Our son is fully aware of his autism diagnosis and has been for years. As we have learned, and he has learned, we have made a habit of sharing our knowledge together as much as possible (and as appropriate).
After we received his diagnosis, we considered how to tell him and while we were still digesting the news, one of my colleagues arranged a lunch date with me, herself, and her adult son on the spectrum.
When talking about how to tell our son about the diagnosis, his advice was:
Still, we found ourselves stumbling into the conversation only six weeks after we received the diagnosis.
My husband and I were not yet ready to have the discussion but it became clear that our son needed to know after he announced “he was stupid because he kept getting sent out of the classroom because he couldn’t do the work.”
I hated his coming to that heartbreaking conclusion all by himself. The conversation had to take place right away because our child was in pain and we needed to do something about it.
I think we did pretty well at not using too many technical terms, and we emphasized all the good things that came with the way his brain was put together.
We were specific, as much as we could be in the early stages of our understanding, about the gifts and challenges he experienced.
We also talked about how we would work as a team on his challenges, giving him tools and strategies to eventually manage them on his own.
We talked about his strengths, talking about people on television or famous people that also have autism, and the successes they have experienced. He liked the idea that Einstein may have had autism.
Most importantly, he seemed relieved to know that his struggles at school weren’t because he lacked something, and instead stemmed from coming at things from a different direction.
It has been years since that talk, and when I prepared to write this article I asked him what he remembered of the conversation.
“Nothing,” he answered. “It is like I have always known that I had autism.”
I like to think that means that we did our job well.
And for us the conversation doesn’t really end with one talk. Like all important parent-child conversations, such as about avoiding drugs and alcohol, or understanding reproductive and sexual health, it isn’t a sit-down-one-weekend-and-you’re-done kind of thing.
As he grows and his developmental understanding becomes more sophisticated, with every challenge and every success, we try to weave it all into a cohesive tapestry that makes sense to him.
Our goal is 360 degree knowledge of himself that is based in self-love and constantly-reinforced total acceptance.