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How to Talk about an Autism Diagnosis with Family and Friends

How to Talk about an Autism Diagnosis with Family and Friends

By Pam Dewey • Autism, ASD, autism acceptance, neurodivergent, neurodiversity • April 01, 2021

Having your child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can elicit a mix of emotions. As a parent, you may be happy to have an answer for the behavior you’ve noticed in your child. However, you might also feel sad because you think your child’s life might be different than you imagined.

You’re also likely nervous about telling your friends and family about your child’s diagnosis. Realize that you control what and how much you share with others. You don’t have to tell everyone that your child has autism. You may choose to say your child sees the world differently or learns differently.  

However, if you decide to share your child’s diagnosis with friends and family, here are a few tips to help them understand and know what to expect.

Explain some behaviors they might have noticed

Tell your friends and family that the behaviors they might have noticed are part of your child’s autism. Your child might have repetitive behaviors, known as stimming, like hand flapping or rocking back and forth. Or maybe your child has a hard time interacting with other kids. Helping family understand the behaviors will go a long way toward helping them accept the actions without a negative label.

It’s a spectrum

Though it’s called autism spectrum disorder, your friends and family might not understand what that means. Explain to them that not every person with autism acts a certain way. It is a spectrum because autism is a range of behaviors, and it affects each individual differently. Your child may behave differently than their neighbor who has autism.

You aren’t trying to “cure” your child

There is no cure for autism, and individuals with autism don’t need to be cured. Autism is a lifelong brain disorder that can make it hard to communicate and interact with others. Let your friends and family know that having autism is part of what makes your child unique.

You can also explain to them that the neurodiversity movement views neurological conditions like autism, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, epilepsy, dyslexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder — as brain variations rather than flaws. Neurodiversity advocates agree that autism and other neurological conditions can be disabilities, but they also believe that neurological differences make people unique, and being different isn’t inherently bad.

Explain that an autism diagnosis can be positive

Some family members may worry that having a child diagnosed with autism means they’ll be labeled and treated differently. Explain to your family that now that you have an explanation for your child’s behaviors, you can access the therapies and programs that can help. An autism diagnosis is a starting point that helps you and your child move forward.

Understand there might be mixed reactions

Grandparents, in particular, might have a hard time processing an autism diagnosis. Like parents, they might go through a process of mourning some dreams they had for their grandchild. They may also have a harder time accepting a diagnosis, since autistic behaviors weren’t necessarily diagnosed as autism in the past. Explain to them that autism was diagnosed less often in the past because it wasn’t as well understood. Also, let them express their feelings, but tell them you need their support.

It’s also possible that a family member or friend might disagree with the diagnosis. If that person is a relative, you could ask your doctor or therapist to explain the diagnosis to them.

Ask for help

Your friends and family might be unsure how to help you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to your support network. Ask for specific assistance, like picking up milk and bread or sitting and talking with you. This will allow your friend the chance to show their support in a way that helps you. 

If you’re struggling with the diagnosis, you might also want to consider family therapy to help you and your family figure out how to move forward. Fraser also offers various support groups for teens with autism, parents and siblings of children with autism.

Telling your friends and family about an autism diagnosis can seem daunting. But remember, they love your child too, and they want the best for your family. Help your friends and family understand that nothing has changed about your child. The diagnosis simply means that your child can now access the opportunities and resources they need to realize their dreams and thrive.