Telling your child they have autism can be hard, and an even more difficult decision may be to decide to tell your child they have autism. So, how do I do it? When is it the right time? Will my child understand what it means to have autism or understand what autism is?
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These are all questions that I have gotten from parents and caregivers of individuals with autism in my years of practice. There isn’t one simple answer. There are many factors to consider. The most important, probably, is your personal choice as a parent/caregiver. It is also important to consider how the other parent/caregiver feels and make the decision together.
Benefits of Telling Your Child They Have Autism
A question that often comes up is, “What are the benefits of telling my child they have autism?”. Telling your child can help them to better understand who they are. It can allow them to explore autism, what it is, how it affects them, and what it means to them. Telling them may also help to explain why they engage in certain behaviors or answer some questions they may have about themselves. It also opens the door to acknowledging and accepting differences and uniqueness—their own and those of others.
Preparing to Tell Your Child They Have Autism
If and when you decide to tell your child they have autism, figuring out how and when are the next challenges. It is a good idea to plan for this so that you are prepared for the conversation.
Let’s consider some points:
Age of individual
Level of receptive language (listener skills and understanding of what is said)
Level of comprehension of the individual
The ability for the individual to process more complex concepts
Resources, if any, you may use to help
Timing of when to tell the individual (morning, afternoon, evening)
Who will be present and part of the conversation
How will the individual be able to ask questions or seek more information after
Figuring out what to say and how to say is, yet, another stumbling block. You might be wondering, “What do I say? or How much do I say?”. Prepping with the points mentioned previously can help in figuring out what and how much to say. An essential part of the conversation is providing the space for your child to ask questions—either in the moment or later on. There are great resources available to assist when you just can’t think of the words or in case you get stuck
You can use books that explain autism, such as the following:
I’m Special, I’m Me! by Ann Meek
I See Things Differently: A First Look at Autism by Pat Thomas
ASD and Me: Learning About High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder by Teresa DeMars
Autism is…? by Ymkje Widerman-van der Laan
I Have Autism…And That’s Okay! by Kristin Arniotis
All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann
You can also video this video of an interview of Dr. Temple Grandin speaking on this topic.
This is not something you need to do alone. Just as your child needs support, so do you as a parent/caregiver. Seek help from your child’s therapist(s) to come up with the best way for you and for your child.