Should I Tell My Kid They’re Autistic?
Kids should be involved in their autism diagnosis from the start, and absolutely should know their autistic identity.
Helping a kid understand their autism is pivotal to their development of self-esteem and a good relationship with themself. Being autistic fundamentally defines a person, and also gives someone a community of other autistics.
Your kid DESERVES to know who they are and how their brain works! This knowledge will also help you make better decisions as a parent.
If your child has been around other kids, it’s likely they already know they’re different. It could be something only they’ve perceived, or something more outward, such as only wanting their books and electronics while other kids are more interested in being social.
Why Autistic Identity is Important
We’re all part of communities large and small. Some communities form around our identities, and since being autisic is such an important part of our identities (link to previous post) many of us find great value in autistic communities.
As we said previously, from their earliest recollections, pretty much every autistic person knows they’re different. For many of us that realization went hand-in-hand with bullying, mistreatment, abuse, and other trauma.
Autistic people are regularly called weird, strange, and even worse, more vulgar and offensive names. We are called these things because people don’t understand or don’t like our autistic traits: how we stim, avoid eye contact, prefer blunt and straightforward speech, or otherwise do not conform to arbitrary rules.
Without knowing we’re autistic, we are tempted to believe the negative things others say about us: that we’re spaced out, or losers, unlikable, weird. This mistreatment of us for simply being who we are will also continue.
Knowing we’re autistic gives us something better to attach ourselves to. We are autistic, not weird. Educating ourselves and our communities about autism also brings about acceptance.
Accepting someone’s identity tells them that you see them. You really see them, and you care about what they’re feeling and experiencing.
How to Tell a Kid They’re Autistic
Thanks for making the decision to be positive and accepting of your child’s autistic identity! Nurturing them as they get to know themself will be a journey, but you’ve made the first step.
Telling a kid they’re autistic isn’t complicated. This is not a life-threatening diagnosis of illness, and quite honest, life doesn’t have to change a lot! This isn’t a sit-down “THE TALK” and needs no big deal.
Just start with the basics. Use the word autistic as an adjective to describe their brain, and attach it to a memory, an experience, or a trait.
- Remember when you used to line your toys up in rows when you were a little kid? Autistic people tend to like putting things in rows like that.
- The people at this appointment will ask you some questions and ask you to do some things. We just want to see if your brain is autistic or not autistic. It’s totally normal either way, but knowing will help us make things easier for you.
- You tend to concentrate really hard when you like something, autistic brains like yours can be good at that.
Talking about autism doesn’t mean dumping loads of information at once. That’s BORING to children as well as adults! Instead, talk about autism in bits and pieces, gradually and in context, as normal as apple pie (or insert your own normal food here to make this analogy make sense!)
Talking about autism with your kid doesn’t have to be a big deal. It’s just another tool for understanding life!
Here’s one autistic’s perspective: Neurodivergent Rebel on why they say congratulations when someone is diagnosed autistic.
One caveat though – please use autistic-preferred language when talking about autism.
The medical community currently describes autism using a variety of functioning labels, descriptors such as high functioning, low functioning, mild, and severe. You might have received this with your child’s diagnosis.
Autistic identity rejects the use of functioning labels as inaccurate and offensive.
You will help your child build a better identity if you do not qualify them with these functioning labels. Functioning labels unfairly compare autistic to non-autistic children. You can get more information about the problem with functioning labels from the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism.
The majority of autistic people prefer identity-first language. That means we prefer to be referred to as autistic people. Phrases like you are autistic and they are autistic are much preferred over ones like you/they have autism.
You can read a lot more about identity-first language and why most of us prefer it from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
Recommended reading for parents of a newly diagnosed autistic child
An open letter for parents who are having trouble accepting a child’s autism diagnosis.
Read this resource from Parenting Autistic Children With Love and Acceptance before putting your autistic child in treatments or therapies.
What do you want to learn about autism?
Autistic Voices Education has lots of FREE educational resources planned. What would YOU like to learn about autism next?
- How do I tell my child/pre-teen/teenager they’re autistic?
- How do I talk to family, friends, teachers, and strangers about my autistic child?
- What should someone do if they’re having a hard time accepting an autism diagnosis?
- My spouse and I disagree about whether or not to tell our kid they’re autistic. What should we do?
Write us a comment about the knowledge YOU need most and we’ll get that out to you! Sign up for the mailing list and subscribe to the blog to make sure you don’t miss it.