How (and when) to tell your kids about their diagnosis
I am in a lot of FaceBook groups and see this question so frequently. Parents are worried their kids won't respond well to learning about their diagnoses. They worry their kids will be upset and feel self-conscious about their differences. Here's the thing. Your kid already knows they are different! You are letting them know HOW they are different and what the plan is to help everyone, including themselves, understand their differences and embrace them. You are helping them make sense of who they are and how they work. You are giving them the necessary tools to succeed in a world not built for them. How do I know your kid knows they're different? Kids notice things adults don't. They might not communicate that they do, but I promise, they know they should be able to sit still in a seat like their classmates. They see everyone else reading while they cannot. They know they get in trouble more than their peers. Even at ages two and three, they can feel that something different is going on. I am not proposing your tell your two-year-old they have autism. At that age, the word doesn't mean a lot. But as they get older, they should have the word to go with their particular difference. And, you CAN use the description regardless of your child's age. Don't hide it from them. Just like you celebrate and embrace their favorite food and color, embrace the part of their personhood that makes them different. If your child is diagnosed later than toddlerhood, describing to them what the process looks like and why you're seeing special doctors is important. At five, seven, especially older, kids know their peers don't go to therapies or psychologists and have special tests. Don't leave them in the dark. All those fears we have as parents that our kids will feel less than if they have or know about a diagnosis are realized when we hide their true selves from them. Will is one of the best people I have the pleasure of knowing. Part of why he is so fabulous is his autism. I also married a man with autism. We didn't know at the time, sure. But his quirks and the way he loves were part of what drew me to him. Mack's ADHD and impulsivity are challenging, but they also make him who he is--goofy, silly, fun, engaging. He sees the world differently than I do and makes sense of things I can't even conceptualize. Will and Leigh are also other worldly. Rory and Kae don't have additional diagnoses, but they have strong, wonderful personalities that make them who they are. Your child's diagnosis is PART of their personality. One to be celebrated, not hidden. Regardless of your child's challenges, keeping them in the loop is part of respectfully parenting the whole child. They know they're different already. Eliminate confusion by keeping them abreast of their diagnoses, therapies, and everything else you do to help them. Ask them what their perfect schooling environment looks like and propose those things during 504 and IEP meetings. Our kids are wiser about their needs than we often give them credit for. Let's embrace their quirks WITH them and invite them into the conversation.