Updated: Jun 14
Actually, I’m not going to beat around the bush here, unless a child has learning difficulties or cognitive impairment that affects their ability to understand then I believe a child should be told they have Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC).
In this blog I am going to address: why you should tell them, when you should tell them and how you could tell them. But first of all, let’s look at why we feel uncomfortable telling children their diagnosis.
I am mid forties so I grew up thinking autism was the Rain Man (search for the film if you don’t know what I mean – actually don’t!) or a boy who was shaking and screaming in a corner of a shop with a mother who couldn’t control him. Someone who couldn’t make eye contact or be cuddled.
Autistic people can be like this but it’s a very narrow stereotype and my Mr 9 has none of those traits AND has a diagnosis of ASC.
ASC has a bad reputation and I hold my hands up high and say, “I thought it too.” There is a stigma attached. Here are some of the other things you may also think:
It is an unhealthy label.
I don’t want my child labelled.
They will be judged and teased.
It will make them sad.
They won’t understand.
However, I believe you should tell children they are autistic because:
They Deserve the right Label
Our kids get labelled anyway with “too sensitive” “too boisterous” “naughty” so give them the right label, the one that makes sense and the one that empowers them.
I think when you discover who you really are it’s such a relief. When those traits you have that are confusing and cause you problems suddenly make sense, or you are given a reason for them that is incredibly validating. My Mr 9 when he was 8 was very aware of his difference and he thought he was stupid. Finding out he wasn’t stupid was incredibly validating for him.
“I’m not over sensitive, my brain wiring is different. And I feel things more.”
“I am not naughty for fidgeting my body has been created to move”
It’s a relief
In my experience children have been relieved to hear there is a reason they are the way they are. They don’t know autism had a stigma. I am talking about primary school children here. I think it’s a different story with teenagers. I think often they have picked up on the stigma and are worried about being bullied and different.
It gives them access to their life
When your child is given a diagnosis or like me you believe it so much you don’t wait for a diagnosis you can start doing post-diagnostic work with them. What I mean here is you teach them about their autism and help them discover what they need to do to flourish. Your child is going to grow into an adult and the sooner they learn these skills the better.
But if they only find out when they’re an adult that is a lot to get your head around, you need to make sense of the struggles you had as a child and learn new ways of living.
For example my Mr 9 is starting to recognise that when he gets overwhelmed he winds his sister up. He said to me recently that it’s because he’s autistic that he winds his sister up, on this occasion he’d hit her. So I said,
“Mr 9, when you are Mr 30 and you get annoyed, and you hit your best friend or partner you will get arrested. The police officer isn’t going to let you off because you are autistic. You need to learn how to deal with your feelings and take responsibility for your actions.”
Finally, and probably most importantly,
Autistic Adults tell us to
There are many adults getting diagnosed now because professionals and parents didn’t have the skills and full knowledge to recognise it when we were kids. And these adults wish they had known as a child. If you don’t know any autistic adults then I would find some autistic voices to listen to. Follow them on social media and listen to their podcasts. Because these voices represent your child’s community.
So how do I tell them?
I am going to divert a little bit here and talk about other taboo subjects I like to bang on about and that’s Sex and Death. We also don’t like talking to kids about sex and death as we are afraid they are too young, they will get upset, it’s too rude or too much. But what I've realised is that if you tell them from a young age or you have these organic, natural conversations with your young children then it just becomes part of their lives. I didn’t sit
down with my 5 year old and tell her what sex is but I started using the correct terms and talked about relationships and where babies actually come from and read books that did a better job than I did. So when at 7 I actually told her what sex was it wasn’t a big deal…it sort of was a big deal actually (you should have seen the look she gave me) but I didn’t make it a big deal.
Ok, I am back to Autism. I think the same is true. You don’t need to sit your child down with a special treat and both parents and say we have something really important to discuss. You are making it a big deal. Just start the conversation.
When do I tell them?
I am not saying you need to tell them today, I am asking you to consider your prejudice and your reasons why you don’t want to. If then you feel it’s not the right time then trust yourself. You can still do some ground-work and have some preparation conversations.
Introducing Autism into your family
Do some groundwork; Introduce difference and diversity. Get some children’s books that talk about people that are different. Have positive conversations around this. You don’t have to make it personal yet. Use “Autism” in your conversations.
Help your child know their own identity. How are they different? How are they the same? What makes them unique. What special talents do they have or things that they really like. Praise them and give them positive affirmations. Collect any positive comments from school and others. Create an “All About Me” book using everything you have done.
You can have conversations about how the brain works and what neurodivergent incorporates. (You might not even know yourself so do some research). I have heard several stories of children being taught about neurodivergence and the child actually saying, “Is that what I have?”
Do some reading and research. Emma Kendall is an Autistic Author and mother of an Autistic child and she has written some really useful books.
Listen to Autistic voices – there are loads on social media and see what they say.
There are lots of children’s books that explain autism, check them out first as I found they didn’t all apply to my child.
"Amazing Things Happen" I used this video to open up the conversation with my Mr 9 and half way through he said, “This is how my brain works, am I autistic?” Fortunately I was ready to say, ”Yes, I think so,”
Find autistic role models that your child can relate to. When you start looking you will find many and be surprised.
Every child and family is different and there isn’t one right way to tell your child. But however you do it or whenever you do it, enjoy the process because your child is amazing and they are going to surprise you.
If you need help overcoming your feelings about your child’s Autism or need more help with ideas, then please get in touch. I love empowering parents to support their children.
Much love Nicola x x