I believe strongly that children have the right to know their diagnosis, in an age appropriate way, from a very young age. Telling your child about their diagnosis is one of the most important things you will ever do.
I know that telling them isn’t easy; finding the right moment can be hard. And I also know that if you have reached that stage you are probably worrying about how your child will react.
But the reality is, that children almost always react far more positively than you expect. From a very young age our children realise that they are different. A diagnosis is a way of explaining the difference to them, of helping them to process it, to understand that they are not alone.
Put simply knowing their diagnosis will help their self esteem, it will give them the chance to be part of a tribe and it will enable them to discuss with you more easily the things that they find hard.
So How Can You Help Them To Understand?
Talk about how being different is a good thing, about how in our own way we are all different, both in terms of our physical differences, our interests and the way our brains work. Remind them that if we were all the same the world would be very boring.
Remember that children with autism deal in facts. Explain to them in an age appropriate way why autism means that they find some things harder than their peers, but also why it’s a good thing that gives them advantages as well as difficulties.
Do a quick google search to find famous people who are on the Spectrum or who are thought to have been on the Spectrum. Tailor the list to people whose accomplishments will appeal to your child and show them just what it is possible to achieve with autism.
Show them their own achievements and what they can do when they put their mind to it. Focus on whatever it is they excel at, even if that is something that traditionally wouldn’t be seen as an achievement: whether that is being exceptional at Minecraft creations or knowing every fact there is to know about Pokemon it matters.
Explain why it’s important to work on the things we are brilliant at, and how if we continue to work at the things we find hard we can excel even further at the things we are good at.
Why Shouldn’t You Keep It A Secret?
The longer the time you keep a diagnosis a secret for, the bigger the deal it becomes. When you tell your child it therefore becomes bigger to them. The earlier they know the smaller it seems, a diagnosis is just a natural part of life, nothing to be scared of or worried about.
Being different is hard as a child. Really hard. What you need to remember is that it isn’t the diagnosis that makes them different, it’s the way their brain works. If you avoid telling them they feel different, but don’t have the answers about why. Understanding their diagnosis means that it’s more likely that they will be able to talk openly to you, without feeling like they need to protect you from their worries.
Knowing their diagnosis can be a huge positive. It can give your child a tribe. It can give them understanding. But most of all it can make them feel less alone.
I cannot tell you when the right time for telling your child about their diagnosis is. That is a decision for you and your family, but what I can tell you is what it feels like not to know.
Take a look at this post for more information about my personal experience with labels and what it felt like to be a child, knowing I was different but not knowing why.
If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
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Or if you’re looking for more personal support, why not check out our Consultancy Services.
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And of course if I can be of any help then please just shout (or drop me an email).