One of the most common questions I am asked by parents whose children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is, “Should I share the diagnosis with my child?” My initial response typically has to do with the effects of keeping secrets. This topic has spawned much research over the past several decades. Put simply, hiding secrets is hard work. You have to be careful about what you say, and if asked something about the secret, you have to carefully craft your answer. Keeping secrets requires constant vigilance and deception. According to researchers, the problem with keeping a secret is not that you have to hide something, but that you have to live with it and think about it every day. And as a psychologist with 30 plus years’ experience treating children and families who are impacted by an ASD, I can tell you, eventually your child with an ASD will find out about the diagnosis.
One of the many reasons parents hesitate to share their child’s diagnosis with them is because of their own reaction to the diagnosis. Another is because of the stigma often associated with a psychiatric diagnosis, special needs, or just being different. And probably most important, we don’t want our children to focus on viewing their diagnosis as limiting their dreams and achievements. It is important for parents to meet with a psychologist to process their own feelings and to help formulate the best way to present this information to their child.
When sharing your child’s diagnosis, it is important to present this information in a positive light, spotlighting their many strengths and abilities. You can also discuss their frustrations, which in turn may offer an understanding of why they react the way they do, e.g., not being able to tolerate hearing the vacuum cleaner, wanting to wear the same color shirt every day, and not understanding what kind of information to share with others. One mother told me she said to her child, “Your autism is why some things are difficult for you and why you become frustrated so easily, and why teachers come after school to work with you.” This was after her 5-year-old son asked,” Why do I have teachers who come after school when my friends don’t?” Put simply, her son already knew he was different from his peers, but now he had a better understanding of why. Then there was the mother of a 12-year-old boy who came into my office wide-eyed and said, “I told my son about his diagnosis!” to which I replied, “What was his reaction?” His mother went on to explain that he already knew because he had learned about it on the Internet. Her son then went on to proudly offer a list of names of successful people who also shared the diagnosis! So in conclusion, please consult with a psychologist who can help you articulate to your child why he/she has certain struggles and why he/she is so unique, and so that you are comfortable sharing this information.
If you need more information from a Autism Spectrum Disorder please contact me.