Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Telling My Child He Has Autism

How do you tell your child they have autism?

Seriously, how do you do this?

We needed to tell our youngest son, now 10 years old, about his diagnosis; yet I didn’t know the first thing about how to do it.

The last thing I wanted to do was make my son feel “broken” or “less than”. I wanted him to understand his source of struggles, while at the same time embrace his brilliant uniqueness.

Honestly, I didn’t want to screw this up and scar him with bad memories. I had horrible visions of him working this out in therapy one day.

So like all questions, I went to Google. I read stories from autistic adults about how they’d wished they were told sooner; I read how some had always known and how others were relieved to finally understand why they felt different in the world. I smiled as I read stories from adults who “found their people” and embraced their uniqueness, seeing it as a gift in some respects.

I then read from experts who warned about making my child feel “diseased” and learned that it was best to tell my son he was “autistic” instead of telling him he had autism.

I even watched scenes from the TV show Parenthood that addressed this very question, I admit I shed a few tears—don’t we all?

And most importantly, I took into account my own child’s personality. This is where my heart settled.

In an effort to make this “not a big deal,” my husband and I agreed that it would be best if I talked to our son alone. We didn’t want the presence of mom and dad to create anxiety where it wasn’t warranted.

Then the day came.

I admit, I was nervous. Not sure why, but it felt like an important moment and I wanted to get it right.

I called my little one over and explained that after all his recent testing, the doctor found out some very helpful information. My son seemed barely interested, unable to sit in one spot as he bounced from the chair to the floor, with a few kicks and body flips in between.

I then told him that the doctor determined that his brain was made differently and that he was autistic. He responded, “Oh cool!”

I explained that this uniqueness gave him special abilities that I didn’t have, like being able to easily memorize songs and TV scripts and being able to use his imagination to play computer games inside his head. He thought this was pretty cool stuff and started to dance around the room doing karate moves like a superhero with special powers. I then explained that this was also the reason that he struggled in many areas like school and church. I pointed out that the good news in all of this was that the doctor knows how to help him.

He responded, with limited attention, “OK.”

In an effort to help him understand the lanuguage he might hear, I explained that the way his brain works is also sometimes called “Aspergers,” in which he responded with a big laugh, “Ass-boogers.”

I then asked him if he had ever heard of the word autism. He said, “Yes, last year when I was in third grade a kid came up to me during recess and said, ‘I think you have autism.’ ”

I held in a laugh as I pondered the irony that a third grader recognized this before his own doctor!

Surrounding him with a big hug, I told him how much I loved him—just the way he was.

After “the talk,” my little one went downstairs and proudly announced to his big brothers, “I’m autistic!” In which they happily replied, “Hey, that’s cool!”

In the end, the conversation went better than I’d imagined, honestly it wasn’t a big deal.

Which is exactly what I’d hoped for.


  1. Mama Bear's MILJanuary 8, 2015 at 8:42 AM

    This is exactly the kind of reaction I would have expected from your little guy. I think he has always been accepting of his unique personality and abilities. What a wonderfully unique kid he is. I know how you were not looking forward to the process of telling him, but glad that you have that part over with now. What a great reaction you got. I think that when he realizes he will get help for those things he struggles with that are not so "cool", he will shine even more. His two brothers gave a great response also. They will continue to help him on his way (well, most of the time anyway). I'm so glad that the part of this process (telling him) is over now.


  2. I love this post! It made me smile :) He sounds like an awesome kid.

  3. This post made me giggle, his response was perfect. It is funny that a third grader was able to diagnose him before his first doctor. With all the support he's going to be able to make his quirkiness really work for him.

  4. I am happy that the conversation went better than you thought.

    From what you are telling to us, he knew something was not quite right, other people reacted that something was not quite right, and he was relieved that you told him officially what is the matter.
    It sounds that he was relieved to know about it.

    About "having autism" vs "being autistic", from experts, I am amazed at such blanket peremptory one-size-has-to-fit-all-people !
    "having autism" and "being autistic" can be both interpreted as "being broken" or neutral, depending how the message is conveyed.
    Instead, I've been reading from people with ASD, ADHD, bipolar... more about preferring "having the disability" rather than "being the disability", while experts warned about the opposite.
    So, better not overthinking about an expert opinion and choose what wording suits best to your children, even if experts' opinion doesn't match yours. The most important is your children being safe and happy, the rest is only literature as we say in France.

    I am also barely surprised that the 3rd grader knew about his ASD before his doctor.
    I notice that children are nowadays more aware at ASD than most doctors.
    This situation may happen more than we think about.

  5. This post really tickled me :)

  6. When I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 6, my parents begged me not to tell anyone. They said it was a secret, and I can still remember 8-year-old me deeming it my deepest, darkest secret and wondering why I had to hide a part of myself. And I felt ashamed and guilty. From the bottom of my heart and soul, I want to thank you for allowing your son to never end up like me. You've shown him the path of acceptance and self-security that I will never know. You are a good parent.

    Katie, 19

    1. Thank you so much Katie for your encouraging words, I am so sorry you had such a negative experience. I hope you are on a more positive path!

  7. Sounds like it couldn't' have gone any better. Just the right balance of information, reassurance & support. well done you! x