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When I Shared My Autistic Son's Diagnosis With Him

Editor's Note

This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

After all the evaluations for my then 4-year-old son, when we heard “autism” (or as I called it back in the day, “the A word”), it took me a while to accept the unknown that came with that word. I also worried how others would accept the unknown as well. I was afraid of the stigma, the stereotypes, the preconceived notions others would have once they heard my son was autistic and I worried about sharing this unknown diagnosis with my son.

I didn’t know how to tell him. I didn’t know what to tell him. I didn’t know when to tell him. All I knew is that both before we told him, and after, I wanted him to feel loved, understood and accepted for being his perfect, beautiful self. I never, ever wanted him to feel ashamed of who he is, how he thinks and what he feels.

I read books, I talked to experts and I practiced what to say… many, many times. I started the conversation with my son on multiple occasions but just couldn’t do it. What if I said the wrong thing? What if I made him feel less? What if he wasn’t ready to hear about autism just yet? And as with many things that I build up in my head, the moment was… well, uneventful. “Can I go watch Spongebob now?” Yep, that’s how that went.

At that moment, I didn’t know if how we told him, what we told him, or when he told him was “right,” but there have been glimpses over the years that assured me we did get it right. One such glimpse was this past week during his senior pics photo shoot. As Ryan took a seat on the rocks by our pool, the lovely photographer who was so very good with Ryan and who he engaged with beautifully, asked if he wanted to keep his “different, not less” bracelet on because the bracelet really stood out. It was as if she asked if he’d like to keep his head on his shoulders for the photo shoot. “What? Yes, of course I do!” he said emphatically.

Yeah, I think we did OK.

Image Credits: Kathy Hooven