When and how to tell a child that he or she is autistic

A lot of people are unsure how to tell their child that they have autism after they have been diagnosed.  Sometimes they think their child is too young, and that they will not understand what is being said to them.  Other times they worry that their child will view themselves differently after diagnosis.  People often ask if there is a right way, and time to tell a child that they are autistic.

The best way to tell somebody is the same way that they would be told anything else; they  will have gone for an assessment so they may know there is a possibility that they are autistic, depending on their age.   Therefore the best thing to do is to sit them down, and say to them `you are autistic` and explain the positives and negatives of that situation.  If they are too young to understand what autism is, and what their tests have been for, then just mention autism in conversation and around the house frequently, that way they will grow up knowing about it and knowing they have it, and it probably won’t even be necessary to sit down and tell them.

Most autistic people don’t regard autism as a positive or a negative – they simply see it as normality for them.   It might be difficult for somebody who is first diagnosed, and the most important thing to do is to explain that this is not some kind of degenerative disease – it is not an illness – that they are still the same person after diagnosis as they were before.  And in fact, being diagnosed could lead to a lot of positive changes as they may now have the support of professionals, and other people in the autistic community.   Explain to them how common autism is, and point out certain celebrities and high-achievers who are autistic.  Don’t break it to them as if it is terrible news, but equally don’t patronise and be overly positive.   It is not a negative event, nor is it fantastic – it just is what it is.

It is perfectly normal for somebody to struggle getting to grips with the fact that they are autistic to start with, but it’s just a normal for somebody to take it in their stride.  As for when to tell somebody, tell them as soon as you know yourself.   Whatever a parent or professional might think, there is generally nothing to be gained from withholding such important information from an individual.

Generally, the people who find diagnosis the most stressful are the parents.  They tend to feel that they need to get their heads around the fact that the child is autistic before telling the child, but many children say that they would like to be given this information as quickly as possible.   Even though some people find the process of being diagnosed difficult, it is something every autistic person needs to go through, and sheltering children from it will do them no good in the long run.


  • Erik Voigt says:

    My son is HFA and just turned ten and we have not told him. I also have a daughter who is LFA and nonverbal so we could not communicate it to her anyway. We are afraid if he knew he would worry and think he is sick so it’s better not to say anything. We live in a small town and everyone knows the situation and is good with it so until I have to say something I won’t.

    I have come to terms with things myself, that is not an issue I just don’t want him to dwell on it so I am waiting until he is ready.

    • Jam says:

      Just because someone is nonverbal does not mean they cannot understand what you say to them. The only thing “nonverbal” means is that they cannot use spoken words to communicate. There are many nonverbal autistic people who learn to communicate through nonverbal signals, or written language, or other alternative means. I would say a vast majority of nonverbal autistic people do understand speech to some extent. Talk to her as if she can understand you. If she can understand you, then she will feel appreciated and human. If she cannot understand you, you have lost nothing in speaking to her as if she can. (I don’t mean that you should expect her to follow your verbal instructions. I mean like, if you say something, for example “I love you,” then say it like you know she understands you, not like you are talking to a wall.)

      I have ASD and am considered “high-functioning.” I would be very upset if my parents did not tell me this immediately once I was diagnosed. I was diagnosed as an adult, however, so I did not have this problem. I wish that I had known when I was younger so that I would not have felt so broken and alien and non-human for so long.

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