2020 edit- this is now an expired article. I’ve written an updated version here, which is based on insights I’ve gained in the five years since writing this one. I’m keeping this article up for historical purposes, but I no longer agree with all of its contents and I strongly suggest you read the newer version. -Chris

As the title implies, this one’s a two-parter. Let’s start with the ‘when’.

When should I tell my child they’re autistic?

Of all the questions that I’ve seen posted on autism blogs or Facebook pages, this is one of the most common.

As someone who grew up with Asperger’s, and an ex-teacher who taught many autistic children, here’s my own perspective on it.

I always like to start with a positive picture.

I always like to start with a positive picture. (To give proper credit, this is from Momtisms.)

There are two groups I see popping up when the “breaking the news” question is asked.

1) One group thinks that it’s better not to “label” them at a young age, because children should be given time to be children without their identity being forced on them.

2) The other group (the more popular group and certainly the louder group) say that the child needs to know as soon as possible. The sooner they understand their own brain, the less they feel isolated as they grow up.

My opinion?

We often ask questions about what’s right “for autistic children”, and forget that autistic children are individuals too.

I can give a well-thought-out answer to anyone who asks for advice on these difficult topics, but my very first answer will always be that it always, always, always depends on the individual child.

The “tell them as soon as possible” approach is probably the more popular answer in Facebook comments because the person asking the question often has a child experiencing problems at school. In many of the circumstances where this question is asked, it is the right time to have a chat with them about it.

But I’m a little wary of the “tell them literally right now” approach being recommended everywhere to everyone.

If you clicked this article looking for a two-sentence answer to “when should you tell your child they’re autistic?“, it is basically this:

Tell them when knowing about their autism will help them.

Not one moment after; but not one moment before either.

(Notice how there was no specific age attached to that answer. Or even a vague age range.)

Allow me to give you an example for the right time and wrong time to have the autism talk.



This is me, aged eight. By this point in my life it had been clear for years that I was socially different to other kids. Not in a disabling way, but in a way where I wasn’t progressing as fast as my peers (despite being academically brilliant).

I had been assessed for autism at age four, but the answer had been no. Back in 1989 you were either severely autistic or not autistic at all. (Two years after this photo, a psychologist would define it as “slightly odd personality”. To be fair, he wasn’t totally wrong.)

Overall my parents weren’t worried. I was a pleasant, kind, caring child. And very happy. That was what mattered to them.

But, if they had known about Asperger Syndrome back then, would they have been wise to tell me? Honestly, I don’t know.

I’d like to say I’m less keen on swings these days, but I’d be lying.

I wouldn’t have used it as an excuse aloud (because my parents would have correctly me pretty quickly if I had!), but I wonder whether I would have used it as an excuse on the inside. I would have trusted the judgement of adults like children usually do, and accepted that my autism was supposed to get in my way. It was meant to make it difficult for me to make friends and understand other people, despite the positives it also gave me.

The boy in the above two pictures has a happy childhood, no academic problems, a small but caring group of friends, and absolutely loves life. It is not the right time to tell him he is incurably different to 99% of humans.

(Important 2019 edit- my reaction would have depended very much on how autism would have been explained to me. I had a fairly conflicting opinion of my own autism when I wrote this, so my advice would be different today. But if autism were explained to me honestly and positively, I no longer believe there would have been anything wrong with telling me back then.)

Moving on a few years…

Yes, we saw this picture in the Story of an Autistic Teacher article. I’m beyond being embarrassed by it.

Yes, we saw this picture in the Story of an Autistic Teacher article. I’m beyond being embarrassed by it.

This is me at thirteen. By now it’s not just clear to other people that I’m socially different. It’s clear to me. The social food chain in school has been well-established, and there are the warning signs of the bullying that will last another three years.

Having gone through a childhood of being ‘happy but different’, the 13-year-old me is now looking back and seeing past events in a new light. He is getting the feelings of “wait, I really was stupid back then!” and “wait, what’s actually changed? I’m the same person but older, aren’t I?”

And of course, he’s got general teenage angst. That can amplify any problem with your self-perception.

The boy in the picture above has small but growing feelings of isolation, and is not quite sure why he seems like the odd one out wherever he goes and whatever he does. Now is probably the right time to explain the workings of his mind to him.

For every autistic person there is a right time to learn.

For every autistic person there is a time when it should have been said earlier.

This was me the day before I found out. Of course, 24 is a little too old. (No doubt some people reading this will have been older though.)

This was me 24 hours before I found out. My last night of believing I wasn’t autistic.
Of course, 24 is a little too old. (But no doubt many readers will have been older.)

Warning: the moral of this article is NOT “tell your children when they’re 13”.

The moral is “wait until the answer will benefit them, and then waste no time.”

Here’s a table (or, as us primary teachers like to call them, a Carroll Diagram) demonstrating the factors of telling your children about their autism.

I have written this objectively, in the full knowledge that some children (like me) could wait until they are older, whilst some children are better off knowing from a young age.

I suggest you read each of the points, and focus on the ones which resonate with your child the most. They may be an indicator of whether the time is right. Others can be ignored depending on your child’s personality and circumstances.

Advantages Disadvantages
Telling your child about their autism
  • If your child is confused by their own brain (and its differences to other people’s), it might help them understand themselves.
  • It might help your child come to terms with feelings of isolation or social exclusion.
  • It might be a step to recovering a child’s lost self-esteem.
  • It might give a name to a wide range of internal problems they have not yet been able to understand all at once.
  • It empowers them to explain to other people who don’t understand them.
  • If they are not ready to hear it, the concept of autism may confuse them (or alter their self-perception negatively).
  • If you’re going to say “hey son, you’re different to everybody else at school,” you’d better have a good reason that they’re better off knowing.
  • The child might use their autism as an excuse rather than a genuine reason.
  • If the news is broken in a negative way, it may have an adverse effect on them (more on how to avoid this below).
Not telling your child about their autism (yet)
  • It allows them to go a little further through childhood without a label.
  • It allows them to discover who they are by themselves, rather than simply being told about their brain by another person.
  • They get to see their positive sides as a positive aspect of them, rather than a positive side of autism.
  • If isolated or socially excluded, they may feel it is their fault unless their autism is explained to them.
  • A lack of explanation can allow self-perception problems to continue and be reinforced as they grow older.
  • They have to see their negative sides as a negative aspect of them, rather than a negative side of autism.

I don’t expect people to read that and instantly have The Right Answer revealed to them. (But if that is the case, I’m glad it helped!) These are just factors to consider.

Meanwhile, I’d like to conclude this half with a few summary points:

  • If your child feels isolated, is socially excluded, has low self-esteem and hates struggling to form friendships (or struggling with anything that none of their peers do), regardless of age it may be best to tell them.
  • If your child has none of the above problems, regardless of age (and diagnosis) you could leave it for later or you could have the discussion with them anyway. (2019 edit- these days, I suggest the latter.)
  • And yes, the conversation will come at some point. If you don’t tell them, bear in mind you’re just not telling them yet. At some stage of their life they will end up needing to learn about who they are, and autism plays a big part of one’s identity.
  • Tell your child once they become aware that they’re different. Not when you become aware.

As an extension to that last point, the obvious advice that may be easy to forget is this: when you tell your child about their autism, it should be for their benefit and their benefit alone. If you want to tell them because you or other people will find it easier, it’s easy to lose sight of whether they’re actually ready to know.

Ok, so I’ve decided to tell my child about their autism. …How on Earth do I do it?


I cannot stress that part enough. Even if you are cuddled up to your tearful son, explaining to him about this nameless demon which stops him from making friends, understanding others, or attracts the bullies to him, autism still needs to be presented as a positive as well.

Why? Because it is a positive as well.

As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, people despise the idea of being ‘normal’.

This phrase is popular because literally everyone thinks it applies to them.

This phrase is popular because literally everyone claims it applies to them.

Pretty much everyone, autistic or not, tries to avoid being normal. To be normal is to lose your individuality.

Your autistic child has individuality gifted to them on a silver platter. Negative parts aside, people would give anything to be their own person.

In terms of what to actually say, here are some ideas.

I won’t construct your sentences for you (what would be the point? Your child will respond better to your sentences than mine) but here are the main points.

  • Choose a time when they’re calm, and willing to listen.
  • Autism explains why they think differently to other people. Differently, not worse.
  • Apply the description to them personally as much as possible. Describe how autism impacts them, as a person with their own individual characteristics, rather than reeling off a soulless bullet-point list of symptoms.
  • Explain that certain things “take a little longer to learn” rather than “are things you struggle with” or “things you can’t do”.
  • If your child has examples of things they can do that their neurotypical classmates can’t (for autism-related reasons), use these as example for how their differences are not necessarily bad. Common examples may include incredible attention to awesome hobbies (see this article for a positive outlook on autistic ‘obsessions’), an excellent memory, or a logical approach that helps them solve problems.
  • Be positive, but don’t lie/exaggerate to them (e.g. “you are destined to be the next Albert Einstein.”) Find a balance between giving them reasons to be positive about their brain and not casting aside the problems it gives them.
  • Think of real-life examples about them to back up your points (e.g. “sometimes it can be difficult to know how somebody else is feeling- remember the time when you thought I was angry with you but I really wasn’t?”)
  • Oh, and you might not even need a full and long discussion about it. Your child may accept what you’re saying quicker than you think. Don’t keep them any longer than they need, in case they perceive that it’s something bad (since it seems to need so much talking about).

Do you agree with the above, and has it helped in any way? Do you disagree or have a different perspective? Feel free to leave a comment.

And remember: the real correct answer depends on your individual child. Do what is right for them, not what is right ‘for autistic children’.

Chris Bonnello / Captain Quirk


Are you tired of characters with special needs being tokenised and based on stereotypes, or being the victims rather than the heroes? This novel series may interest you!

Underdogs, a near-future dystopia series where the heroes are teenagers with special needs, is a character-driven war story which pitches twelve people against an army of millions, balancing intense action with a deeply developed neurodiverse cast.

Book one can be found here:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Amazon CA | Amazon AU
Audible (audiobook version)
Book Depository
Review page on Goodreads

Chris Bonnello is a national and international autism speaker, available to lead talks and training sessions from the perspective of an autistic former teacher. For further information please click here (opens in new window).
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About The Author

38 Responses

    • CaptainQuirk

      With pleasure. 🙂 Thanks! (And well done on being literally the first reader!)

  1. Zoe

    Excellent post!!
    We told my 5yo son he is autistic recently. He was already starting to comment on how he was ‘different’ and he was experiencing some isolation from his social differences which meant we had to tell others in his life (like the parents of classmates) to avoid him being unfairly judged. I felt very strongly that in his case, it was unfair for others to know about his autism but not him. It felt unethical in our case to share this personal information about him without him even knowing it himself. Of course, it is different for everyone.
    I printed out photos of each member of the family, and together we wrote down things each person was good at, and things they found challenging. To me, doing this for everyone in the family and not just him was important because it illustrated that is was not just him who had challenges – everyone does, no matter who they are. I then explained there was a special word for some of his strengths and challenges, and that word was ‘autism’ or ‘ASD’. I explained that this meant sometimes his brain worked in a special way., and that there were other people in our family whose brain’s worked in a special way too, just like his. Well, he was proud as punch of his ‘special brain’ and was beaming with pride! We have had conversations about how some of the things he finds easy, others find challenging and vice versa. We talk about how everyone has to try to work on their challenges and sometimes have ‘helpers’ to assist with this.
    In our case, it felt like we made the right decision, and it was the right time. I did agonise over it though! For all the reasons you’ve outlined above. But in the end, in our case, this process has been very empowering and positive. It has allowed us to openly embrace the concept of neurodiversity and celebrate the fact we are both a neurodiverse and neurotypical family.
    This is just our experience though, and I think that with careful reflection and consideration (which this post will certainly help with!) most parents will make the right decision for their own child and family. People may disagree about the terminology we used or the way we did it, but it was completely appropriate for my son.
    I wholeheartedly agree with all you have written! Fantastic post!

    • CaptainQuirk

      Sounds like you chose the perfect time for him to know. 🙂 And the way you handled it sounds wonderful!
      Would you be ok if I shared this comment on Autistic Not Weird’s Facebook page at some point? I think others could benefit from reading your example.

      Thanks a lot for the comment and kind words. 🙂

  2. The outstanding wife

    Thank you! Such a valuable post. I had a short conversation with my eight-year old yesterday, when an issue came up and it led quite naturally to me introducing the idea of the autism spectrum. We have discussed in the past how his brain works a little differently from others, but had never given it a name. He was really quite interested but mostly just wanted reassurance that it was not a bad thing. Once he got that, he was quite happy to accept what I’d said and move on. I think our conversations about his autism will be in stages, over time. So it is good to hear you say that there is no perfect age for all kids. There is a tendency to think that you are doing your child a disservice by withholding the truth from them.
    Personally, I think my son would be overwhelmed by too much information all at once.

    • CaptainQuirk

      It didn’t even occur to me to mention talking about in stages! Oops!
      Yes, I think that’s a great strategy if your kid wouldn’t handle it all at once.

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  3. Telling your child they’re autistic | lovenlearning

    […] When should I tell my child they’re autistic, and how do I tell them?, by Captain Quirk (Autistic Not Weird blog).  I love the fact that he focuses on the child’s individuality, and when is the best time for that individual child to know.  His summary answer is “tell them once knowing about their autism will actually help them“, and gives some examples of right and wrong timings, and why.  He also stresses the need to tell them about their autism positively – even (and especially) if all your child can see are the negatives, because there are positives as well. […]

  4. CM

    I was diagnosed when I was about six, but my parents didn’t tell me until I was 15. Actually I’d never even heard of Aspergers until that day, which perhaps helped me because I had no idea of the stigma and preconceptions/ misconceptions around it. But I’m glad they waited until then to tell me because it gave me time to begin forming a sense of who I was without thinking that everything was just Aspergers. It is Aspergers, but it’s also ME, and I’m glad I had so long without a label to work out my self. I’m also glad they did eventually tell me- I cried with relief at first because it made sense and suddenly I had a reason for being different, and it was ok. I was ok. It also cleared up a lot of questions from my childhood, like “why did we go to see that person when I was six” and “why did I get taken out of classes to do activities with SEN sometimes”, and “what were those after school classes I went to once?”. I never asked as a child, I just accepted it, but it wwas nice to have the mysteries finally cleared up!

    • CaptainQuirk

      I’m glad your experience of finding out was a positive one. 🙂 And I agree about the benefits of waiting- so many needy parents out there are told to TELL THEIR CHILD RIGHT NOW- and whereas for some it would be really useful, for people like us it would have been very damaging for our opportunity to discover ourselves by ourselves.

    • Victoria mattison

      Hello Chris
      I really enjoyed your article and it resonated so much. I work as a psychologist in a CAMHS service and we are often involved in assessments of chidlren with ASD. I have circulated this to my team, as we are so often asked by parents about the telling.
      I also have a child on the spectrum. He is now 14, but we told him when he was 8 as there were some tricky classroom dynamics. He wanted to know how much Autism me had. We asked him what he thought. He said ‘ about 10 percent’. It has helped him to think in terms of percentages, so that he is not totally defined by his ASD – it is just part of him.

      My son also plays a lot of chess and it has been life changing for him. We loved your article about reasons to play chess. He feels that chess has helped him more than anything. He has also started to teach voluntarily at the chess club at his old primary school, which has given him so much confidence. It ha also been reparative in the sense that he was unhappy when he was there, but has returned with positivity and enthusiasm, and the children ( including his littl brother and their friends) have been asking him to stay.

      Thank you so much for your excellent work.

      T ( a mum)

      • CaptainQuirk

        Hi, sorry for the late reply! 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind words. Great that you got a lot from the chess article and it’s great to hear that chess is having the same impact on your lad as it’s had with me! 😀 Great way of helping him deal with his past too- I never suspected chess could do that. 😉

        Thanks again,

  5. Mi

    Here’s one other tip that might help with older kids, especially the ‘sensitive types’– it totally depends on the child, so please proceed with caution.

    Sometimes, the best way to understand is to start to connect the dots by yourself. If someone feels that they’ve come to the conclusion on their own, it can feel less threatening. If your child is old enough to read well, pick a book that discusses Autism at their level, or a few books. They can be short ‘this is what people who have Autism behave like’ books that are meant for neurotypical kids to understand their peers, fiction (as long as the character is represented accurately, Anything But Typical is a great book for this) or anything you think will work. You can either present the book as just reading material, and leave any potential explanations for later, or tell them that you’re interested if they’ll see any connections.

    Try to pick a book where the descriptions and characters remind you of your child, in hopes that they’ll see the connection too. Make sure everything is portrayed in a honest, but positive light.

    This could also help after you’ve told your child. Here, I’d pick books about people who did great things– not ASD or Autistic people who seem to be superheros, but real (or fictional) people who’s struggles are just as obvious as their successes, and yet are portrayed as doing great things. Or, show them this blog: Mr. Bonnello is a great example!

  6. shelley

    I recently told my 7 year old daughter she has Aspergers, as she was really struggling with differences she was observing and experiencing about peers, school and generally the world around her. She began questioning life itself, asking things that really broke my heart as a parent. After recieving formal diagnosis we had decided she didn’t need to know yet, but within a month things had changed and we shared the information with her. We did it positively, and in a way she could understand, explaining the pro’s as well as why she found some aspects of daily life hard work. It was a very short conversation and she seemed completely satisfied at the end of it so i took it ni further. Her exact words were “ah so thats what it is” smiled and went to bed. She slept the night through which let me tell you is something that rarely happens these days. I wish I’d seen this article earlier, as i worried about some of the things you highlighted. Thankyou

    • CaptainQuirk

      Well, with or without this article, sounds like you handled it exactly how it needed to be handled. 🙂 Very glad to hear it!

  7. Karin

    Thank you so much for this article, it is a dilemma that a lot of parents agonise over as to what to say. My son went to a special school for the first two years of his school career. It was kind of hard to not tell him that he was on the spectrum and when other adults ask him what school he goes to, what grade he’s in etc, he kind of needed to know. This year, we are transitioning to a mainstream (‘normal’) primary school, we have had the Autism discussion a few times, but I don’t think he really knows what it means, which makes it a bit easier for me to build on what he knows when the time comes when he feels really different. Part of the problem I have is that the curriculum wasn’t as academically based as it will be in a mainstream school so I have to do a bit of work with him to help make reading, spelling, maths etc a bit easier (I’m having huge trouble getting him to pick up a pencil to write). I don’t want to tell him (even though I have) that he’s going to find his new school a lot harder and will be having trouble keeping up (let alone catching up) with his classmates. Any ideas, as an ex-primary teacher and being on the spectrum, as to how to encourage him to do some things at home??? Thanks for a great post and loving so many of your articles 🙂

    • CaptainQuirk

      Sorry for the late reply- WordPress has stopped sending me email alerts for some reason! Just found your comment now.

      Getting kids to do academic stuff at home is naturally difficult, so don’t feel bad if you find it hard or if he doesn’t engage as deeply as you want. For what it’s worth, my experience tells me that kids are willing to do just about anything if they have the motivation for it. I’d suggest you find reasons that he would *want* to learn these skills (I don’t know how much he likes drawing, but telling him that his art skills will go through the roof once he holds his pencil properly may be an example of the inspiration he’d need.)

      It goes beyond the “if you do this, we can do this afterwards” (although if that works then go with it!). If you find things he wants to be able to do that require him learning certain skills, use that as his motivation for learning those skills.

      Hope this helps you a little- all the best with the transition. 🙂


  8. lesliesholly

    OK, so my problem is that we did not get an official diagnosis until my son was 13. And by now he has an extremely negative version of autism which he has picked up through society. When he saw the word autistic written on a note to a teacher in reference to him he was very upset, saying “Why would you say that? It’s a lie! It’s not true!” He has a great opinion of himself in general. I don’t know how to handle this.

    • CaptainQuirk

      Ah, I’m sorry to hear that. 🙁 This is what happens when the world starts saying that autism is A Bad Thing, rather than simply a difference in neurology. Presumably he’s mature enough to know that everything said by the media should be taken with a (figurative) pinch of salt, and he’ll know that the papers just love building up a frenzy about things that they shouldn’t. Autism is one of those things. (In fact, it’s more severe autism that gets reported rather than mine or his.)

      I would also tell him that he’s exactly the same person he’s always been, with or without his autism. It’s a personality trait, not something to mourn over. (And tell him an ex-teacher with autism said it. 😉 )
      He’s welcome to read this site if he wants (there’s one specifically for teens on here too), or send me a message if he needs some perspective from a man who has autism and loves it. 😉

      Hope this helps a bit,

  9. Pieter Dykhuis (14 with Aspergers)

    My mom told me I have autism when I was 4, except she didn’t tell me I was “different”, she told me I was “special”. Is that good or bad?

    • CaptainQuirk

      Good question. I suppose it’s not so much the exact words that matter- it’s how autism is described. If it was described to you positively, I’d say that’s a good thing. 🙂

  10. Stephs Two Girls

    Another brilliant post. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this so clearly! Your blog has become my go-to place for any questions I am asked or I might have myself 🙂

  11. Amy Arr

    Wondering about your thoughts on this – a few of the neurotypical children in my son’s life (cousins, neighbours) already know about his autism before he does. We did not tell them. His cousins were at an autism awareness assembly at school and came home and told their mother (my sister) that what they were describing sounds a lot like my son, and asked if he has autism. In my neighbour’s case, the parents told their son because he was asking why my son was making “such weird noises” and their response was to tell him about his autism.
    I’m sure he’s not ready to hear about it yet. I really liked your article and totally agree that I need to tell him when he will benefit from it, not anyone else. However, I can’t control every interaction between them, and he sees these boys often. I’m concerned that one of them might tell him or bring it up before I do. That could confuse him and I definitely don’t want that. What do you think?

    • CaptainQuirk

      Wow, that’s a tough one! In an ideal world you’d want the child to learn before his peers, but in some cases the peers are ready to learn before the child is (and this could even be helpful in influencing how they treat the child). But aside from being honest and advising them that the child doesn’t know yet, I’m finding this a tricky one to answer!

      Do you follow the Autistic Not Weird Facebook page? (https://www.facebook.com/autisticnotweird) I can definitely ask this question on there if you like. 🙂

  12. Emma

    Very interesting! My 4 year old daughter was diagnosed 5 months ago and were nowhere near this stage but I have thought about what to do when the time does come. I can’t see her being ready for a good few years yet but I enjoyed the article.

  13. Maureen Sharkey

    What a fabulous article! I love that you stressed the individuality. as with all children , whether it be starting solid foods as a baby, pottty training, etc…, everyone has their own internal clock of when they are ready. I applaud you for reinforcing that!

    My son has had signs of autism from an early age but did not “fit” the descriptors to be classified as such until this year where the “range” widened. I jumped on that opportunity to evaluate again to see if he did fit the descriptors. And he did. Nothing changed with my son. He still was socially inept for lack of a better way to put it. He doesn’t know how to read social cues, & often misreads nonverbal cues. He can become fixated on something such as a joke and tells it over and over again. He doesn’t know how to deal with conflict. He is very bright but felt frustrated in the way teachers taught math. He found it illogical. This straight A math student actually failed a math test – not because he answered incorrectly, not because he didn’t show his work. He failed the test because he did t do it the way the teacher taught him. I flamed the teacher on this one and had him change his grade. My son has alway seen the world in a different way.

    In sixth or 7th grade, they had a science assignment that required them to research the life of a famous scientist. Chris chose Albert Einstein. This changed him. He learned a lot about Einstein including his struggles in school- socially. How Einstein was often misunderstood. Chris related to this so much. We had long talks about this.

    After the official Asperger diagnosis, I prepared myself with information ready to answer any question that came my way (chris can be that way – constantly “quizzing” you. And as we began to talk about how he is so special and so unique, he chimed in- ” yeah mom, like Albert Einstein and Sheldon Cooper (from Big Bang Theory)”. It was then I knew, he was already beginning to understand himself in a positive way.. we had a great discussion about thinking differently, seeing things differently and how it’s not a bad thing- just different.

    I agree 100% that it needs to be approached in a positive light and not used as an excuse. He just started high school this year. I wanted to make sure we had things in place for him to succeed. And I feel that we do. He is having a great year!

    As an educator and a parent, I love how you approached this. Thank you for sharing you perspective and experience in a way that all can understand (without buzz words or quotes from articles). I plan on reading more if your articles!

    • CaptainQuirk

      Hi Maureen- sorry, just seen this comment!

      Thanks very much for the compliments and for sharing your story- and from one Chris to another Chris, give him a high five for me. 😀

  14. Dawn

    Chris, thank you again for answering the questions no one can else can!

    I’m curious to know your opinion on one idea I’ve been mulling when “telling” my 5 year old she has autism.

    What is your view on treating it the way those who adopt young children often do, by saying it often and nonchalantly, so the child doesn’t really ever know any differently?

    My POV is that my daughter is who she is and happens to be autistic.

    This comes with pros and cons for her, but isn’t relevant to WHO she is, so I’d prefer she just see it as a reality about herself.

    Like having thick brown hair – beautiful but tangles easily. Or being super energetic but needs help focusing. Or being very tall for her age but skinny so it’s hard to find pants that fit right.

    Do you think by integrating the fact into relevant conversations (when she sees a therapist for language or going to her social group – or when praising her incredible memory and advanced reading ability) could prevent her from feeling shameful or embarrassed?


    Mom of Emily.

    • CaptainQuirk

      Hi Dawn,

      I do like the sound of that approach. It depends entirely on the child of course, but the truth is that if the parents/carers/teachers/professionals talk about it without any kind of shame, then the child is less likely to see it as something shameful. 🙂 I’d say bring it up at relevant times though, of course- if it’s forced into a conversation it may come across to the child as being “more important” than it’s intended to be (even children can sense unnatural subject changes 😉 ).

  15. Karen

    How do you tell a 30 year old son, who has never been “diagnosed” and who only knows that he is depressed and now sees life as hopeless. How do you even begin to “open” this topic to him 🙁

    • CaptainQuirk

      Hi Karen, sorry for the late reply!

      I’d say that when the topic is opened, it should be opened in a way that 1) focuses on the strengths that autism gives him, and 2) personal to HIM. It should be framed in a way so that it provides some context for strengths and struggles he’s had over the years, but not in a way that “categorises” him as an autistic person, since his understanding of autism may not match up with his sense of identity (my parents took a little while to accept that I was autistic because they only ever saw me as ‘me’, and until then only saw autism as a checklist of characteristics).

      It may be better to just be up front and honest about it, but without the all-too-regular hint that autism is “supposed to be a bad thing”. Understanding more about his own brain may be a tricky thing to deal with at first, but he’ll be in a much better position afterwards.

      All the best to you and him. 🙂

  16. Christa Ortega

    Thank you so much for sharing your prospective. Our daughter is turning 12 in a few weeks and not yet ready, or interested, in taking a deeper look at herself. I do feel strongly that she should know all about herself, but my husband and I are still waiting for the right time, for her, to begin that conversation. You helped to bring to light some valuable insight when the circumstances might arise where it would be helpful, and appropriate, to have a conversation with her. Thank you, thank you! I will definitely remember these suggestions.

  17. Brandie Harter

    Thank you for this! This past summer our 9 year old son decided to tell our 6 year old daughter she had Autism, because “it’s her brain and life and she has a right to know”. I found out because she came to me screaming, “Mom, Ryan keeps telling me I have Autism! Tell him I don’t and to stop saying it!” This forced a brief conversation on the subject, where I told her she did in fact have Autism, but that just meant she was amazing and super smart and just thinks differently about things and feels things differently than most other people. Her reply? “Oh good, I thought it meant I was the “D” word. ” (Dumb). I explained it actually meant she was smarter than most other people. She’s been happy with this so far, and is a happy child with a desire to be social and have friends so it’s not the time to delve further. And yes, the 9 year old got a stern talking to about who is the parent and gets to make these important decisions.

  18. Tom

    Hey everyone, im a young adult who recently identified myself as high functioning autistic. I understand both arguments as to why one should tell their child asap or wait to tell their child, that they are autistic. Regardless of your opinion, the important thing is to take action to improve the symptoms. Watch “healing autism naturally with karenthomas” on youtube. I nearly eliminated all my explosive anger and outburst, after avoiding eating all grains, dairy, and candy. I cannot speak for all autistics, but many of our symptoms are due to “leaky gut” and “heavy metal toxicity.” I wish you all the best of luck!

  19. Theone Wallace

    Thank you so much for this article. My son was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when he was 5, and my husband and I have been tying ourselves in knots for the past year trying to figure out the best, most age-appropriate, positive way to tell him about it. Reading your perspective and reasoning was such a relief and such a ray of sunshine. Our little guy is a happy, kind-hearted child who always tries his best, and I don’t feel quite so badly for waiting to tell him when he doesn’t need to know about his diagnosis just yet.


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