Parents often agonize over if and when they should tell their child he or she has autism or other developmental issues. If your child had asthma, or diabetes, you wouldn't keep it from her. If she is on the spectrum or has ADHD or OCD, telling her is still the right thing to do. Your child needs to know. You need to be comfortable discussing your child's diagnosis intelligently and unemotionally. This means working to get past being tongue-tied when people ask you. Talking about the diagnosis doesn't need to be THE talk. It's actually better to share information as things come up. For example, "We are going to occupational therapy to learn ways to calm down when your head hurts from all the noise around you."
A child is ready to know about her diagnosis when she begins asking questions like why it's hard to have friends, or why handwriting is difficult, or why certain noises bother her more than other people. Not beginning to talk about your child's differences will have a negative impact on self-esteem because by this point your child knows something is going on.
Dr. Stephen Shore has developed a four step approach:
1. Discuss strengths and challenges which your child is experiencing.
2. Align your child's strengths and challenges in two columns.
3. Next make nonjudgmental comparisons by looking at friends and family members and how they compensate for their challenges by using their strengths.
4. Finally discuss the diagnosis by talking about how your child's set of challenges and characteristics match those with autism or other developmental conditions.
Dr. Shore stresses that there is no particular age to begin discussing your child's diagnosis. There is no need for a "sit down" talk. Stephen recalled how his parents used the word autism matter-of-factly just like they would talk about brown hair or blue eyes, and this is how he recommends parents go about the process with their children. Start with the positive aspects of ASD, such as what your child is really good at or knowledgeable about. People with ASDs often have an incredible memory for detail, especially on their special interest. They are usually very honest with other people and say whatever is on their mind. It's important to tell your child all the "good stuff" about him that you would never want to change.
Parents can explain in a matter of fact way that having a spectrum disorder or ADHD just means that your brain works a little differently which makes some things harder but some things easier. Stress your love and devotion in helping your child become all he can be. These issues will come up repeatedly in various contexts, so it's important to realize that just one talk won't suffice. This is all part of the evolving journey of acceptance for parents, children with special needs, and their siblings.
This Sunday, Professor Stephen Shore will be the featured contributor to Guy Talk atwww.autismbrainstorm.org. You can sign up and watch live at 9:00 PM eastern or see the recording later on YouTube.