“How should I tell my child they’re autistic?”
-Many concerned parents
I cannot count how many parents have messaged me about this question. It’s so many that keeping track would depress me.
Some parents approach their child’s neurology almost like “the birds and the bees” talk. It feels weird and awkward. But of course, your child’s neurology is not something that should be awkward or a source of fear or shame. Why is it though? I mean, we would never fear telling a child she was diabetic or epileptic- NOT knowing those things causes more issues. The same is true for autism.
Some parents fear telling their child will limit them in some way; almost like uttering this truth will unleash some kind of power over the child. These parents treat sharing their child’s autism diagnosis like characters in Harry Potter reacted to the name “Voldemort”.
This kind of makes sense to me.
Many parents are scared of what autism really means. They don’t know what to do about it, but they know it’s there.
To call autism by its name somehow gives it more power, maybe?
And maybe by not calling it by name, a child won’t be so “autistic-y”.
I say that tongue in cheek- but it baffles me how conflicted parents get about this.
I told my child when he was about 4 because that’s when I first realized he is perfectly fine the way he is. I wished I had told him sooner. If you know and your child is much older, please do not fret. But take a moment, read the rest of this post, and then tell them!
I started by explaining stimming because that’s how I noticed my child had a different processing system; it was my clue he might be autistic. I didn’t know what stimming was until an autistic adult shared it with me.
Stimming is how a person physically regulates their body when there is a lot of external input. It might be rocking, hand flapping, echolalia, galloping, etc. It explained so much about my child; everything fell into place after that.
I realized that my son stims a certain way when it’s too loud. He stims differently when he’s excited about something. He stims another way when he is anxious. My son is mostly verbal, but when he is feeling big feelings, he really struggles to articulate his needs. His stims are not random or arbitrary, they are my clue to assist him when he isn’t verbal.
So to answer the question of how to tell your child they’re autistic I say: start with stimming.
Explain what stimming is to your child (and any of their siblings). I wrote a book about it called The Case of Sensational Stims and it’s on Amazon now. Demonstrate how you stim (because you probably do), but explain that it’s very important for your autistic child because their brain processes information in a particular way. Their particular way has a name.
Their mind is autistic and those who aren’t autistic are called allistic. We all process information a bit differently. No one type is better or worse, they’re just different and we need to honor everyone’s brain (or neurology).
Boom. You did it!
Then… you keep lines of communication open.
No, you don’t need to talk about it every day, but make sure you say the word autism. There’s not one thing to be ashamed of. Your child was born with a phenomenal mind.
Ask your child(ren) what autism means to them. Learn from them. Learn with them, Coach them. And remember, autism presents differently in every person. Stims evolve over time. Some things that used to be hard get easier and vice versa.
The best way to start is to figure out why it feels so uncomfortable for the parent. It’s usually because they don’t know much. Learn from #acutallyautistic people and buy my book on stimming on Amazon. It’s a great way to get started, if I do say so myself. 😉