How to Tell Your Kid He’s Autistic

There seems to be a real rash of TV shows needing to tell kids that they are autistic.  There was a lot of stuff last week when they made the big announcement on “Parenthood”.  I don’t watch the show and didn’t tune in especially for this.  However, I looked at the blitz that was in the media afterward, and I wasn’t impressed.  I’ve caught two shows this week that were in reruns along the same topic.  One was “Scrubs” in which the mean doctor tells his wife that their son is autistic.

One thing that bothers me about all of this is first of all that parents act as if the diagnosis is some sort of death sentence for their child.  I don’t care where your child is on the spectrum, parents need to look at the diagnosis as a name that will enable their child to get services in the school system.  That’s the biggest obstacle right there.  Getting services in the school system for your child that has this social issue which translates into all sorts of things.

In this new age of more proactive early intervention services and more proactive parents who are persistent and do not accept the opinion of one doctor if they really feel that there is an issue with their child, the diagnosis especially for kids on the higher end of the spectrum is becoming more common earlier on.  Doctors and therapists who do not have their fingers on the pulse of the autistic community, do not understand that the traditional signs are not as accurate or traditional as they used to be in light of the higher functioning autistic brain.  I still hear things like “they make eye contact, so there is no chance of being autistic” or “they can talk, so there’s no autism issues”.  My favourite is “we’re only seeing a few sensory things and they aren’t that severe”. 

My experience has been that sensory issues, if dealt with early are easier to curtail later on.  It’s also easier to make a repetitive tic more “normal” looking if you start early and modify it down.

The topic at hand still is that overwhelming question of how do you tell your kid?  At our house it was more of a process of putting a real working label on what was already going on at our house.  We already knew that Kale didn’t think the same way as other kids and we already had figured out several ways of combatting that at our house.  Not everyone appreciates the quirky wonderfulness that is the epitome of our children, but there are ways to make the kid okay with it and in translation other people are more okay with it, too.

I know for most parents, they are so worried about the stigma that is the diagnosis that they forget about the good stuff that comes along with it.  It’s very important to remember that giving a name to something that is going on with your child means that someone else has had this issue.  That’s a good thing.  It means that you are not alone.  It means that your child is not alone.  For most of us adults on the spectrum, it was a moment of “okay, I’m not crazy.  There’s a name for this, so that means that at least one other guy out there has this.  That means that I’m not the only weirdo in the universe.”  In spite of what you might think, it really is a comforting thought.

Believe me, if your kid has gotten to school age and they have not realised that they are different…then you have a way big problem on your hands.  the key here is to not turn the different into the equivalent of bad.  Having some self confidence in that difference and realising that it’s okay to look at things from a different perspective does a great deal for a kid.  I’ve often said that I grew up thinking that there was something inherently wrong with me and that I could just change the way I was if I just thought about it a little harder.  That is not a good mindset to have.  It took me a long time to realise that parents who grew up in a cookie cutter world just couldn’t understand not being a cookie.

As I said, at our house, it was more a struggle to get a name put to the “problem” than actually dealing with the “problem”.  The hardest thing in our universe was getting my family to understand that it didn’t change Kale to have this label.  It just changed the way that the school was dealing with his pretty unique issues.  We still dealt with him the exact same way. 

The next thing was getting Kale’s dad to deal with the label.  He’s never dealt with it.  Truthfully, you can’t have a kid like ours and not know that there’s some stuff going on there that is not like other kids.  You can’t have a kid like ours and not know that he is the proverbial square peg in a round hole.  A very square peg in a very round hole.  So, not dealing with it is doing a huge dis-service to yourself and the kid.  You can’t tell someone not to tic or not to have physical things because that is involuntary.  Can’t help that. Can’t stop it.  So move on.  It’s a stress reaction to whatever is going on. Truthfully, that little tick sometimes keeps my mouth out of trouble.

My main goal as a parent of a kid who was the same brand of weird as I was to raise him knowing that weird was okay and it was not a bad word.  My goal was that he would be happy and comfortable in his skin and never think that his way of doing things was not okay for him.  Quirkiness is in the eye of the beholder and truthfully not everyone can just go through life with everything just clicking into place and swimming along with the current.  Some people are destined and determined to swim upstream and against the current, that is their purpose. 

I don’t know how you are going to tell your kid about the spectrum.  I only know what worked for our family.  However, if I can make a suggestion or two….make it obvious that there is nothing wrong with it.  Make it certain that having a name for what’s going on with you helps people who provide help to others to provide the help that is most likely to be very good for you.  Make it evident that the unique way of thinking that comes along with the spectrum is not so great in the cookie cutter world of public school systems but very sought after in the world as we know it.  Although every strives to be the same in this small portion of the world we live in, it is not in reality what makes the world a better place to live in.

People who march to their own drummers are the ones that change the world and make it better for those of you who can’t find your inner drummer.  People who go against the grain and the current are the ones who ask the really big questions and make us all think about what we are really doing in this world and to this world.  People who have their own drummers and their own paintbrushes and their own microscopes are the ones who change the world and usually for the better.  These people are integral to the world advancing in a positive way.

I think alot about the commercial where they ask what would happen if we stuck with the first thing that was invented.  Without the Japanese inventing the electronic shrink ray for every product out there, we would still be carrying around bag phones that only fit in your trunk.  Without the genius who said, why shouldn’t our phones be more like our computers, there would be no facebook, no twitter, no foursquare or any of the other diversions that we all love and have become enslaved to.

I love the idea of the tablet computer.  I practically carry my netbook with me everywhere I go anyway, especially around NaNo time in November.  I really love the idea of a computer that interfaces by plugging your phone into it.  I’ve told my husband that if he’ll buy me a tablet, that I will get rid of my netbook, my Kindle and my Zune because they can all be segwayed into the tablet.  All of my devices in one one simple device seems like some futuristic wet dream that I can actually touch.  If that device would be my camera and my phone imagine the possibilities.  I am and it makes me giddy.

So, the bottom line is that I don’t know how you are going to tell your kid.  I don’t know what works for your family.  I can only tell you what worked for mine.  I know that you need to be sensible and not treat it as if it’s some sort of death sentence that can’t be dealt with.  I know that I wish someone in my life would have understood that my wildly creative imagination was a gift and not something that should have been condensed into a box.

Good luck with telling your kid if you need to.  If you need advice, just ask.  Good luck with making your family understand.  For them, you will need to be armed.  Good luck with dealing with it yourself if you aren’t on the spectrum.  For that you will need to be armed, too.