Parents often hide the autism diagnosis from their children out of the fear that the label will limit their potential. They are worried that it will impact their perceived self-worth and make them feel helpless or broken. However, the instinct to protect their child from possible problems might ultimately end up hindering their progress.
Many adults with autism spectrum disorder believe that knowing about their condition helped them navigate their lives better. So, if you do decide to go ahead with “the talk”, we have put together a guide that answers the why, what, how and when aspects:
Remember when you first learnt of your child’s autism diagnosis? You wanted to find out everything that you could to help your child. Any support that could help you cope with the diagnosis was welcome. It is the same for your child. All they want is to be understood and understand why things are the way they are. Children are likely to be aware of the fact that they are different. Not having the right information about their diagnosis might make them arrive at wrong conclusions.
It is especially true in the case of autistic children with severe learning and cognitive disabilities. If they are struggling with math or finding it difficult to read, knowing about their condition will help them deal with the challenges without feeling ashamed of themselves.
One way to make sure they are open and receptive to the information that you’re hoping to share with them is by looking for certain cues. For example, your child might start asking questions like, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’, ‘Why am I not like everyone else?’, ‘Why is everybody else different?’ and so on. These doubts clearly indicate that they’re looking for answers.
There is no right age or time to have this conversation and most of it depends upon your child’s ability, personality, and social awareness. Chances are they’d get sensitive to the subject, defensive at the suggestion of them being different as they get older.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex condition – so much so that each diagnosis can be unique in its own right, making it difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all explanation. It will again depend upon how your child processes information. A good place to start is to look for books or movies that show autistic characters in a positive light.
If they ask for it, you can find more books, informative videos and other media that explain the condition in a way that is easy to understand for them. Answer all the questions that they might have. Give them the skills to talk about their condition freely, and with confidence – with other people on the spectrum as well as with neurotypical individuals.
More than the information, what matters is the manner in which you are conveying it. Instead of telling them everything all at once and getting them overwhelmed, start small and start slow, adding more information over time. Ask them if they’d like to know more and let them lead you.
The key here is to try and make it an uplifting experience for them. Keeping your tone positive while referring to their uniqueness can help to a large extent. A positive outlook towards their differences, correlating it with the fact that every family member is different in their own way will make them understand how it is okay to be different.
Remember, your job is to give your child the tools to develop a sense of self-identity and handle their disability status in a way that feels the most naturally comfortable to them.