By Amber Tanski
Finding a definition of autism is simple. Any google search will bring up an answer. Explaining the diagnosis to the child affected by Autism is another matter entirely. Each child is unique and autism spectrum disorders are complex. Therefore, every explanation will be different from when to tell a child to how to you discuss it with him or her.
The timing of this conversation depends on a child’s personality, abilities and awareness (Wheeler 2018). One sign of readiness is when children ask, “What is wrong with me?” or “Why do I feel so different?”. Help them understand themselves and why they feel this way by giving them some information about their diagnosis. Some, especially younger children, may only need minimal information to start. Jennifer Bittner discusses how she explained it to her young son:
“Autism is a way that some people’s brains are wired. It may make them think or feel a little differently than other people. It may also make it difficult to concentrate if there is noise around, or make it hard to eat foods with certain textures, or might make someone want to chew on things that aren’t food. They might have trouble calming down if they get really excited, or need to walk in circles.”
This explanation might be the child’s first introduction to autism. Having an individualized and meaningful conversation is important. Be careful with which words you choose and how you present autism. You do not want them to see themselves as flawed or different from society. They are unique in their own way, just like everyone else. You do not want to limit a child’s expectations of what they can achieve in life.
In her article, “How I Explained My Son’s Autism Diagnosis to Him “, Jennifer also explains, “I did not want the truth to be damaging. I wanted it to be illuminative and empowering. I hoped that having knowledge of his autism spectrum disorder would improve his understanding of how his brain works and help him be more patient with himself.”
A mother of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, Celina Miller, offers strategies on how to approach the topic in her article “5 Strategies to Explain Autism to a Child Who’s Affected by Autism”. One piece of advice that Miller gives is to seek professional help. Your child’s doctor or specialist has most likely dealt with similar situations before. He or she can advise you on your child’s readiness and ways to explain Autism. If you would like more support, you can make a specific appointment to have the discussion with both your child and the doctor present to best answer any questions your child may have.
Explaining autism to a child with autism can be challenging. Celina says taking the time to think of what questions your child might have can make the talk go more smoothly. She also suggests making note cards of autism facts and statistics. You may not know the answers to all of your child’s questions, but having a game plan helps you feel more calm and collected during the conversation. If you need further assistance, there are also books written solely for the purpose of explaining Autism, such as Autism is… by Ymke Wieder-van der Lan.
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Bittner, J. (2015, March 26). How I Explained My Son’s Autism Diagnosis to Him. Retrieved from https://themighty.com/2015/03/how-to-explain-autism-to-your-child-with-autism/.
Miller, C. (2012, July 24). 5 Strategies to Explain Autism to a Child Who’s Affected by Autism. Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/blog/2014/05/22/5-strategies-explain-autism-child-whos-affected-autism.
Wheeler, M. (2018). Indiana University Bloomington. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/getting-started-introducing-your-child-to-his-or-her-diagnosis-of-autism-or-asperger-syndrome-article.
Amber Tanski is a Content Marketing Specialist for DrOmnibus, a company creating ABA DrOmnibus – Resources App. An all in one tool with a direct focus on resources for therapy, including baseline assessment, built-in and personalized ABA programs, graphs and video modeling. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology, Amber has worked with a diverse population through her job as a Line Therapist for young children with Autism, being a Personal Trainer for a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome and working as a Personal Care Assistant for a woman with Muscular Dystrophy. She currently develops content for DrOmnibus utilizing her unique experience.
*Paid content by DrOmnibus.