A 4 Step Plan
If your child had a virus, or asthma, or diabetes, you wouldn’t keep it from her. If she was in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t be asking this question. However, if she has Autism or ADHD or OCD, or any other invisible condition, telling her is still the right thing to do. Perhaps a better question is, “who would you want to tell your child about her condition?”
You need to be comfortable discussing your child’s diagnosis intelligently and unemotionally. This means working to get past being tongue-tied when people ask you. Talking about the diagnosis doesn’t need to be THE talk. It’s better to share information as things come up. For example, “We are going to occupational therapy to learn ways to calm down when your head hurts from all the noise around you.”
Stephen Shore has an interview about telling your child about his autism diagnosis. A child is considered ready to know when he begins asking questions why it’s hard to have friends, or why certain noises bother him, etc. By this point your child knows something is going on, so not talking about it will have a negative impact on self-esteem.
Stephen has developed a four step approach:
1. Discuss your child’s strengths and challenges.
2. Align your child’s strengths and challenges. For example, your child may have poor handwriting but be very good on the computer. A good way to compensate may be to do writing assignments on the computer.
3. Next make nonjudgmental comparisons by looking at friends and family members and how they compensate for their challenges by using their strengths.
4. Finally, reveal and discuss the diagnosis by talking about how your child’s set of challenges and characteristics lineup with autism or another diagnosis.
Using the example of autism, start with the positive aspects, such as what your child is really good at or knowledgeable about. People with ASDs often have an incredible memory for detail. They are usually very honest with other people and say whatever is on their mind. It’s important to tell your child all the “good stuff” about him that you would never want to change.
You could then explain in a matter of fact way that having an autism spectrum disorder just means that your brain works a little differently which makes some things harder but some things easier. Children with ASD often get “stuck” on a behavior or topic and have difficulty understanding how others think and feel, so they need extra help. Stress your love and devotion in helping your child become all he can be.