Autism definitely isn’t as negative as it is sometimes portrayed as being in the media. But it would be fair to say that it does come with its own set of challenges, and difficulties. These will be different for each autistic individual. But it is impossible to find somebody with autism who hasn’t struggled with some aspect of it at some point in their life. So what is the right thing to say to somebody at the point of diagnosis? Would it be `I am very sorry to tell you, you`re autistic?` Or would it be `Congratulations! You have autism.`?
First of all if definitely wouldn’t be `I`m sorry to say you have autism.` It is not the nineteen fifties anymore, and people should be aware that autism isn’t a curse. It is not brought on by a lack of love from family members, and it doesn’t mean that the recently diagnosed individual is going to live a life completely devoid of any contact, or human interaction. A diagnosis of autism isn’t a terrible thing, and so it shouldn’t be treated or discussed as if it is.
So what about `Congratulations! You`re autistic.`? There are a few problems with this – the biggest of which is that it appears to gloss over that actual genuine worries, and concerns the individual might have about being diagnosed autistic. Children are often very scared on the day of diagnosis, but adults who have lived thirty or forty years thinking they were neuro-typical can be even more scared. People need time to react, and adjust to a piece of news as big as this. Bombarding them with positives isn’t always helpful.
So what should be said? There is nothing wrong with being simplistic. Saying `You meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism` is absolutely fine. It should be presented in a simple and straight forward manner. This allows the person who is being diagnosed to react with their own honest emotions and feelings. The sentence isn’t being manipulated, and presented in a way that fits with the views of the person doing the diagnosing, be they good or bad. It is a simple statement of fact that can be reacted to according to how the person being diagnosed actually feels. Providing information in a realistic way, and practical way is more helpful than being overly negative or overly positive.
Autism can`t be described as a completely negative, and tragic diagnosis. But it is also naïve to pretend that it is completely positive. Like everything in life, there are bad and good points. Autistic individuals will have to encounter these for themselves, and make up their own minds about how they feel about themselves, and their autism. This isn’t for a professional to do at the moment of diagnosis. Autism shouldn’t be presented as negative or positive, it should just be presented as a simple fact. When the person is comfortable in the fact that they have been diagnosed, then the various positives and negatives can start to be discussed. It is important for the person doing the diagnosing to remember that their personal opinions don’t matter. However, they can affect how people view themselves, and their autism, so should be kept out of the moment of diagnosis.