Sharing a diagnosis with your child is a potentially complex topic that will ultimately be guided by your values and belief system. While some diagnoses can remain “hidden” from others, a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum is generally more challenging to hide. In the case of ASD, the question becomes when to disclose the diagnosis to your child. I suspect that learning about a diagnosis is a series of conversations, rather than a singular conversation. Keep the information consistent with your child’s level of understanding, and have the conversation repeatedly as your child grows and develops.
- Make it personal Help your child learn about his or her brain, how ASD impacts your child, and use recent examples to support your discussion. “The cool thing about your brain is that you can memorize seemingly anything about sports. The trick is, you need to know when to talk about sports, and how much to share. That can be hard for you sometimes. Remember when Grandma was visiting last week…”
- Use science ASD is a neurobiological condition. Sometimes kids worry that they are “broken” or damaged in some way, or misbehaved and now have ASD. Talk about mirror neurons, different parts of the brain, attention and concentration, and how scientists study ASD. Be certain to also weave in whatever special talents your child has, or topics that fascinate your child, and how that maps onto the brain. If the special topics happen to be something more artistic or theatric, you can still use science!
- Be positive Symptoms presentation changes over time, which means that areas of strength change over time, as do areas of concern. For example, the misery of middle school becomes the joy of graduate school. Middle school is a place where there is much emphasis on socializing, and less emphasis on academics. Grad school is a lovely place where you can hyperfocus on your special interest! Hang in there, it gets better!
- Circle back Talk to your child, again and again, about ASD. Talk about each developmental stage that your child encounters, what she can expect from peers, and expected areas of growth.
Life is a journey. Similarly, disclosing a diagnosis of ASD is a journey. There is room for growth, development, and mistakes. In most instances, sharing a diagnosis of ASD with a child provides a welcome explanation for the child’s experiences. In fact, most parents tell me that they build this Big Discussion up in their own minds, and their children generally report that the disclosure is a non-event. And most families end up discussing ASD again and again. In that spirit, have a great series of non-events!!