Do you think autistic children know what death means?

That’s a question I asked myself again and again and again when my Gappa (my mother’s father; I call him Gappa as my child-self couldn’t pronounce Grandpappa properly and the name stuck) passed away last year.

Did Karan know, or understand that his grandfather was no more?

Death is a difficult concept for me to get around as well. The answers of what happens after people die are thrown about by religions, asking us to just accept what they say: Heaven, hell and what-have-you. Abstract concepts, but nothing real. If I have such a hard time understanding it, obviously it’s hard for him.

But what I want to know is, did Karan understand that his grandfather was not coming back? Did he miss him? Did he ever think, oh I wonder where my Gappa is? At the funeral, Karan was a gem – didn’t trouble us at all. Almost as if he understood this was serious.

My Dadi (father’s mother) is currently breathing only because she’s hooked up to a life support machine. Karan has interacted with her only on family vacations to India and when she’s visited Dubai. He hasn’t gone to India in many years, because it’s a nightmare getting him on a plane, and travelling with him is perhaps do-able if my mother and I have male help. For one, Karan is massively huge for his age (I have found out that he’s much taller than me now and he’s quite hefty too), and it’s very hard – although not impossible as my mother and I have found – to take him to a female toilet when he wants to go, so a male presence has been a must for the last few years.

Anyway, he’s normally wary of new people, but usually by the end of my Dadi’s trip – or ours there – he has warmed up to her (yup he had to go through the warming up process every time). The life support machine will be switched off in a few days, once my father gets there, once I get there.

We can tell him all we like about my Dadi, but will he get it? Can he comprehend it? I know he misses people if they’ve been there constantly in his life; it’s certainly the case with me. He misses me, judging from what my Mom tells me.

Does he know what death means? I don’t think so, and I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a bane.

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