It’s something all parents with recently-diagnosed children on the spectrum likely ask themselves: How do we tell our kid she is autistic? And should we?
It’s my belief you should. And it doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. Keeping it simple is key.
Three years ago, after my now almost-9-year-old was diagnosed with autism, I wondered how I was going to explain attending appointments for therapy to her, and when she asked why we were going to the pediatrician’s office so often I figured now would probably be as good a time as any.
So I simply told her that we were trying to find some help for her. Because her brain doesn’t work the same way as other people’s — but that’s OK. Not everyone is the same anyway; we all have things we struggle with and things we are good at easily. Autism can be the same. Being autistic can mean that some things that affect others may not affect her; or some things affect her that won’t affect others — and that was why she was struggling. I explained to her about her senses and how we use them all every day, and I got her to think about her own senses and how they affected her. We got to talking then about how she doesn’t like noise, how clothes tickle, how lights are too bright and crowds are tricky.
And she took it really well. In truth, I think my amazing child knew she worked differently from others long before I told her, and it’s not surprising really when I think about it — kids really are innately intelligent and perceptive. In fact, I actually think explaining to her about autism and giving her behavior and sensitivities a label seemed to give her relief and understanding about herself. I believe it helped with her sense of identity and sense of self, and it certainly helped with her frustration levels at not being able to do some things or handle others.
She even exclaimed to me afterwards, “Oh, so that’s why I hate the sand at the beach! That makes so much more sense now, I thought something was wrong with me!”
No, darling, I told her. Nothing is wrong with you. You just take in your surroundings in your own way, and we are learning to support and encourage you so that you are able to make more sense of the world you live in. The world may be overwhelming, but it’s OK because people who feel and see things in another way color our world, just like you color mine.
So I would urge you to tell your children about their autism. Keep it simple and factual. Normalize it as a part of who they are, not a character flaw or a limitation; rather, share their diagnostic label with them to give them wings so they can fly with it. Because I believe shame and secrets can perpetuate the myth that “different” is “wrong,” and we really should be embracing all of our children’s unique neurodiversity — and teaching our children to do the same with themselves.
The Mighty is asking the following: How would you describe your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness to a child? If you’ve done this before, tell us about that moment and the child’s reaction. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.