Grief and Loss in Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Dealing with grief and loss is a normal part of life for everyone. Someone with an intellectual and/or developmental disability (I/DD) is no different. People with I/DD may have more complicated reactions following a loss given their unique challenges. Among these challenges, it is important to remember that people with I/DD may experience loss more often because they may change caregivers and/or placements as they age.

Staff and care providers working with people with I/DD should help facilitate and support the grieving process. There are five recognized stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Additionally, there are four tasks of the grieving process. These are: accept the reality of the loss, experience the pain of grief, adjust to an environment without the loved one, and withdraw emotional energy to invest in another relationship.

People with I/DD can be just as capable of grieving, experiencing the emotions of loss, and understanding death as those without I/DD. They may, however, express their emotions differently or begin to engage in challenging behaviors (e.g., agitation, self-injurious behavior).

Staff and caregivers should deliver any news and information regarding a death or loss in a way that helps the person with I/DD understand what has happened. Then, the person should be allowed to participate in any grieving rituals in order to move through the grieving process.

To learn more, read the MHDD fact sheet on Grief and Loss in Individuals with I/DD.

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