When Your Child Says He Wants to Die

He’s seven. He stomps down the steps of the school bus carrying an elaborate Styrofoam leprechaun trap. The bright sun and blue skies are in stark contrast to his moody face. His eyes meet mine for a fraction of a second, then he drops the Styrofoam contraption. He rears his head back, throws his small body into a nearby parking lot space and begins to howl.

Meltdown mode.

I’m used to meltdowns. My son has been having them since he was thirteen months old. Years of practice have made me an expert at identifying his triggers to prevent the meltdown altogether or waiting him out until his flailing-limbs storm can pass.

This time, his meltdown is the result of frustration at breaking one of his styrofoam cups while getting on to the bus. He is a perfectionist and incredibly hard on himself (inherited traits) and after putting hours into this elaborate trap (truth be to told, it was pretty cool), having it get damaged was simply unacceptable.

As I try to calm him down with soothing tones, I am also calculating how much time I have before a car pulls into the exact parking space he is flailing in. With a sense of urgency, I scoop him up, set him into our car, close the door, then take a very long breath before I join him in the backseat. I sit. I wait. After about twenty minutes, he is ready to listen and ready to talk and we continue on with our day.

As I said, I’m used to meltdowns. What I haven’t grown used to are his piercing words.

“Just kill me! Please! I want to die!”

I’ve heard these words before.

He was five the first time he told me wanted to die.

This is not “normal” for neurotypical kids. I found that out rather quickly when I asked friends if their own children had ever said this.

A resounding no, followed by incredulous looks.

Nothing can prepare you for these scary words coming from the mouth of someone you would gladly give your own life for.

My mother’s intuition assures me he doesn’t literally mean what he is saying, but the small speck of doubt prompts me to seek help. My son’s life isn’t something I am willing to take lightly.

We are fortunate enough to live near a reputable pediatric psychologist who specializes in neurodevelopmental diagnoses. He is someone our son truly enjoys talking to (that, and playing with the amazing arcade in the waiting room chock full of classic video games).

After the “leprechaun trap meltdown” (which failed to catch a leprechaun, but succeeded in capturing a few dropped coins from the leprechaun’s pocket), I find myself sitting in this psychologist’s office, sharing the story with him, worry etched on my face.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he says, “That’s very common in ASD kids. When they say they want to die, it means they’re sad. When they say they want you to kill them, it means they’re very uncomfortable and need a break.”

Speechless. An audible sigh of relief. “Can I get you to write that down?”

He continues. “Kids with ASD feel emotions on such a strong level that they are quick to react, both verbally and non verbally, and often in inappropriate, scary ways. The goal for you is to teach him to say the words that convey what he really wants. Teach him to say, ‘I feel sad’ or ‘I need some space because I’m angry.’ It’s not easy, but it can be taught.”

I am silent for a moment.

“Okay.”

I give my son an extra big hug that day (I want to give his doctor one too, but I settle for a smile and a thank you), renewed with the knowledge that he is going to be okay. That while we we are working through another autism milestone, we are not working through it alone.

I share this story with you in hopes it will provide you with some relief. Relief that if your son or daughter has said these scary words, that they are going to be okay too.

I also want to remind you to always trust your parental instinct, but don’t be afraid to have it affirmed by trained professionals, especially when the concern could be life-threatening. Share your fears with someone else so you don’t have to carry the burden of worry alone. Peace of mind is a beautiful gift.

Okay. Time to go give my little man another big hug.

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Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia!

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10 thoughts on “When Your Child Says He Wants to Die

  1. SO SO SOOOOOOOO PROFOUNDLY TRUE.

    How do I know this? I, a nuerodiverse mother, am holed up in the bathroom because I feel this way RIGHT NOW. I’ve learned not to say it in my ripe old age (and never really did, being more introverted), but yeah, I get it. And I, like you son, need some time to help myself NOT feel this way. So after I finish my blog hop…hot shower and a book. Right here in the bathroom! (Hey, there’s KIDS out there!)
    Thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

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  2. It’s true that it is so difficult for kids on the autism spectrum to express how they feel effectively to others. My son is non-speaking – but even now he communicates physically (aggressively) and in ways that are unacceptable, Like other kids on the spectrum, he’s still learning about communication. Thank you for sharing this, because there must be other moms and dads hearing these painful words who are panicked with worry.

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  3. That is hard for a mamma to hear. We were there too a few years back…But now, I am happy to report the meltdowns are less and communication is more. Also, I am autistic and I am like that too sometimes. I have learned through years of therapy what to say and what not to say, but inside I feel it in my meltdown moments of literally not being able to live another moment…but not wanting to end life either AT ALL…just unable to picture myself IN life if that makes sense. Feeling so overwhelmed with feelings – lets say with my hubby- I dont know HOW i can stay married to him. I literally think in that moment that we will need to divorce for I dont know how we will recover. But with a little time I always end up seeing how it will work. But in the moment…Not so much. After these moments I do something that makes me feel capable in a similar role to triggered the event but AFTER some nurturing time in a warm shower ( which feels like a hug) and my favourite show.
    You are a wise mom and sounds like you have a wise therapist:)

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  4. This was interesting to read because I never really associated my thoughts about wanting to die with autism, only with depression. But it makes sense that it would be connected with autism. I want to die when I feel like I can’t handle the world. My insides feel tight but like they’re exploding at the same time, and I just want to leave my body to feel safe for a while. It is hard to explain to others why you want to die after something that seems trivial, but it really is just feeling uncomfortable in my body. I just want a way out of that feeling and that’s the only way I know how to express that.

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  5. It took a while for my girl to say these words – she’s 10 now and it’s only been during this year that she’s said she wants to die, doesn’t want to be here, life is not worth living etc. I’d heard before this from lots of other parents of autistic children that their darlings had said it, and I was sad for them, but hoping that mine never would. It’s so hard for a mother to hear, even when you think they don’t really mean it. Because life without them would be unbearable. But we muddle through and hope we can take the pain away – so far only fleetingly this bad for my girl, but of course we worry constantly about mental health and what might happen, especially through the teenage years. Strapping myself in right now!

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