Wednesday, 27 October 2010

How do you tell your child that they are autistic?

To be perfectly honest I have no idea how to do this.

But here is our kak-handed attempt at telling our eleven year old boy that he is autistic. Perhaps you have been through a similar thing? If so then please share...

We embarked on our journey to make A aware of his ASD a while ago and I knew it would be a journey rather than an event, one that would take constant explaining and dissecting over a considerable period of time. How exactly would we broach the subject and tell him about such a complicated thing. I often find it hard to tell adults about A's autism and it is extremely hard to explain what autism is.

Part of being a parent of a disabled child means that more than most, you shield your child from negativity, from hearing the misunderstandings of other parents, adults and children regarding their condition and as a by product you can (and I have) protect them from the terrible A-word in its entirety. Parenting like this has its effects though...

We worked so hard to make A feel included in everything (normal life and society) that he had absolutely no idea he that is autistic. Our first attempt at telling him was about a year ago. He had no idea what we were talking about. He got that in his support class, there were autistic kids but didn't understand that he is as well hence the reason for him being there. He said "but yeah, I'm not like them". And then came the bit where we tried to explain to an autistic child what autistic spectrum disorder is....

So we left it for a while. We answered any questions that he had at that time and since we had started to talk about it, we mentioned the A-word in front of him more and more. Then a few weeks ago we were having a blazing row over the state of his bedroom. He has been a simmering mass of pre-pubescent hormones for weeks now and is constantly on the verge of a Kevin and Perry style meltdown. This room was disgusting which was quite unlike him as he usually keeps things tidy and organised. There was a funny smell coming from somewhere, a pen had burst and been splattered over the walls and about a weeks worth of manky clothes. During the row, he said the following: "You're not listening to me and you don't understand me...I can't tidy my room because of my autism"!

So the autism meter has come full swing and we are now trying to redress the balance...

I'm in the middle of ordering another set of books from Amazon that he can read himself this time so we can talk about this again (after I've killed Santa that is).

Here is what we've learned so far:

1) You need to process your child's diagnosis first. Don't expect yourself to be able to talk about it intelligently and unemotionally. I still get tongue tied when people ask me to explain autism.

2) Brace yourself for questions from friends, family, acquaintances and the woman in line at the shops who knows all about autism because her brother's girlfriend's cousins step-son has "it". Use answers like "We are still trying to figure things out," or for unsolicited advice and a gracious "thank you," works well.

3) Talking about autism with your child doesn't need to be like THE talk. Share information about the diagnosis little by little(keeping it simple) and in a matter of fact way,"We're going to the speech therapist to learn some cool tricks for play dates," and my favorite " I'm not sure why some things are so hard for you, but I think you are wonderful, and I'm so lucky to be your mum."

For further information the NAS offers advice on broaching the subject with your child. 


  1. I so get this, my son isn't autistic but has an undiagnosed learning disablity. There have been adverts on the radio for people experienced in looking after adults with learning disablities and he has been asking me if he has a learning disability.  he also asked me if he was disabled the other day.  I have tried to explain that he does have a learning disabliity that makes it harder for him to learn things and remember them.  I have told him that he is Adam and also asked if anyone has been saying anything to him.  He says not so I think he is becoming more aware of himself and his surroundings. I see this in a positivie way.  He will always require support but being aware gives him confidence

  2. An excellent approach Kathy! Thanks for commenting. :)


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