It’s something all parents with recently-diagnosed children on the spectrum no doubt ask themselves: how do we tell our kid she is autistic? And should we?
Well, it’s my belief you should. And it doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. Keeping it simple is key.
Three years ago after my now-almost 9 year old got diagnosed with autism I wondered how I was going to explain attending appointments for therapy to her; and when she asked why we were going to the Paediatrician’s office so often I figured now would probably be a good as time as any.
So I simply told her that we were trying to find some help for her. Because her brain doesn’t work the same to everyone else’s – but that’s okay. As not everyone is the same anyway; we all have things we struggle with and things we are good at easily. Autism is sorta the same. Being autistic means that some things that effect others may not affect her; or the way some things affect her don’t affect others – and that was why she was struggling. I explained to her about what her senses were and how we use them all every day; and I got her to think about her own senses and how they affected her. We got to talking then about how she doesn’t like noise, how clothes tickle, how lights are too bright and crowds are tricky.
And she took it really well. In truth, I think my amazing child knew she worked differently to others long before I told her, and it’s not surprising really when I think about it – kids really are innately intelligent and perceptive. In fact I actually think explaining to her about autism and giving her behaviour and sensitivities a label gave her relief and understanding about herself. I believe it helped with her sense of identity and sense of self and it certainly helped with her frustration levels at not being able to do some things or handle others.
She even exclaimed to me afterwards “Oh so THAT’S why I hate the sand at the beach! That makes so much more sense now, I thought something was wrong with me!”.
No darling, I told her. Nothing is wrong with you. You just take in your surroundings in your own way; and we are learning to support and encourage you so that you are able to make more sense of the world you live in. The world may be overwhelming to you but it’s okay because people who feel and see things in another way to others colour our world; just like you colour mine.
So I urge you to tell your children about their autism. Keep it simple and factual. Normalise it as part of who they are; not a character flaw or a limitation; rather share their diagnostic label with them in order to give them wings so they can fly with it. Because shame and secrets only perpetuate the myth that different is wrong and we really should be embracing all of our children’s unique neuro-diversities – and teaching our children to do the same with themselves.