The decision to tell your child that he has autism is a personal one. Knowing when and how to tell your children will present differently for each family. The ultimate decision will also need to be based on your child’s age and what they will be able to understand.
Personally for us, it wasn’t a choice we had to make. Our two older children are high functioning and catch on to things pretty quickly. We have had services in place since my oldest, EJ, was 4 years old, so pretty much as long as all my kids can remember, we have had services available. We never hid the fact that they were special. We spoke with psychiatrists and psychologists in front of them (to an extent) and were never afraid to ask for more support and show our children that is okay to ask for help when needed. If you ask my son Addison, age 6, what autism/Asperger’s means, he will reply that it means “I’m smart and creative”.
EJ is older and is starting to really notice that he is different from his peers. He might have a different reaction if you asked him what autism means. He is very interested in science and the human body. He knows autism affects his brain and makes him think differently than others. We encourage him by informing him about great people who have autism or were thought to have autism, like Einstein.
EJ watches television specials about autism and we supply books to inspire him. This year at school, he is interested in teaching his peers about autism and why it makes him so special. We have purchased Joanna Keating-Velasco’s book [easyazon-link asin=”1931282439″ locale=”us”]A Is for Autism F Is for Friend: A Kid’s Book for Making Friends with a Child Who Has Autism[/easyazon-link] and have plans to share it with his class. EJ sometimes becomes frustrated by his autistic behaviors and his lack of control over them. When he becomes discouraged, we reassure him by encouraging him to keep trying and to use the tools he has learned. We support his success and encourage him to serve as an inspiration to someone else who has autism. Had EJ not been aware that he has autism, I wonder how confused he might be right now as he questions his differences among peers.
Cohen, our youngest, doesn’t really understand anything about autism. He knows he is a fun little boy who likes to play, goes to his special school once a week, and has lots of friends who come to play with him (his therapists).
Tips on How to Tell Your Child About His Diagnosis
Whenever you talk with your child about his diagnosis, it is important to stay positive, hopeful, and encouraging.
- When talking to children about anything, never give them more information than they need. Our conversation about autism is ongoing. I answer questions when my sons ask me and I don’t give them more information than they need because that is overwhelming.
- Keeping a positive mindset about autism will foster healthy self-esteem, as many children and adults on the spectrum struggle with thoughts regarding their individual self-worth. I wouldn’t keep from my children that they have diabetes because they need to know how to treat it and take care of themselves. Autism is no different.
- Our children, who can understand the concept, need to know the tools they have and the treatments that are available so as they grow they can become self advocates, as well as positive contributors to their communities.
We will continue to encourage our children to ask questions about themselves, to understand their differences, to teach them to use the tools they have to deal with their autistic behaviors and most importantly, to love themselves for who they are. Because who they are, is pretty darn awesome!!!