When to Tell Your Child About Their Autism Diagnosis

tell child about their autism

It’s never easy for a parent to hear that their child has autism. It’s even harder for parent to relay this information to their child, knowing that their entire world is about to change. Mary Hickey, mother of three sons with varying degrees of autism, knows this struggle all too well.

Her oldest son was granted his autism diagnosis at an early age. For her second son, the wait was longer, receiving his diagnosis at the age of eight. Her youngest received his diagnosis just after turning four.  Each of them has responded in a different way to their diagnoses. The common thread? Hickey’s inspiring and encouraging words to her sons at these life-changing times:

“Every person has things that are easy for them and things that they are working on. Your brain works in a very special way- that is called autism. It means that some things that are hard for other people, like remembering numbers and all the states and capitols, are easy for you. But it also means that some things, like understanding conversations or what people are trying to say, can be hard for you. It is why sometimes noises, smells and the feeling of things bother you too. But it also means that you are amazing for how hard you work to get through it all! There are a lot of strategies we can use to help make the things that are tough a bit easier. There are lots of people in the world with autism and so many of them have done amazing things. Would you like to learn about some of them?”

Hickey emphasizes the fact that there was no fixed age that was right for her sons to hear about their autism. She has found a common denominator though in that she has allowed her sons to explore the world and recognize their differences from the children around them.

Each and every time this occurs, Hickey reminds her sons that different is not bad: it’s just different. There is no need to disguise autism for something it’s not, or to pretend it doesn’t exist. The best way to make life livable in a household affected by ASD is to openly embrace it and all the unique perspectives offered by everyone.

The initial conversation may be tough, but it’s important for children to recognize their strengths and limitations on some scale. It can simply help to explain why they see things in a different light, and that they need not be limited by their diagnosis. Hickey does an excellent job of relaying this information and provides profound insight into the importance of being open about autism, especially in the home.

by Sara Power, Fordham University