I’ll admit, first off, that I’m not sure I’ve had the ‘typical’ autism parent experience (if there is such a thing). I first learnt about autism when my mum decided to get one of my sisters assessed. My sister was quite old at this point (early teens) and since there’s a big age gap between us, I was already well into my twenties.
It was when Wolf got a job at the other end of the country and we had to move in with my parents and sisters for
two years a little while and my mum and I chatted about autism a lot that I started to notice how much Tyger displayed all the behaviour we were discussing.
I’ve written on here before about how I started to make a list of ‘autistic traits’ I thought Tyger displayed just in case anything ever came of it only to find, instead of the few bullet points I expected, I had several pages of notes and observations.
So, I came to the realisation my children were autistic through learning about autism first. After learning about it I noticed my kids seemed to be autistic, got professionals involved and got diagnoses.
I think that’s a rather different order to how it happens for most parents. Many parents of autistic children go through the process of realising there’s something ‘different’ about their child, getting a diagnosis and then learning about autism and I expect it makes a difference to how they might go about broaching the subject with their child.
I feel Wolf and I were lucky. The fact we already knew about autism and were close to someone autistic (who doesn’t fit a lot of the stereotypes around ASD) meant it was already a part of our ‘normal’; it wasn’t ‘other’ or scary and autistic people were just people.
It also meant autism was already talked about freely in our house, which brings me to the actual topic of this post.
Both boys know they’re autistic (as much as a five year old and three year old can understand autism, anyway) but we have never really had a moment when this has been revealed to them. Wolf and I have always just been very matter of fact about it all.
When they had assessments if they asked where we were going I’d say, ‘We’re going to see some doctors to have a little chat and play so they can figure out whether they think you’re autistic.’
It was especially helpful to be able to point out to Tyger that my sister’s autistic when we were living with her and he was being assessed. Similarly, we were able to tell Bear he’s like his brother.
Two of Tyger’s best friends are also autistic and Wolf and I are pretty certain we are, too, though neither of us has a diagnosis (yet – I am planning on going for an assessment in the not too distant future). All of this massively helps with making autism simply something some people have like brown hair or freckles or short-sightedness or a hatred of Marmite.
I’m not saying our way of dealing with this as the best way. I know, for instance, some autistic kids don’t have the communication skills to listen and understand any conversation about their autism. Others simply don’t care.
And I think some parents need a little time to come to terms with the idea, themselves, before they feel able to talk to the child in question about it.
But I am happy with the way we’ve gone about talking to the boys about autism: theirs and other people’s.
I like to think by not making it a ‘big deal’ we’ve reinforced the fact autism is nothing to be ashamed of. I like to think them knowing early helps to give them ownership over their disorder before they’re aware of the stigma surrounding it.
Even with older children, I’m an advocate of telling them as soon as possible. I know once my sister learned the ‘otherness’ she felt was from autism, she was relieved. Of course, that’s not the only reaction someone could have and I understand parents are likely to know their own children best but as someone who’s almost certainly autistic myself, I really wish I’d known as a child.
So, my feeling is nine times out of ten the best time to tell a child they’re autistic is as soon as you can. Everyone deserves to know who they are.