Those of you who have been following the blog for a while will know that I believe strongly in telling children and young people about their diagnosis. In fact I’ve written pretty extensively about why I think diagnosis – and a label – is important to children, their families and those who work with them.
The reality is that children often perceive their differences long before anyone talks to them about those differences. Having a name for those differences, and therefore knowing they have a tribe out there who experience the world in a similar way can be hugely reassuring and go a long way to making them feel good about who they are as an individual.
So When Is The Ideal Time To Start Mentioning A Diagnosis?
My honest answer is as early as possible. The younger a child is, the less big the conversation will feel. Children who have known from a young age tend to accept their diagnosis without question, in just the same way that they know some children have blue eyes and others have brown eyes, they know that some of us have neurotypical brains and others have brains that see the world differently. In short we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and perceive the wold differently.
The other reason I advocate telling children and young people early is that it allows you to control the narrative, and have the conversation at a time when your child is happy and relaxed. Waiting means you run the chance of them finding out at a more difficult time, when you use the word Autism in a medical consultation or in a conversation with a teacher, other parents or friend.
No-one likes to feel as though they are the last one to find something out, especially not something about themselves. Keeping a diagnosis a secret builds it into something that children feel should be hidden, and that in itself can be incredibly damaging to their self esteem.
How Should You Go About It?
Whilst the conversation regarding diagnosis is likely to be different for every child and every family, the below is one way of opening up that conversation:
Talk about everyone’s strengths and the things they find hard.
Celebrating the diversity of your family and friends, and showing how you all admire each other is a great way of showing children that difference is a positive, not something to be worried about.
Introduce your child to books, YouTube videos or blogs written by Autistic adults
Whether it’s talking about how Pokemon were created by an Autistic man, or watching the Newsround video by the then, eleven year old Rosie King, or investigating other Autistic adults that are in the public sphere, giving your child positive Autistic role models that they can relate to will go a long way towards normalising their diagnosis and ensuring they know that they can be successful.
Explain How Your Child Shares Some Of The Characteristics Of The Famous People You Have Introduced
Comparing themselves to others who are successful, will help them to see their own difficulties in a positive light and to really focus on their strengths.
Tell Them Those Shared Characteristics Have A Name
Giving your child a name that explains the way they see the world will help them to realise that they are not alone, instead there are millions of people all across the world who see the world in the same way they do. They have a tribe. They belong.