5 Tips on How to Tell Your Child About Their Autism Diagnosis

Before parents even think about how to tell their child about their autism diagnosis, many parents come to us asking if they even should. They have understandable concerns that their child might feel “broken” or use the diagnosis as an excuse not to strive. They may feel different from their peers in a negative way, or worse, that they are incapable.

Disclosing your child’s diagnosis to them is a deeply personal family decision. However, at this point, many autistic adults have come forward to tell us that learning the nature of their differences provides crucial context. Becoming familiar with their diagnosis empowers them to tackle challenges with resilience

This conversation, while daunting, is an opportunity to affirm your child’s identity, strengths, and potential. It’s about framing autism as a distinct way of interacting with the world, and with that come both strengths and challenges. Engaging in this dialogue early and positively can set the foundation for your child’s self-understanding and acceptance.

When Should I Tell My Child?

Deciding when to tell your child about their autism diagnosis depends on the individual child’s ability to understand and process this information. It’s a decision that weighs factors like the child’s age, emotional maturity, and current understanding of differences among people. 

Some children may benefit from knowing early on, as it can provide a framework for understanding their experiences and challenges. For others, waiting until they have a greater capacity to comprehend the diagnosis might be more beneficial.

The goal is always to empower the child, providing them with knowledge at a time when they can use it to foster self-acceptance and resilience.

How Should I Tell My Child?

Once you have made the decision to tell your child about their autism diagnosis, use the following tips as a guide.

  1. Remain Positive

When discussing an autism diagnosis with your child, be sure to stay positive in order to ensure your child has a healthy self-image. By emphasizing their strengths and unique abilities, rather than dwelling on the challenges, you encourage them to view their autism as an essential part of their identity, yet not something that defines their entire being.

  1. Tailor The Information To Your Child

Tailoring the information means presenting the diagnosis in a way that’s comprehensible and relevant to your child’s level of understanding, ensuring the conversation is meaningful and supportive. As autism is on a spectrum, there are many attributes your child may already relate to autism in general but may not apply to their own experience. Be sure to be specific in what strengths or challenges you focus on, and ensure they feel both seen and understood for who they are as an individual.

  1. Share Books Featuring Autistic Characters

Introducing books with autistic characters can offer your child a mirror to their own world, providing a sense of belonging and validation. These stories can broaden their understanding and acceptance of autism, showcasing both the challenges and triumphs of individuals like them. Here are a few we recommend:

  • Just Ask by Sonia Sotomayor
  • All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism by Danielle Royer and Shaina Rudolph
  • Uniquely Wired: A Story About Autism and Its Gifts by Julia Cook
  1. Keep the Conversation Ongoing

Some parents go into the conversation thinking disclosing the diagnosis will be a one-time event. In reality, it is an ongoing conversation: reminding the child of their autism, making it a regular part of the overall family conversation, and changing just as your child’s presentation of autism will shift over time.

Make it your goal instead to create a supportive space for your child to express their evolving thoughts and emotions. This will allow for healthy emotional processing and a stronger parent-child bond. 

  1. Reassure Them They Are Not Alone

As you discuss your child’s autism with them, be sure to mention others they know who are autistic, whether it’s a well-known celebrity or a friend or relative. Introducing them to the broader autism community can be incredibly empowering, providing even younger children with a sense of belonging and understanding. This connection with others who share similar experiences can offer comfort, reduce feelings of isolation, and foster a supportive network.

Telling your child about their autism diagnosis is a significant step toward fostering their self-awareness and acceptance. It’s about embracing individuality, promoting resilience, and reinforcing the message that they are not alone. 

For more information on disclosing an autism diagnosis, or any other questions, reach out here.