To tell or not to tell that is the question.
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or take arms against a sea of trouble… (Hamlet Act III, Scene I, sort of)
I think Shakespeare’s sad belligered Dane was asking the right questions for the wrong reason. While Hamlet spoke of suicide in his soliloquy, I think it becomes a much more intricate discussion when you apply the quote to whether or not to tell your child they have autism. How do you tell your child they have autism without destroying their self-esteem and allowing them to think they can now get away with things? How do you tell them it is ok not to suffer the lot that they have been given? That it is ok to fight for a future, while also maintaining that autism is not an excuse for poor behavior.(here, here)
I think the answer can be very simple. It does not have to be a long drawn out discussion. There is a way to tell your child that there is a reason that they are having trouble with things that their friends don’t. Heck, you need to tell them especially if they have no friends. There is a reason that they are different than other children. There is a reason that they learn different; that they are pulled out for speech and OT. That there is a reason they may not get simple jokes while everyone else does, or that they can’t wear certain types of clothing and too much noise, even Christmas music bothers them. There is a reason that they fixate on one topic, or why they don’t like sports when all the other children go to soccer on the weekends.
Now a discussion of autism does not have to mean a clinical interpretation. You can just tell them that their brain is wired differently. That it is a part of who they are. It is not really a problem. They can turn it into a gift. That everyone has gifts and everyone has issues. It’s just that sometimes though the issues are just easier to see. It’s not a big deal really. That it is ok to be different. It is fun to be different. It is good to be different. It is different people that change the world. Whether in science, business,politics, sports, or art, all these people are different.
Yes, you acknowledge that something’s are harder for them, like paying attention, following directions and reading social cues. But you can help them learn that. That yes, you can’t wear some types of clothing or eat certain foods. Well, there are a lot of clothes in the world and a lot of food. Yes, they have to take meds or be on a special diet, well a lot of children do, How about those with diabetes or some children who can’t eat peanut butter. (They may actually know about peanut butter allergies, since many schools are peanut butter free zones today)
Is it harder for them to control their temper? Yes, it can be, but there are ways to learn to help their self with that too. Do they come off bratty, rude or sassy to a teacher? Well they can learn the proper way to talk to people and ask for help. Do they have trouble making and keeping friends(here, here)? Well guess what, they can learn how to fix that problem too.
There are answers to all the problems. But now comes the hard part for them to understand sometimes. That it will take work, a lot of work on their part. That they may be corrected a lot, that they may have special assignments to do, that they may feel that it is really hard sometimes. The answer to them should be the truth. YES. It can be hard and yes, it takes a lot more work. But in the end it will pay off. In the end they will learn what they have to. That they have taken a journey; learn fortitude, learn perseverance, learn stick-to-itiveness, learn strength of character that many never learn. That makes them special. That’s what makes them different. It is a good thing.
Of course, you then have to explain to them that their autism does not grant them immunity from things like, lying, stealing, misbehavior in school, or even hitting. They have to do their homework. They have to abide by rules of behavior in the house and out in the world. But make sure to emphasize that they are not alone in learning these rules (I know you already know that). That there are many people, especially you, who will make sure that they learn how to accomplish all the tasks set before them and that they get the help they need.
But most of all make sure to repeat time and time again, that you love them to pieces. That you will always love them. That you love them now and forever. That they are your precious ones. That they are your joy. That they are your world. (I know you know that too)
It is important to tell your children about their autism. Do not wait until they are older and have tried to figure out the reasons for their problems on their own. Children tend to blame themselves. Take it from me and from personal experience. We waited until collegeman was 9 to tell him. The relief on his face was enough to make you cry. All this time he had thought he had done something wrong and that he was bad for not trying hard enough. Do not make our mistake. Let them know as soon as you do. They will be better for it.
This way too, you can take up arms against that sea of troubles together, but unlike Shakespeare’s melancholy Dane, the arms you take up will be the beginning of the story, not the end.
Until next time,