People living with autism describe themselves and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in different ways, so it is always best to ask the individual themselves what their preference is. There are many terms used to describe ASD. These terms are utilised by the individual with the condition themselves, their supporters and in education, health and social settings.
When it comes to talking about ASD with children, parents should keep it simple, encourage discussion and focus on their family’s values. The thought of explaining to your child about their autism diagnosis can be a hard time. Thoughts on the information overburden you perhaps experienced and worst-case scenarios may flood your mind.
However, if your child is verbal or is diagnosed with ASD disorder they may be very much aware of their own differences from other children and have lots of questions for you. The benefit of explaining autism to a child is that you are pre-empting any issues that may emerge from them hearing about it from someone else.
Regardless of whether a friend, relative or a professional working with your family, overhearing a conversation and reaching their own decisions could be very destructive. It is better that you take the initiative and discuss the diagnosis when you feel you are both prepared. Managing the discussion on your own terms also allows you to focus firmly on your child’s strengths rather than perceived challenges, both from their own perspective and from others.
When to explain your child about their ASD diagnosis can be a very confusing thing. It is considerably more about your child’s sense of self-awareness and understanding that they have differences that set them apart from other children they know. Putting a name to the distinction can be positive for children and can help reinforce their individuality and self-confidence as opposed to undermining it. Before proceeding on to what to explain about ASD, it is important to think first about when and where. A protected and comfortable environment, probably at home, is almost a given.
Make a point to have a distraction free space to discuss both from things like televisions and game consoles, but also free from interruption from other individuals. If you have other children it may be a good idea to time your discussion to a time where they’re out of the house.
Ensure that your child isn’t worried or anxious, either about the topic or something different that’s happened that day. If they are, have a break and use the time to do something fun together then try again. If you have to, it is beneficial to postpone entirely until your child’s less anxious.
Always focus on your child’s strengths. Everybody, with or without autism, faces hard times. Be particular and have examples of their specific qualities and challenges ready. If your child has questions, you should have answers.
You have probably already done your homework, but ensure that you can explain things to your child in a way that they can understand. Make use of simple terms. Avoid technical or clinical language, unless they request it. Preparation and understanding are critical when explaining autism to a child.