Whose role is it to disclose a child’s autism – the child or the parent?

talkA child revealing their autism to somebody whom they consider a friend is one thing, but what about a parent mentioning it in conversation to somebody at work, to a neighbour, or talking to a friend on the phone about it?  Should they have the right to do this, or is it not their place to reveal personal information that their child might not want to be revealed?

Below are a list of pros and cons to consider when it comes to parents talking about their child`s autism

Pros

  • Better understanding – by telling people the parents might create a better understanding of their child`s autism, so people will understand the child is not misbehaving or being anti-social – they are autistic.
  • Raising awareness – they would also raise awareness of autism itself; not just being able to give a positive message about their child, but about any other autistic people the person they told might meet.
  • Less judgemental – people will probably be less judgemental, both of the person with autism and their behaviour, and also of the parents.
  • Offer help rather than criticism – they may even offer to help the parents; whether in a practical way, or simply being there for them to talk to.

Cons

  • It`s not yours to reveal – this is the most basic con.  If the child themselves has not revealed their autism, then it isn’t really the parents place to do it for them, until the child is able to consent.
  • Opens the child up to being bullied and judged – as well as perhaps creating a better understanding, it also risks making the child a target.  There is a difference between the child themselves deciding they are willing to take that risk, and the parents forcing it upon them by revealing the information to neighbours, for example.
  • Anger/Embarrassment – when the child is old enough to understand and make a conscious decision, they may decide they don’t want to reveal their autism to people.  They may then feel angry, or embarrassed that people they don’t even really know are already aware of it.
  • Trust issues – the child may well feel that their trust has been betrayed if something has been revealed about them that they might not have wanted revealed – especially if the first they know about it is somebody they barely know commenting to them about their autism.

Autism itself is nothing to be ashamed of, and lots of people are quite happy being open and honest about their autism.   But ultimately it is something that is very personal to the individual – so is it ever really ok for somebody else to reveal something about it?

Perhaps the simplest way of working out the pros and cons is to just ask the child.  It is true that people’s opinions can change as they grow older, but that doesn’t mean that the views of children shouldn’t be respected.

A lot of autistic people are irritated by the fact that their parents will often casually mention their autism to people they don’t know, but the best thing to do, as with everything, is to simply be led by the person it affects – let the autistic person make up their mind who they want to tell and when, and respect that.

This report is the third in a series. The first about disclosure in a job interview and the second disclosing to friends or strangers.