THE DOS AND DON’TS OF TELLING YOUR CHILD THAT THEY ARE AUTISTIC
I am a big believer in telling a child that they are autistic as early as possible. Children know that they are different from a very young age; it can be confusing, painful and self-esteem destroying if you do not understand how and why you are different from the majority of your peers.
However, there are most definitely good and bad ways of telling your child that they are autistic. For a lot of parents, this is as much of the unknown as it is to the child, so I wanted to try to help a little by creating this Dos and Don’ts list for telling your child that they are autistic.
* …Research thoroughly before broaching the subject with your child. Ensuring that the information you are reading is from autistics or supporters of autistics because, trust me, no one understands autistics better than other autistics!
Websites that I recommend are;
Facebook groups and pages that I recommend are;
NeuroClastic has an article for that
Harry Thompson – PDA Extraordinaire
Autistic Not Weird
The SEND VCB Project
The Autistic Avenger
Changing the narrative about autism and PDA
Not Fine in School – School Attendance Difficulties
The Autistic OT
Kristy Forbes – Autism and Neurodiversity Support Specialist
Autistic Inclusive Meets Community Group AIM
Peaceful Parenting Place for PDA Parents
* …Be prepared to answer questions and have accurate and supportive answers prepared. Obviously, it will be impossible to have the answers to all of the possible questions, but the more you understand about autistics, the more questions you will be able to answer.
Common questions could be;
How am I different to other people?
Why am I different?
Are there other people like me?
* …Speak to autistics about their experiences or about their childhoods. This will give you valuable insights into how we see the world and experience it.
* …Ensure that you plan plenty of time for the conversation. Have no time limit on it, if possible.
* …Be prepared for different emotional reactions from your child. They could be scared, confused, angry, upset, overjoyed or happy at hearing that they are autistic.
* …Use autistic friendly terms such as ‘autistic’, ‘neurotypical’, ‘neurodivergent’
* …Be positive about the news that they are autistic. Your reaction to their neurotype will speak volumes about how they should feel about the news and also how you feel about them as a whole; if you ‘hate’ their autism, you are effectively saying that you hate who they are, as we are autistic – there is no division between autism and who we are. It cannot be separated from us or removed.
* …Look into clubs or online social groups for autistic children so that they can socialise with other autistic kids. This will help their self esteem and make them feel less like they are different from everyone else. I know, as an adult, that the best thing that happened to me after being diagnosed as autistic was finding the autistic community. Finding people like me made me feel like I wasn’t alone, broken or damaged. It has greatly helped my self-esteem and confidence.
* …Look into buying some autism positive books for children. Such as;
It’s an autism thing – I’ll help you understand - by Emma Dalmayne
Susie Spins - by Emma Dalmayne
What to do when you worry too much: A kids guide to overcoming anxiety - by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews
The Awesome Autistic Go To Guide; A Practical Handbook for Autistic Teens and Tweens - by Yenn Purkis and Tanya Masterman
I Go Quiet - by David Ouimet
Odd Girl Out – Laura Jane
What We Love Most About Life - by Chris Bonnello
The Unwritten Rules of Friendship - by Natalie Madorsky Elman PhD
You be You - by Linda Kranzi
All Too Much for Oliver - by Leila Boukarim
* …Explain that being different can be hard sometimes, but it is actually a really good thing. Explain that most of the breakthroughs in history have been made by those who are different (autistics) such as Einstein, Isaac Newton, Alan Turning, Bill Gates, Greta Thornburg.
* …Encourage the rest of the immediate family to read the research you have done or to do research themselves, and to be supportive and positive about your child being autistic. If they are negative about it, it will damage your child’s self-esteem and self-worth.
* …Give them plenty of processing time during the conversation. It can take us a lot longer than NTs to process information; particularly verbal input. Letting your child know that you are happy to revisit the conversation at a later time or date if they have any questions or want to talk it through more, will help.
* …Say that it’s genetic; that they are not damaged or have a disability or disorder. Unfortunately, it has been the general understanding in the past, that we are neurologically damaged or disabled. Updated research and findings show that this isn’t the case, but it takes time to change common misconceptions. Listen to autistics and the up to date research on the subject, not to hearsay or outdated information.
* …Have the conversation somewhere quiet where you won’t be interrupted or distracted.
* …Use functioning labels. Functioning labels like ‘high functioning’ ‘low functioning’ are very damaging for autistic people. They give the incorrect impression that ‘high functioning’ autistics do not have any significant struggles or challenges; therefore they are not offered or given the support they need in the areas in which they do struggle, and the incorrect impression that ‘low functioning’ autistics are incapable of doing or achieving anything. This is most definitely not the case.
Functioning labels are generally abhorred by the autistic community.
* …Use person first language. We do not HAVE autism; it is not a disease or a condition, it cannot be separated from us or ‘cured’. We ARE autistic.
* …Be impatient. This is a very important conversation for your child; if they realise it at the time or not. They need the time to understand what you are saying and to feel able to ask any questions in order for them to completely understand.
* …Be negative. As above, by being negative about autism, you are being negative about your child as a whole. All this will achieve is damaging your child’s self-esteem and self-worth.
* …Try to change your child. By trying to change your child, you are telling them that they are not good enough to earn your love. Love the child you have. Adapt your parenting to suit the child you have. Don’t try to change your child to line up with your ideals as a parent.
* …Wait until they are older before telling them that they’re autistic – the younger the better as they will know that they are different from their peers. The sooner that they understand why they are different will make a big difference to their self-esteem.
* …Talk about ABA or cures. This is a HUGE no no. It has been widely found that ABA causes PTSD or C-PTSD. It is considered to be cruel and inhumane for autistic children. Aside from the dog training comparison, stopping an autistic child from self-regulating activities; such as stimming, is very harmful to the child. It also screams to the child that they are not acceptable for who they are and that they have to learn how to pretend to be like NTs in order to be accepted.
There is no such thing as a cure for autism. Because it is not a disease or an illness. It is a neurological difference. Wanting a cure for autism is tantamount to wanting to eradicate autistics.
* …Say that you dislike or hate their autism, or that you wish that they were like other children. You would effectively be saying that you dislike or hate who they are and that they are not acceptable or good enough.
* …Let a professional explain it to them, unless they are autistic themselves. Professionals have a very limited and outdated view of autism. They do not understand how autistics feel, think or experience the world. They would only give a very clinical viewpoint of autism, which is not an accurate or realistic interpretation of who we are.
* …Just say that they’re autistic and not give more information or details. They will want or need to know what being autistic means to them.
* …Project your fears for your child’s future onto them. Autistics develop and grow, the same as all children. Your child’s struggles and challenges will change over time. For example, if your 4-year-old autistic child is non-verbal, it doesn’t mean that they will definitely be non-verbal forever. They may become verbal, partially verbal or remain non-verbal. But just because they cannot speak at 4, does not mean that they will necessarily never talk.
The struggles that I experienced as a child are very different to the struggles I experience now. I have adapted to some, and some have changed as my understanding and problem solving has developed. Nothing is set in stone.
* …Use the word ‘normal’ when referring to NT kids or adults. It is incredibly offensive as, if you are not ‘normal’ then it is presumed that you are ‘abnormal’ which does not come with any positive connotations. Use other words such as ‘typical’ or ‘neurotypical’.
I hope that some or all of those suggestions can help you in some way, to have a very important conversation with your child.
This article is also being shared on NeuroClastic