Finding the Right Time to Tell your Child they are Autistic

telling your child they are autistic

telling your child they are autisticI’m not usually one for getting on social media and ranting, I learnt a long time ago that it won’t solve my problems, or even make me feel better overall. I wrote this on my personal Facebook page last week though, couldn’t help myself.

“Fuck you autism I will not let you beat me. Instead I shall dance around the living room with my kids and SHAKE IT OFF!”

That afternoon my high functioning 6yo daughter had come home from school in an absolutely foul mood, and wanted all my attention – which as any mother of more than one child knows is impossible. I tried sitting with her on my lap and having a gentle hug, but the second I stood up to tend to the dinner she went postal. She was lashing out at the younger two, and pushed her 20mo brother over a couple of times when he came to innocently investigate what was going on. She was telling her three and a half year old sister that she hated her, that she was horrible and the worst sister in the world.

telling your child they are autisticOur witching hour is more like three at the moment, and that evening was particularly bad.

Almost an hour and a half into this – and feeling utterly broken – I poured myself a G&T. It went a small way to help take the edge off the moody vibes, and allowed me to centre myself and take some deep breaths. Then I put the music on too loud, and we danced around the living room uptown funking and shaking it off.

For about thirty minutes everything was going marvellously; until I started nudging them upstairs to get ready for bed. Which is when all hell broke loose again – cue more tears and tantrums, which continued until they were asleep.

When I finally coaxed the reason for P’s upset out of her, it transpired that she had been pushed over in the playground. Not only had she hurt herself, but she finds it exceptionally hard to let these things go. She holds on to the notion that the other person did it on purpose and was out to get her. I’d love to say this doesn’t happen very often at school, but that would be a bear faced lie. A few days later she came home with not one, but two slips to say that she’d banged her head (the incidences happened within 90 minutes of each other). She is so much smaller than most of her friends, and often gets knocked over in the midst of other kids charging around. My heart nearly broke the other week when she told me that a ‘mean boy’ pushed her against the fence. This boy is in Reception for goodness sake, but bigger than her already. How embarrassing would that be when you’re in year two?

That’s a whole other story though. 

After the kids had gone to sleep on Friday evening, hubby and I had a big old chat, and came to the conclusion that we need to tell P she is autistic. School had mentioned eight or nine being the optimum age, and other people say you shouldn’t tell them until they are in their teens, otherwise it will end up being used as ‘an excuse for bad behaviour’. Hubby attended a talk recently by the wonderful group Rainbow Sibs, and it would seem the consensus among the autism experts is that you can’t tell them soon enough. The idea is that once the child understands that their brain works differently to their friends/siblings they can start to process the ways that it impacts their life.

Getting a six year old to understand autism is a tall order. How can I expect P to just get it, when I find it a complete minefield  and I’m thirty years older? 

After returning home from our day off on Sunday we had planned on taking P out, while my in-laws were still here to watch the little ones. We weren’t able to do this in the end, as Andy’s Granddad (who was very ill) had taken a turn for the worst and his mum and dad had to rush off. Unfortunately he passed away in the early hours of Monday morning, and we had to have another sensitive conversation with the children instead. This has highlighted something that we knew already.

telling your child they are autisticThere will never be a perfect time to tell her.

Life will get in the way, and we could find excuse after excuse to put it off if we were so inclined. So we shall do it this weekend.

Collectively we’ve read endless books, blogs and forums about autism this year. All of them impart some wisdom, and give us hope. The first year after diagnosis was always going to be hard work, but I’m confident that we will get through this, and move towards seeing autism as a blessing rather than a curse.

Is your child autistic? Do you have any advice for me? I’d love to hear from you if you do!

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17 thoughts on “Finding the Right Time to Tell your Child they are Autistic

  1. We are just beginning the process of getting our 8 year old boy diagnosed. We went to the doctor for the first time about it today (we’ve talked to the school first and they agreed we should go ahead). Without my husband mentioning anything about our suspicion the doctor after only 10min said that he believes our son is on the spectrum. He talked to our son for awhile asking him all kinds of questions. And our boy just shuts down. He never asked why he was there, never asked what autism means or why he was asked questions, and when I asked him what he went to the doctor for today he doesn’t know, and has no interested in knowing. My husband says he just shut down.

    Was your daughter there when you went to the doctor? I’m assuming they can’t diagnose without the child there?

    I’ll keep reading. I’m curious to see when and how you tell her.

    And thank you for the open letter 🙂

  2. We need to meet for drinks… we have the same life, I swear! My son Conall will be 8 in January and has 2 younger brothers 4 and almost 3. He can be so mean to them and yet so lovely. I am always on tenterhooks with his mood swings and the only thing that keeps him calm is technology and I rely on it FAR too much. I hadn’t even thought about telling him about his autism… but I will now… thanks.

  3. So sorry for your loss Renee, what a week! I don’t have any advice for you but hope the conversation goes as well as it can this weekend. Xx

  4. Thanks so much Emily, really appreciate you taking the time to comment. It sounds like openness was what you needed and worked for you guys, and I think (hope) it’s what’s needed here. P is a bright spark, and she is already working out that she’s different. School is a massive problem for us, so we have a lot to think about over the holidays. R xx

  5. Thanks so much Alice, you’ve hit the nail on the head there when you talk about emotional capacities. I’m pretty sure this will be a welcome thing, but am anticipating a fall out in the short term xx

  6. Our daughter is also having issues at school, caused mainly (I think) by her working out how different she is from her peers. I am going to have a look that book now *checks amazon*…

  7. This just proves that everyone is different, and those different circumstances will lead to different decisions being made. As you say it doesn’t sound like S would be ready to take the news on. For P though, I think it’s going be a positive thing. I really hope so anyway. Thanks so much for your lovely comment xx

  8. With our son, we just kept him informed as we went along but we treated it mainly as an educational issue because for us, he is who he is, we love him and don’t need a label, but the school system does. He wasn’t getting what he needed at school, he wanted and needed things to change. We all viewed his assessments as a chance for us to figure out what his needs are so that he got the best care at school. He understood that, and so we explained his diagnosis to him on day we got confirmation, but as were all expecting it by then, it wasn’t really a shock for him and it settled into all our minds slowly over many conversations in the weeks and months that followed. But that’s just how our family works when it comes to most things, we are open as we go along because that works for our kids. I know that every child is very different, so I think ultimately only you can know when it’s the right time x

  9. Renee, I’m sorry you had a tough start to your week, and for the loss to your family. I am a huge advocate of being open with my children, although obviously within their capacities, and also allowing emotional discussions. It might be a difficult conversation you have with P, especially with all your own emotions tied up in it too, but I am sure it is the right thing to do to help her understand. Good luck, I hope it goes well, I will be thinking of you. Xxx

  10. I told my son shortly after he was diagnosed aged 8, with the help of a brilliantly positive book called “All Cats Have Aspergers”. He was delighted, as for him it explained why he was having difficulties in school.

  11. Hey Renee,
    I’m so sorry to hear about Andy’s granddad – sounds like you’re having quite the shitty week.
    Afraid I have no advice or experience to offer on the telling P front but just wanted to wish you all the best of luck in the conversation this weekend. I’ll be thinking of you.
    Ella x

  12. My son is six too but seeing as he thinks he’s Cole, Kai, Jay or Lloyd from Ninjago depending on what colour pants he has on, I don’t think now is the time to tell him lol
    That aside, he doesn’t have the understanding. He would happily accept us telling him he’s autistic but it would just be a word to him which he will either like or dislike. He sees himself as being the same as everybody, as in, he doesn’t differentiate between children and adults – he treats them the same.
    So now isn’t the time for us if he is to understand what it means to be autistic but hopefully one day the explanation will give him the answers to why he is different because understanding will come, eventually.
    I hope it all goes well for you and your daughter when you tell her. X

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