those of neurotypical populations that have been studied.
Doka and Martin (2000) described the different coping responses to grief along a continuum between intuitive (emotion-focused coping strategies) and instrumental (cognitively-focused coping strategies). In their work, Doka and Martin found that those who use more intuitive coping mechanisms may find more comfort in expressing their grief through language or sharing of emotions with others. Those who may be more action-oriented in their coping, perhaps finding comfort from task-oriented projects or strategies, are using more instrumental expressions of grief.
Most individuals use a combination of approaches, but many will demonstrate a preference for either intuitive/emotion-oriented or instrumental/task-oriented coping. One important aspect of these grief styles is that there is no direct correlation with any gender or personality type. Both styles are healthy ways to express grief. However, overreliance on one versus the other can be maladaptive if the person is unable to process their grief using their preferred coping strategies. It can also be very common for people within the same family or close-knit group to have different grieving styles, which may lead to conflict.
Just as it is important not to assume a grieving style based on gender or personality in a neurotypical griever, those assumptions should also not be made about an adult with autism.
Understanding grieving styles can be helpful when providing support to individuals, particularly if they have trouble expressing their feelings. In addition, because different grieving styles within families or groups may cause tension, awareness of variations may be informative when helping resolve conflict.