You have the diagnosis and probably a ton of medical jargon. How on earth are you meant to explain this to your child who is, if they have been diagnosed young, still learning to write their name?
Many parents have this worry as they don’t want their child to think of themselves as abnormal or be worried about who they are, but I can confirm that your child probably already knows they are different. Not telling your child could cause more harm, as if they know they are different but don’t know why, they will end up confused and have low-self esteem.
Children are very observant, especially when they are around their peers and hear comments about them when adults think they’re not listening, so chances are they already know, but just don’t have a word for it yet.
The first step is to address your own views on the subject so that you don’t pass on any worries to your child. Every parent has worries, and it is natural to ask yourself how your child will struggle, but even without a diagnosis your child is still autistic and they just need the right accommodations to thrive.
Create a safe space for your child so that you can calmly have this conversation. Have to hand their favourite snacks, a cuddly blanket and keep the room clear of extra people.
Start simple with things they already experience, such as “so you know how loud sounds hurt your ears?” or “I’ve found out why some foods taste really bad to you.” Then lead into the facts, that this is because they are autistic, that it isn’t anything to worry about and that it just means their brain works differently to other people’s.
If they are older and can handle a bit of terminology, explain that they have different sensory needs or may need help with their social skills, but try and avoid negative words such as ‘disorder’ or ‘struggle’. This is your child’s first introduction to having a diagnosis, and it needs to be positive.
Be open to questions, even if you don’t know the answers. You can use this as a bonding experience by looking at different resources together or looking up autistic creators. You can shop for stim toys together and make a list of safe foods and safe spaces.
Your child may be upset. It’s only natural to have big feelings when a new thing comes into play, and a diagnosis can be a very big thing even if they don’t quite understand it yet. Just reassure them that you are there for them, you will learn with them and it is not a thing to ‘overcome’ or ‘beat’, it is who they are and that is wonderful.
End the conversation showing them some celebrities or creators who are autistic and show them how autistic brains are wonderful in their differences. Make a list together of the positives of being autistic relating to your child, so that they can have something to look back on if they have a hard time.
Not only is this the first conversation you will have with your child about their diagnosis, but it will be your beginning on being an advocate for your child. Your child will look to you to check if it is okay to be authentic as an autistic person, and if they have your support and acceptance then they will continue to grow and accept themselves.