Introducing your Child to their Diagnosis

April 26, 2016

After possibly weeks and months of testing in your search for answers for your child the diagnosis came down – autism (or a disorder on the spectrum.) Then started the process of navigating your child’s special education needs, therapies, medical issues and of course, the insurance system. Once you got a handle on all of this, comes the nagging question at the back of your mind, “When and how, and do we tell our child about their diagnosis?”

Autism/Asperger’s Digest online reports that back in the 1980s and 1990s, a highly controversial topic of conversation among parents and professionals was the question, “Should we tell our child that he has autism?” Today we have learned that such self-knowledge is essential, that children need to understand how and why they may feel different from others around them, and what it means. Grappling with these questions is not easy but here are some things to consider when introducing your child to their diagnosis.

  • Why tell your child? This may be the first question parents pose to themselves.  Is it necessary to tell my child? While the decision lies in your hands there is quite a body of evidence to show that people who know and understand their diagnosis tend to be more successful and accepting of themselves.
  • When to tell? Is there ever a good time?  Who knows if there is a perfect time to have this conversation but there are times that you should avoid like right after a meltdown or in the middle of a stressful day.  Follow your instinct and find a time to explain carefully and in the words you want to use that your child is special. One indicator that the time is now is when a child starts asking questions about why he/she is different and why some things are so hard sometimes. The conversation should not be a one time thing either.  Continue the conversation throughout the days, months and years.  Questions may get more deep or be more specific so you may need to call in help for counselors and therapists.
  • How to tell?  Obviously every child is different and every conversation will be different but be sure to do a few things during your discussion. Remind your child that while autism may make him/her struggle in some areas it makes them amazing in other areas.   For example, “You are wicked awesome at science and can remember everything from when you were little and you get along great with babies and animals. At the same time, you have more trouble remembering your math facts and it’s a little harder for you to make friends. Those are things that we’re working on all the time.” (Source Washington Post) Sometimes reading about autism with your child is a great way to start a discussion, moving gradually from the generalizations in the book to the specifics of how it applies to him.