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How to Explain an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis to a Child

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When I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum at 15 years old, I initially shrugged it off. It didn’t really mean anything because I hadn’t changed at all. I didn’t even really know what autism was.

But then, people around me began to change. They changed the way they treated me. Instead of getting upset over things I didn’t understand, they started to calmly explain stuff to me. So I started to look into what the diagnosis was about. I read a chapter of characteristics in a book, and things began to make sense. No wonder I struggled so much with reading comprehension and social situations! So that’s why I’ve always been so “obsessed” with “The Lion King”!

Once I learned more and could see the people around me were listening to my issues, I started to become an advocate. I found that just by sharing my own life experiences, I could help others. I loved answering questions about myself, knowing I might make a difference for someone else.

But one question was always difficult for me to answer.

How do I explain the diagnosis to my child?

I never really knew what to say because I received my diagnosis a bit later. I was more capable of understanding it on my own or at least finding the answers myself. How could a parent or caregiver share this complicated information with a child so they would understand it but still feel OK?

The answer came to me one day when I was volunteering at my local museum for their Sensory-Friendly Day. And it didn’t come to me from talking with an adult. It came from a young boy on the spectrum himself. He said it perfectly.

“I have autism. Sometimes, I struggle with things like looking people in the eyes. But it also means that I have a great imagination.”

So to those of you out there who are wondering how to tell your child they are on the autism spectrum, look no further. Tell them they are on the autism spectrum. Then explain that sometimes, it means they have a hard time with things. List a few small struggles they have. After that, make sure to mention how it contributes to their many, many strengths. Be honest, and remember to keep it positive.

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Stock photo by Alena Ozerova

Originally published: November 13, 2016
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