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.