One of the most common questions parents and guardians have after an autism diagnosis is “how do I talk to my children about autism?” Whether you want to have the discussion with an autistic child, siblings, friends, classmates, or any other child, having the knowledge, language, and tools to talk about autism spectrum disorder can ease the conversation. It’s also important to keep the children’s age and maturity level in mind because autism is a complex concept to understand.
Educate Yourself First so You Can Educate Others Later
Understanding autism is difficult enough as it is but explaining it to others can be even harder. The more you know about the disorder, the better equipped you’ll be to talk to others about it. More than that, chances are your children will have lots of questions, and the only way you’ll be able to provide answers is if you’ve already got a basic idea of what autism is and how it affects people and families.
Allow Your Children to Ask Questions
One of the hardest parts about talking to children about autism is knowing what and how much to tell them. By allowing your children to ask questions, you can let them guide the conversation, and you’ll have a better gauge of what information to provide. The important thing to remember here is to keep the lines of communication open. For many parents, when a child asks an embarrassing question (such as pointing and asking, “why is that boy rocking back and forth?”), the initial instinct is to turn away and say it’s rude to stare. But when you’re teaching your children about autism, it’s important to continue the dialogue and answer questions openly and honestly.
Be Prepared with Facts
There are some basic facts that children should learn about autism, and even young children should understand that it’s not anybody’s fault, that there’s nothing wrong with them or their siblings, and that autism comes in many forms, and each person will have unique habits, behaviors, and abilities. For older children, you can also explain that autism affects the brain, and that it can make things like talking, playing, and interacting difficult.
Stay Focused on the Positives
Frequently, when discussing a disorder, it can be easy to fall into the trap of discussing only the negatives, such as what a person can’t do. Instead, try staying focused on abilities and how being different doesn’t mean being less. For instance, if you’re talking about an autistic child who’s non-verbal, focus on the ways the child does communicate rather than on the fact that he or she doesn’t speak.
Seek Out Great Resources
There are many resources available that address autism, including books and websites, that are geared for people of different ages. There are resources for parents with autistic children, siblings of autistic children, and autistic children themselves. By choosing age-specific resources, you can ensure that important concepts will be put in terms that children can understand. One particular resource that’s great for children is books that feature autistic characters, as these can help children empathize and understand.
Talking to children about autism can be a difficult task but being educated and prepared will help you prepare for the discussion and be ready for questions that might arise. The important things to remember are keeping the discussion age-appropriate, knowing the facts, focusing on the positives, and making use of the great resources out there to help your children better understand autism.
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