Explaining autism to your child

Explaining autism to your child

How do I explain my child’s diagnosis to them? This is a question we’re often asked at AUsome Training so below are some points to consider when you’re explaining autism to your child. There is often a fear around telling your child they are Autistic. As a parent you are probably hyper-aware of the stigma around Autistic people and the less than helpful attitudes others may have. As an Autistic adult I am only too familiar with these attitudes and work everyday to change how others view the wonderfully Autistic children in our community. 

Here are some things to give you some perspective:

Being Autistic is not a bad thing despite what some misinformed may people think. Don’t let these attitudes influence your own attitude to your child when you’re explaining autism to your child.

Think about where your hesitance comes from. Is it shaped by others and concern for our child? As a parent it is totally natural to worry about your child’s safety and you may think that not telling them will save them from being ridiculed or treated as different. Often parents have a fear of labelling their chid. Many Autistic adults share common childhood and teenage experiences where we have been excluded, mocked or bullied by peers. Even those of us who didn’t know we were Autistic at the time experienced this so not knowing does not protect anyone from these experiences unfortunately. Autistic is not a bad label and in fact it’s a lot more helpful than some labels used to describe us like bold, cheeky or lazy. Your child is competent enough to already sense and know that they are different to non-autistic peers. Explaining to them will often come as a relief. They now have a word for this difference. 

An apple is not a defective orange! What is that supposed to mean? Well it means that an apple is a perfectly good fruit and so is an orange if we see them both as fruits. But if we start listing ways that an apple is not as good as an orange well then we start to see the apple as something defective. We start to consider the apple as less than the orange. Autistic people are rarely described as we are. We are described by what we are not in relation to non-autistic people. And even worse these comparisons are all based on misinterpretations of who we are, how we think, feel, play, learn and communicate! Autistic children are perfect versions of Autistic children just like non-autistic children are perfect versions of non-autistic children. Let’s see both groups as equals and we’ll all be a lot better off! 

Your child is not alone. Often parents can feel that a diagnosis means that they’re child is entirely different from everyone they know. In reality there are going to be other family members who are also Autistic but may not realise it. There are also approx 250 million Autistic people in the world so they are certainly not alone and neither are you. Because Autistic people are a minority it can just take more time and effort to find others like us. You can find Autistic people all over the internet. If you’re on twitter you can find Autistic people using the hashtag #ActuallyAutistic or #AskingAutistics will also bring you to lots of interesting discussions. You can also find Autistic spaces online under #proudlyautistic. You have joined this community at a really exciting time and there are literally thousands of Autistic adults working to change the world for you and your child.

Consider how you would approach explaining other differences when you’re explaining autism to your child. Would you agonise over explaining to your child that they have green eyes when their siblings have blue? Or would you agonise over telling them that they are taller than everyone in their class? Most likely not and I’m not saying this to minimise your anxiety over telling your child but to give you some prospective because once you consider being Autistic as just another human difference then it will make telling your child a lot easier. Think about it as sharing some good news with them and it will be a whole lot easier.

Parent explaining autism to his child

What words to use when you’re explaining autism to your child? 

  1. First off when you’re explaining autism to your child keep the words positive or neutral but please do avoid negative words or phrasing. Unfortunately they’ve probably already absorbed enough negativity from others around them.
  2. Start by talking about Autistic people , normalise it and drop it into conversation. It doesn’t have to be a big reveal where you sit them down for hours to explain what being Autistic is.
  3. Talk about human differences, how some people are great at sports, others are great at thinking, some are explorers, others like maths. 
  4. Then talk about human commonalities, we all have feelings and thoughts. We are all different but really we are more alike than different. Some people forget this sometimes and only focus on our differences. 
  5. Talk about Neurodiversity as another type of human difference. We have different colour eyes, different shaped noses, different skills, different dreams and interests and Neurodiversity is a big word to explain that we also have different types of brains or neurology. Neurology means how we think, sense, feel and communicate and humans do that in a number of different ways. Autistic people are really sensitive so that means that we see things others may not notice. It means that we hear things far away as if they were up close to us. It means that things can annoy us that others won’t even notice and it means we have big emotions because we feel things very deeply. We are big thinkers too! We think a lot and love to figure out how things work. Some kids will play with toys and we do too but some times we’ll study the toys to figure out how they work coz we have inquisitive minds. Being inquisitive is a good thing and Autistic people are really good inventors of things, of art and of ideas. We often don’t accept what someone tells us until we figure it out ourselves. 
  6. Normalise it! Explain that we have Autistic people in the world and we have people who are not Autistic. We have people who communicate mainly through speech and people who mainly communicate through art or typing. Whatever differences we may have we are still all human and we are more alike than different. Differences are a good thing. It would be a very boring world if we all thought the same. Imagine a world with no new ideas! How boring would that be! Differences make us human and differences make us equal because those differences mean that we are all unique and that we all bring something really important to our family, friends and everyone around us. 

We also have a free downloadable guide here which you may find helpful when you’re explaining autism to your child

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