Now that Ashlyn is in her late teens, I often get asked how I explained to her that she has autism.
I always think long and hard about how to answer this question and wonder if there is some significant moment in her childhood that I have completely blocked out because of the stress of it all or if I have some fantastic wisdom to share. Then I hope that they don’t look at me like I have two heads when I say…
We never had “The Autism Talk.”
Autism is just part of our life. We never had a serious talk about it just like we never had a serious talk with her brother about being left handed. It has never been a word my husband and I mouth silently to each other or spell at the doctor’s office. My daughter has had questions about certain things about her self that are different than other kids and I always answer them honestly, if it is something due to having autism I tell her so, if it is something that happens to every other girl I offer her an explanation.
One thing that has helped immensely is keeping her involved with other children with autism so that she understands that she is not alone. Whether it is a special needs sports program, an autism classroom or a few moms getting together with their kids on the spectrum once a month, we have always wanted her to see that there are many other kids out there who share the same diagnosis. The kids may act much differently but I always try to point out similarities in them to help her see what they have in common.I made the decision years ago that I wanted my daughter to be proud of who she is, autism and all, so autism is a subject that is always discussed openly. I am not saying that those who wait until a certain age to discuss it are hiding it in any way, I’m just saying this is the strategy that has worked best for us.Over time she has developed her own language for talking about her diagnosis. If she is having a rough day she will tell me “I had a lot of autism today.” If we are somewhere loud she will say that it is too loud for her autism. The more information she knows about herself the better she is able to communicate what she needs.
There are many days that I feel bad for how much she has to struggle but being open and honest about her diagnosis has helped her to find more confidence in herself and like who she is. As a high schooler, she is the first one to tell a teacher she has autism or to choose autism as the subject of a speech she has to give. Teaching your child to love themselves is the best thing we can give them, autism or not.
Have you discussed autism with your child? What approach did you take?
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