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  • Writer's pictureZoë Benham

Grief and Neurodiversity

Updated: May 9

I’m not too sure what really happened over the last three months and I suppose I was up to my limit of mental capacity of what I could actually cope with as an autistic Mum to AuADHD children fighting the system muddling along. I was okay and then boom grief hit.

This was the closest person to us to have ever died, some decades ago, he was my absolute world, my ex-partner, my son‘s father. 

My son and I both had conflicting emotions. Tears and anger. However, Jacob, ADHD and 17 and me autistic and 38 our grief journey was completely different. Not only did I have to get my head around my grief, I had to support my son with his, I don’t think either of us handled grief in a traditional way.

I researched, I read the stages of grief, requested a grief counsellor and did all the normal maternal things of what a mother should do to support her child.

What was common in grief for both of us, was that it magnified our neurodiversity, for Jacob, the lack of focus, forgetfulness, his bumbling through life aesthetic were exaggerated, he was unable to sit still, in the space of 24 hours, he would buzz around me and then disappear, being his room, go out again, come back home, go out again, in and out the house as if he was one of those flashing yo-yos, not doing much, but not doing nothing and not quite satisfied with anything that was really going on, randomly appearing and disappearing and then appearing again. Maybe in a mood. Maybe not. Then disappearing again.

For me, Autism and grief hit completely differently. I haven’t socialised since, I haven’t met up with a girlfriend for a hot chocolate. I didn’t go out for drinks. Didn’t hit the gym once or hit my steps. I did the Mum duties and the necessities, but for a long time, communicating and socialising, seemed like a distant memory, it’s nearly 4 months since I spent time with anyone other than my husband and children. Not that I like humans that much anyway, but I like them even less now. 

I was able to mask, pose for photos, pull out my signature smile where I don’t show my teeth and do what was expected of me as mum. I was still able to put on a cheery act during a course, pull out the jolly ho hos at Lapland with Santa and chit chat with teachers at drop off.

I suppose years of masking helped me perform and act just fine, when really I was screaming inside and wanting to hide away from the world.

It was such a struggle. I found myself screaming, almost roaring in the kitchen while doing laundry or sobbing at 2am. Every annoyance that I usually manage piled on top of me, I wasn’t having a sensory overload, I was drowning.

Noises seemed louder, places busier, clouds seemed brighter, fabrics itchier, my restricted diet became even more restricted and my tolerance for the human race, was completely depleted. 

The teen and I went away for two breaks between the death and the funeral, for me, jumping on a plane and escaping to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, was soothing for the soul and for the teen. It was a chance to let out his anger. I hoped that it helped him heal and that the mean words would’ve been worth it but I felt more mentally drained, coming home after being his emotional punchbag. I can tick crying in the middle of a desert off my list. 

Living in a neurodiverse household, we all seem to get along fine, brushing shoulder to shoulder with our own quirks nonjudgmentally, as nothing any of us do is conventional.

But mixing neurodiversity and grief, I wanted the security of hiding under a rock and the teen wanted to sit on the rock, go away from the rock, stand on the rock, walk away from the rock, tap the rock, walk away from the rock again, have a party on the rock, have dinner on the rock, leave a mess all over the rock and be mean to the rock. We have never clashed so much before, I’ve never cried so much and felt like enemy number 1.

The teen was the most erratic I have ever seen him, the wall punching was back, the storming off, slamming doors, the short fuse and for someone so philosophical all reasoning was gone.

He was last like this on the run-up to GCSEs, the stress and pressure made him erupt and for months it was like living with the Tasmanian devil. Before the death of his father we had decided to have a gap year and focus on mental health and well-being, the weeks before were calm and progress was being made. All that a distant memory now, all the hard work and effort undone. I felt gutted. 

I’m not quite sure how we survived the last few months and I’m not sure what to expect in the coming months after the funeral, but I do know we will be okay, him with his way and me with mine. 

I’m a firm believer that if you surround the bad sh*t with enough good sh*t, the bad sh*t won’t seem so bad. And if jumping on a plane to somewhere random helps the healing process, then we shall travel the world till we feel weirdly wonderful again.

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