The thought of talking to your child about their autism diagnosis can be a worrying one. It may have taken you a while to come to terms with it yourself. Thoughts of the information overload you perhaps experienced and worst case scenarios might flood your mind.
However, if your child is verbal or is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome they may be well aware of their own differences from other children and have lots of questions for you.
The benefits of explaining
The benefit of proactively talking to your child about their diagnosis is that you’re pre-empting any problems that might arise from them hearing about it from someone else. Whether a school friend, family member or a professional working with your family, overhearing a conversation and coming to their own conclusions could be really hurtful. Better that you take the initiative and discuss their diagnosis as soon as you feel you’re both ready.
Dealing with the discussion on your own terms also means that you can focus firmly on your child’s strengths rather than perceived difficulties, both from their own perspective and from others.
When to tell them
‘When’ to tell your child about their diagnosis can be a really tricky decision.
Age isn’t really an issue; some children will be ready to talk about their autism much earlier than others. It’s much more about your child’s sense of self-awareness and understanding that they have differences that set them apart from other children they know. Putting a name to the difference can be hugely positive for children and can help reinforce their individuality and self-confidence rather than undermine it.
What you can do when talking about autism
- Before moving on to what to tell them, it’s important to think first about when and where. A safe and comfortable environment, probably at home, is almost a given.
- Make sure to have a distraction free space to talk both from things like televisions and games consoles but also free from interruption from other people. If you have other children it might be an idea for you to time your discussion with them being out of the house.
- Make sure your child isn’t stressed or anxious, either about the topic or something else that’s happened that day. If they are, have a break and use the time to do something fun together then try again. If you have to, it’s better to postpone entirely until your child’s less anxious.
- Always emphasis your child’s strengths. Everyone, with or without autism, faces challenges. Be specific and have examples of their particular strengths and challenges ready
- If your child has questions, you need to have answers! Be prepared. You’ve probably already done your homework but make sure that you can explain things to your child in a way that they can understand. Avoid technical or clinical language, unless they ask for it!
- Take your time. Talking about their diagnosis isn’t going to be a one-time conversation and you don’t have to cover everything in one sitting. Take things slowly and, if you can’t answer a question straight away, find out the answer for next time
- Get some help if you need it. This can be from friends or family, from an online forum or from a book or website. There are lots of great resources available for all diagnoses and ages – in fact too many to list here. A good place to start though is on our own online community, Talk about Autism, where parents like you are always keen to share their own experiences, ideas and resources.