Telling your child they’re autistic

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.

Things you can do before talking to your child

Research is very valuable, however the wrong research can lead you down a rabbit hole of worry and doubt. There is a lot of stereotypical, ableist research out there from neurotypicals who see autism as a disorder rather than a neurotype and this can cause parents to panic, concerned for their child’s future. No one will understand your child more than an autistic adult who has been in the same position, and so reading resources from autistic creators is extremely beneficial.

Facebook pages that I would recommend are:

Typical questions that may be asked by your child

“Why am I different?”
“What do I do?”
“Will people treat me differently?”

“What if someone calls me names?”
“What about school?”
“Are there others like me?”

Age appropriate resources for you and your child

Neurodiversity Celebration Week Portal:
This portal contains a range of information suitable for both parent and child. The website also hosts panels to discuss topics surrounding disabilities which may be helpful for parents.

Little Puddings
Contains social stories, print outs and parental resources to help with early development.

The Nurture Program
Created for parents by parents with neurodivergent children, The Nurture Program offers support, guidance and training programmes to help parents understand their child without too much confusing information.

Thinking Persons Guide to Autism
Recourses written by autistic people and parents, including articles and useful organisations.

Young child

Lola Rabbit –suitable for small children, the story follows Lola Rabbit at school and shows how the class supports her.
Too Sticky! By Jennifer Malia
Autistic Ollie by Jacob Drum

Middle grade

Can You See Me by Libby Scott
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
The Awesome Autistic Go To Guide by Yenn Purkis
The Spectrum Girl’s Survival Guide by Siena Castellon

Young Adult & Parents

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
How to be Autistic by Charlotte Amelia Poe
Nanette by Hannah Gadsby
Sincerely, Your Autistic Child by Emily Paige Ballou
We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia
Odd Girl Out by Laura James
The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin
Books by Dr Janina Scarlett –therapy books told in the narrative of superheroes, wizards or magical beings.