Advice for telling your child they have autism
As the autism community continues to grow, many more parents and caregivers are faced with the intimidating challenge of talking to their kids about their autism diagnosis. You’re not alone in questioning the best way to go about it or whether or not to tell your child at all.
Of course, the decision is yours to make. Psychologists suggest parents start the conversation early so you can introduce autism in a positive light and make it ok for your child to talk about at any time. If you keep it a secret, children can make up all kinds of negative reasons for why they aren’t like other children, leading to anxiety and depression.
Keeping it a secret can also lead to harmful labels and negative first impressions when other children and adults don’t know about your child’s autism. Talking about it works to demystify autism and opens the door to understanding and acceptance.
Start the conversation early
You might be surprised to learn you can start talking to your child about their autism diagnosis when they’re only four years old or when they develop the verbal understanding of a neurotypical child of that age.
For children who aren’t yet communicating much, you can still start to talk to them about autism using examples they might see on TV, the internet, or in books. Along with Julia on Sesame Street, PBS in 2024 will debut its first show with a lead character that has autism.
The idea is to start talking about autism. Make it commonplace, just one more thing that makes people different and special in their own right. As your child’s understanding develops, you’ll have made it so they’re comfortable talking about it when they encounter new situations in their life.
Even if your child can’t fully understand what it means to have autism, you should still make talking about it a part of their everyday life.
Make sure you’re emotionally ready
Parents and caregivers can experience a variety of emotions when their child receives an autism diagnosis. Before introducing it to your child, make sure you’ve come to terms with it and can talk about it in a positive or neutral way without emotions.
It’s ok and best to wait until you’ve made peace with the situation. However, if your child is already asking questions about their differences compared to other kids, don’t wait too long.
Talk in terms kids can understand
Autism is difficult to understand for anyone who’s not a health professional with experience in the field. Symptoms and severity can vary widely from child to child. To simplify it, just say to your child that the combination of strengths and difficulties they have is called autism.
Let them know every child with autism is different, but they share some things in common, including how they interact with other people, make friends, and are interested in different things. People with autism may also see, feel, hear, and taste things in a different way than other people. They might be sensitive to loud noises, new tastes, bright lights, and how things feel.
Acknowledge the difficulties they have
Let your child know it’s ok if certain things are harder for them to do or if they do things differently than other people. Remind them that they can learn and figure out what works for them to make life easier and more enjoyable for themselves.
It’s also good to make sure your child knows their opinions and thoughts matter to you, because they know best what does and doesn’t work for them.
Highlight examples of their strengths
Make a point to highlight the things they’re good at and come easy to them, especially those things that are harder for other people to do. Maybe it’s a creative skill or unique traits like the ability to notice details that others miss.
Provide them with role models to show how other kids and adults with autism have used their unique strengths and talents to help others and become successful.
Encourage your child to ask questions
You can learn a lot from the questions your child asks, because questions let you know what they do and don’t know. If you don’t know the answer to a question, let them know you’ll find the answer. You can be an example that learning never stops for anyone!
Learn how ABA therapy can help
ABA therapy is the gold standard treatment for autism. It can benefit children as young as two years old and make a lasting impact on key areas of a child’s development, including communication, language, self-help, socialization, academics, and fine and gross motor skills.
To speed up your search for a qualified ABA therapy provider, go to BHCOE.org. BHCOE (Behavioral Health Center of Excellence®) is the only accrediting body for center-based providers.
If you call DFW or the Boulder (CO) area home, The Behavior Exchange would love the chance to make a difference in your child’s life and in the life of your whole family. Our commitment to helping families the past two decades has earned us the highest accreditation possible as a Behavioral Health Center of Excellence.
Call 972.312.8733 or email email@example.com to talk with our autism and ABA therapy experts. We can help, including being your insurance advocate.