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How to tell your child they are autistic

Telling your child that they are autistic, can be a huge worry for parents, as you may not know how or when to tell them, or how they might react. 

They will find out at some point, so how do you do it? This process needs to be considered thoughtfully, to go as smoothly as possible.   

Adults who were not told by their parents that they were autistic as a child have said that it has had a detrimental impact on them - perhaps thinking they were different, but not having an explanation for it, or understanding why they were struggling. 

For an autistic child understanding why they are different, and that being different is okay, even something to celebrate, can be enlightening and give them the motivation to drive through challenges and learn about different ways of doing things to make life easier and more enjoyable for them. 

How to share the diagnosis

Here’s a few conversation starters: 

  • Talk positively about differences generally first. Discuss family members’ unique traits - their likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses.  
  • Explain differences in a factual manner when the child has a basic grasp of simple examples of difference. Statements such as “Mummy has glasses and Daddy does not have glasses” or “Bobby likes to play ball and you like to read books” are examples.  
  • Talk about the idea of neurodiversity - that there are many different types of brains in the world, that are often wired differently (such as autistic brains and ADHD brains) and this can affect the way different people sense and perceive the world. Using visuals can help, such as the “Amazing Things Happen” film example in the resources section below.  
  • Explain how differences in brain types means that some people can find certain skills and activities easier, whereas others can find the same tasks more challenging. They may have noticed that certain activities are more difficult for them than for other children, or that they like to do things in a different way, and that’s okay. Let them know that they are not the only child struggling with being autistic, and there are ways to make things easier.  
  • Give examples of their strengths, for example; they may be great at building with Lego, playing a musical instrument, or taking objects apart and putting them back together. Discuss their passions and special interests, which may be different from other children of their age, and that differences are to be celebrated and not to be ashamed of or hidden.  
  • Look at the bigger picture - how having different brains and skills in the world has been helpful in making progress for society as a whole, such as understanding how the world works and the invention of new things, such as computers, films, toys and art.  
  • Include famous people, for example, Satoshi Tajiri (inventor of Pokemon) was very focused on insects and video games. Other people thought they were an unusual combination of interests, but later he combined these to create pocket monsters – or Pokemon. Now people all over the world enjoy his creative ideas and games!  
  • Help them to be aware that other people; teachers, employers and society may not always understand autism. That the world has mostly been designed for people who are not autistic. But with more awareness views are changing, and they can perhaps help with awareness by sharing their ideas and stories. 

As you child gets older, keep the conversation going and encourage your child to learn more about their diagnosis as they develop the skills to be able to do this. Encourage them to interact with other autistics through NAS or Facebook groups, and provide books, videos, and developmentally appropriate resources that they can use to develop an understanding of and embrace being autistic. 

Helpful resources

  • ‘Talking Together about an Autism Diagnosis: A Guide for Parents and Carers of Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder’ by Rachel Pike  
  • ‘I am Utterly Unique: Celebrating the Strengths of Children with Asperger Syndrome and High-functioning Autism’ by Elaine Marie Larson 
  • ‘Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes by Jennifer Elder. 
  • Ten Tips for Talking to Your Child About Their Autism Diagnosis By Sara Woods, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, UW Autism Center 
  • Wheeler, M. (2020, May). Getting started: Introducing your child to his or her diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. 
  • NAS Telling your child about their diagnosis - a guide for parents and carers https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/diagnosis/disclosing-your-autism/parents-and-carers 

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