Many parents wonder about the right time to tell their child that he or she has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Common concerns centre around the child feeling different or ostracized, the child having limited options, or the child using the diagnosis as an escape technique (e.g., “I can’t do my homework because I have ASD”). Although parents and family members may waver about whether or not to reveal the diagnosis, it ultimately helps the child understand his or her own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
Problems and challenges may be more likely to arise if the child is unaware of the diagnosis and therefore does not seek the appropriate support. For example, the children may not understand why:
- they frequently see adults or therapists for support
- social interactions and relationships can be so challenging
- they are frequently reprimanded for not displaying skills that they don’t have
- they have low self-esteem
There is no universal time to share your child’s diagnosis; this all depends on individual abilities, challenges, and personality. It may be best to aim to share the diagnosis at a younger age as long as the child appears ready.
Some approaches to take for how to share the diagnosis may include discussions about:
- individual differences and likes/dislikes
- visible and invisible differences
- positive aspects of the diagnosis
Family resources for more information:
Faherty, C. (2000). Autism: What does it mean to be me? A workbook explaining self-awareness and life lessons to the child or youth with high-functioning autism or Aspergers. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons, Inc.
Jackson, L. (2003). Freaks, geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A user guide to adolescence. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd.
Elder, J. (2006). Different like me: My book of autism heroes. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd.