Wednesday, May 01, 2019

How to Tell Your Child That They're Autistic

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Tips and resources for explaining autism to an autistic child perfect for families who have been wondering how to explain to their child that they have autism.

Have you been wondering the following:

I want to share with my child that they are autistic, but how exactly do I go about doing that?

It's a conversation that certainly needs to be had at some point and I know it can be overwhelming to decide when, where, and how to tell your kid that they are autistic.

Then there's the problem of finding the right resources to help you do so.

Well, below I outline some tips on how to tell your child that they're autistic. I've also included some practical resources (books, videos, and printables) to help you better explain autism to your child. I've even broken down the resources into different age groups so that you can find the resources that best suit the age of your child.

Tips and resources for how to explain to my child that they have autism

Should You Tell Your Child They Have Autism?

Yes, you absolutely should tell your child about their autism diagnosis. They have the right to know. If you were in their shoes, then you'd want to know too, wouldn't you?

If you need further convincing, then here are 8 reasons why you should tell your child that they're autistic.

When to Tell Your Child They're Autistic

There's no right or wrong time to tell your child that they're autistic, but I'm a firm believer in telling your child as soon as possible.

Some kids might simply be too young to understand what autism is.

However, you can certainly set a positive tone early on about the importance of embracing the uniqueness of every one in your family, even before you mention the diagnosis to your autistic child.

Is it Time to Tell My Child About Their Diagnosis?

Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not it's time to tell them about their diagnosis:

  • Your child is aware of how different they are and are asking questions like "Why can't I...?" or "Why am I struggling with this?"
  • Your child is asking about it themselves
  • Your child is emotionally ready
  • Your child already knows about other diagnoses (if applicable)
  • Your child has already been labeled as a troubled or bad child and wonders why they're being labeled as such
  • You want your child to learn about the diagnosis from you before they learn about it elsewhere
  • Your child takes part in meetings/appointments where the diagnosis is or might be discussed
  • You are ready and willing to answer their questions honestly about their diagnosis
Like I said, there's no right or wrong time to tell them about their diagnosis, but I strongly encourage you have open discussions about their diagnosis as soon as possible so that they can better understand themselves.

Tips for How to Tell Your Child That They're Autistic

Getting Prepared to Tell Your Child

When it comes to telling your child that they're autistic, it's best to keep the following in mind:

  • Consider your child's ability to process information
  • Follow your child's lead on how much to discuss, what to discuss, and when to discuss it (e.g., if they are asking questions, answer them promptly)
  • Start with a basic introduction, expanding and adding more information later on
  • Keep the conversation open and ongoing (i.e., don't plan for it to be a one-and-done kind of discussion)
  • Decide who you want to include in the discussion (e.g., both parents, just one parent for now, the whole family, a professional, a grandparent, etc.), considering who your child would want and not want involved
  • Make sure you, as a parent, are ready to share the diagnosis to avoid sharing your own biases and feelings during the discussion
  • Seek guidance from an actually autistic adult (if you know of one) who can perhaps be willing to act as a mentor to both you and your child
  • Give your child time to process the information
  • Start early! The earlier you can set a positive tone about autism, the better.
  • Tell them in a comfortable and familiar environment (at home is probably best)
  • Make sure your child, as well as yourself, are both calm and relaxed when you bring up the topic (you won't get very far if your child is already stressed or anxious)
  • Check in with your child during the conversations and provide breaks as needed
  • Make sure the discussion takes place when there will be minimal distractions
  • Make sure your child is emotionally ready

How and what you say is so important! 

Here are some tips to consider when talking about autism with your child (adapted from my guide on how to explain autism to a child):

  • Be honest and focus on the positives
  • Keep the discussion developmentally and age appropriate (below you will find more specific resources broken down into different age groups)
  • Be specific and matter-of-fact
  • Use concrete examples and make the discussion meaningful (e.g., saying, "you get bothered by certain fabrics and tags when you wear them" vs. saying, "you have tactile sensitivities.")
  • Answer any questions your child has
  • Embrace autism from a neurodiversity perspective (i.e., explain autism as part of the normal variation in the human population)
  • Don't pathologize autism
  • Highlight your child's strengths and positive traits
  • Explain that no two autistic people are the same

How to Explain Autism to an Autistic Child: Resources to Help

For Young Kids

These resources will help you explain autism to younger children in a developmentally and age appropriate manner.

For Pre-Teens & Teens

The following resources are designed to welcome your child to the autistic community and to help your child learn from other autistic teens.

For Older Teens & Adults

These resources are geared towards older teens and adults of all ages.

Other Resources You'll Love

Tips and resources for how to explain to my child that they have autism