When should I tell my child about their Autism diagnosis?
by Neerja Anand
On 05 January, 2021
Louis and Marie of Clinton county live the ideal life. He is a successful criminal lawyer on his way up in the legal circles and Marie is a leading architect specializing in hotels. They live with their three children in a beautiful setting with picket fences, well-maintained lawns, and two rescue dogs. Their kids aged 10 years, 8 years and 5 years are the center of their universe. They had noticed and so did their nanny that the youngest in the family, young Jo was a little different. She seemed withdrawn, did not interact with her siblings, and was generally less communicative. Initially, they ignored it thinking all children are unique and had their own growth trajectories. However, with time it did not go away but intensified. Worried they browsed the internet and consulted professionals. An evaluation by a psychologist led to the discovery that Jo has an autism spectrum disorder.
Unsettled by the discovery, a wide gamut of thoughts enveloped their mind and as they took time to process this news, one of the questions that arose in the minds of Louis and Marie was - When should I tell Jo about her Autism diagnosis? Discussing the diagnosis with your child is an important part of the process and parents ideally should seek professional advice on this sensitive issue.
A number of determining factors need to be kept in mind by the parents and the counselor when preparing to tell your child about their diagnosis. These factors include and are not limited to the child’s personality, abilities, and social awareness. If the child sends out signals such as questions like “What is wrong with me?” “Why can’t I be like everybody else?” then you know it is time to tell them about their diagnosis. Other children may not be able to vocalize their sentiments, but have the same thoughts playing on their mind. Look for non – verbal cues.
It is often advisable to have the talk or series of talks before the child overhears conversations or someone else, even if well-meaning, talks or remarks to the child inadvertently. This may cause the child to get disturbed and have its own impact on their psyche. Many individuals get diagnosed when they are in their teens or even later. These persons undergo unpleasant incidents which affect them and can affect the choice of when to tell them about their diagnosis.
With the help of a certified counselor, Louis and Marie waited till Jo was a little older before they gently talked to her in detail about the diagnosis. The whole family was present as a single unit during the talk. This was the first step on the long road to therapy for Jo and the family. Communication is the key to all issues and an ally in the ASD journey of discovery.