Death is not easy for anyone to accept. When a friend or family member dies, most people handle this devistation by crying or grieving in some other way and go to friends and family for support. Do people with Asperger's syndrome grieve differently? In an email exchange, famous Asperger's authority Tony Attwood told me that many people with Asperger's syndrome use knowledge and information to handle their grief rather than seeking affection from others.
In Attwood's book The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, Attwood relates an incident in which a boy's father was away doing a photo shoot on a war. The father had been missing for a few days and everybody was worried. The boy kept asking his mother about what weapons each side of the war was using and how many people were dying. When his father did come back, the boy asked Dad how many photos he had taken of dead bodies. The boy's family thought he was unconcerned and didn't feel compassion, but this was how he handled the concerns he had about his father's life. Obviously, he wanted to get a clear picture of what was happening, possibly to assess the risk of death his father faced; he was not at all trivializing the situation.
I can understand this boy's perspective. Last week, I found out that a girl I met in 1997 on a summer teen group tour died in a tragic accident. I only saw her once since the trip, in 2007 when she was passing through NYC, we only occasionally kept in touch, and we weren't close. I did, however, grieve a little. I cried. I lamented about not having gotten to know her better because she seemed like a great person. On the trip, she had helped me at least once with social problems I was having.
I also found myself recreating the accident in my mind. I wondered what her last thoughts where and how quickly she died. I tried to picture exactly how the accident played out. I wondered what her body looked like. I even searched the Internet for information about how the decomposition process works. Why? This is not some perverse fascination with death. It is because I have such a hard time wrapping my head around how someone can be alive and happy one minute and essentially cease to exist the next. A once lively face is now just a piece of a decaying body. A once-thinking, intelligent brain is returning to the earth. It does not know it is dead because if it is not conscious, how can it know it? How does it feel to not be conscious? It doesn't.
It is here that grieving meets scientific curiosity in trying to give closure. But of course this questioning won't give me closure. I know logically I just have to move on and accept that I'll probably never know the exact details of the accident and the aftermath.
Fortunately, I have enough insight not to talk about such things on my friend's Facebook memorial page or with her close friends. Not all people with Asperger's syndrome, however, know this. You may be shocked, for example, because your son seems to be trivializing his beloved grandpa's death. But it is very likely that this is not the case. It may be his way of seeking closure for a death that he is having a hard time coming to terms with. Talk to him. Try to understand why he is thinking this way. It may seem weird to you, but once you understand you might find yourself getting more insight into how his mind-- or your own-- works.