How do you know when you should be telling your child they have Autism? Our expert weighs in on this question and offers up her family’s own personal experience.
Several years ago, I was sitting in a packed room listening to another fabulous speaker that my publisher, Future Horizons, brought to town. He spoke of what were then typical characteristics of Aspies and many of us in the room smiled at his remarks. Dr. Tony Attwood also discussed the age of diagnosis and how it varies. Along with that brought the discussion of telling our diagnosed children that they are on the Autism Spectrum.
When do we do it? Do we even do it, at all?
The answers to this question, as you can imagine, vary wildly. Much has to do with the child, herself, as well as the age of diagnosis. There is no one size fits all answer, but there are a few things to consider before overwhelming your daughter and immediately reading her the entire report from the diagnostic team. (Psst… doing so is rarely, if ever, a worthy parenting moment.) Let’s start with some questions fro you to consider before telling your child they have autism.
TELLING YOUR CHILD THEY HAVE AUTISM
1) Has your child been officially diagnosed?
This seems like a no-brainer, but for some, it isn’t. Don’t jump the gun and provide your child with a diagnosis that isn’t substantiated.
2) How old is your child?
For very young children, the word “autism” isn’t going to mean a whole heckuva lot. Likewise, if your child is very open, he may tell everyone he encounters that he is autistic. That may not make any difference, but as we continue to work toward total inclusion and acceptance, it can be problematic. Unfortunately, too many people will change their behaviors around someone labeled as autistic. We continue to work to change that.
3) Is your child a teen?
Obviously, if your teen has been going to therapists, doctors, etc., she knows something is going on. However, this age is such a great time of flux for any of us, so consult with your trusted doctor or therapist for the best answer. For some kids, knowing is a good thing, or neutral. For others, now is not the time.
4) Why do you want to tell your child?
Do you want to tell your child for her benefit? For yours? Because “it’s the right thing to do”? Understand “why” before you tell. Doing so will help you structure your approach.
5) Why don’t you want to tell your child?
On the flipside, are you holding this information back from your child? Why? If they are four years of age, there are other ways you can talk about why he is going to see a therapist. Again, labels aren’t going to mean much at this age. However, at some point, your child deserves to know. Even if we eschew labels, the fact remains that your child will know something is different about himself. He isn’t going to all those visits and test sites for “fun,” is he? Knowing what it is that makes him feel different is often a good thing.
What did we do when our daughter was diagnosed? Her diagnosis meant she was looking at several years of various therapies. Initially, we distilled it into workable pieces saying things like, “some are good at making friends but weak at math, others are great at math but need some help making friends, ” she could relate to this. We didn’t lay it all out in front of her at once. For us, that worked. Again, your situation may be different – and that is ok.
Telling your child her diagnosis is very personal and the timing and style will, likewise, vary. Regardless, at some point in your child’s life, you owe it to her to tell her. After all, it is her life we’re talking about, right?