Explaining autism to a family.

If your child has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, you may be wondering what this diagnosis means for them and their future. Along with these overwhelming feelings of confusion and uncertainty, you may be wondering if you should share this news with friends and family and how you should explain it. The good news is, as you come to terms with this new future for your family, you will be able to better understand what and how to share with others; It might just take some time. Here are some tips that will help you when you are explaining autism to family and friends.

1. Process the Diagnosis Yourself First

Although children with autism are often as successful as their peers with individualized treatment based on evidence-based practices, parents of newly diagnosed children often have many hurdles to overcome. Parents often report feeling blame and devastation after their child has been diagnosed with ASD, but also report eagerness in finding adequate supports for their child. After your child is diagnosed for the first time, it is perfectly normal to feel scared and worried about the future. You might now be wondering if your child will ever be able to live on their own or hold down a job. You also might be worried about your child being bullied or judged on the basis of their diagnosis. A million possible obstacles for their future might come to mind. 

It’s important that you take some time in your own family to process the diagnosis and understand that it is not a debilitating or negative condition. Do some research and educate yourself about autism and its possible symptoms. Once you feel more comfortable with the diagnosis and the future yourself, you can decide what information you feel comfortable sharing with others. It is your decision on who and how many people you share the diagnosis with and everyone’s situations are different. So, take the time to decide what is best for your family.

2. Explain the Basics

Although many people know someone with autism or have been touched by it in some way, there are also many people out there who have no experience with autism at all. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to begin explaining autism by describing some of the basic conditions associated with it

Child Playing With Toy Dinosaurs While Parents Explain Autism to Friends.

You can explain that autism is usually associated with difficulty in social and communication skills, repetitive behaviors, and adherence to routine. It also can be accompanied by sensory sensitivities and challenges with paying attention. By explaining autism to family and friends who may not have had experiences with autism before in this way, you can give them some helpful background information. You may even want to recommend or gift resources like articles or books that will help them better understand autism spectrum disorder and what it means for your child.

3. Share Information Specific to Your Child

Autism is a spectrum disorder, with symptoms and severity ranging widely. Some people’s preconceived notions about what autism is may not fit your child. For this reason, it’s often best to explain the specific symptoms and behaviors your child exhibits instead of the all-encompassing term of “autism.”

When you are explaining autism, note that although certain conditions are typically associated with autism (as mentioned above), it varies a lot and can affect people in different ways. Start with the basics, and then you can begin to describe how autism affects your child specifically. You can explain that because of his or her condition, your child has trouble making eye contact. Or explain the adherence to the routine that your child prefers. This will give your friends and family a better understanding of the conditions your child struggles with specifically. 

Also, don’t be afraid to note the positive traits of autism and highlight the strengths of your child. Some people with little or no experience with autism may not understand that people with autism can have a fairly normal life. By noting that your child has great attention to detail, is able to deeply focus, or can absorb and retain extremely detailed information on subjects they are interested in, you can help those people see your child for more than just a diagnosis.

3. Share Suggested Ways to Interact With Your Child

When you first start explaining autism to friends and family, they might not understand all of the jargon and behaviors you identify. For example, they still might have trouble understanding the meltdowns, necessity for routine, or other behaviors your child exhibits. For this reason, you might want to share suggested ways to interact with your child. 

You won’t need to share your child’s treatment plan with everyone, but sharing the do’s and don’ts for your child may be important for adults who care for your child regularly, like a grandparent or teacher. So, walk them through your child’s schedule and make a note of the importance of sticking to it for your child. Let them know of any sensory sensitivities your child has with certain types of foods. Make them aware of any goals you are working on with your child, such as looking others in the eyes, and how to provide positive feedback and reinforcement. Any suggested ways of interacting can help others better know how to communicate and care for your child.

A woman interacting with a child with autism.

If you have any questions about explaining autism to family or friends, contact us at Carmen B. Pingree. We offer various autism programs for children and will be opening an adult autism center in the Summer of 2020. We are dedicated to helping those with autism receive quality treatment and work towards independence and increased quality of life. Discover all of the programs we offer today!