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Volume 69

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How Do You Tell Your Child They Have Autism?

Children eventually have to be told that they have autism or Asperger's syndrome (a form of high functioning autism). But how does a parent bring up the subject? Many parents fear the day they have to tell their loved one that they are autistic.

Asperger's Syndrome and High Functioning Autism on NBC's "Parenthood"

If you watch the wonderful NBC show, Parenthood you have seen the ongoing challenges of the 9-year old character, Max, who has Asperger's syndrome. His parents, Adam and Kristina, love Max as much as any parent can love a child. But they have not yet told Max of his Asperger's syndrome diagnosis.

In one episode that ran in October, 2010, Adam (Max's dad) goes to an Asperger's support group. He eventually opens up and shares his fears and anxieties about the day when he will have to tell his son, Max, that he has Asperger's syndrome.

I understand the worry and anxiety. You see my son, also, has Asperger's. Close friends and family of course knew -- how could they not! For my son was not like other children his age -- the "neurotypical" or "normal kids" in the neighborhood. There were always the challenges playing with the other kids down the street. The inability to share. Always feeling that the other kids were "cheating." Not having friends -- you see, eventually they didn't want to play with my son. But the good news is that after many years of patience and therapy, these problems were overcome so that today my son, a teenager, has several friends and is doing very well.

 

Ten Tips for Telling Your Child He or She has Autism

So how should you approach the inevitable conversation? The first thing to remember is that every child is different. There is no single best way or best time to tell your loved one. You have to use your best judgment. But here are some guidelines to help.

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Be calm and positive. Autism is not a death sentence! Don't treat it as such. Many famous and successful people, from Albert Einstein to the actor Dan Aykroyd to Bill Gates are presumed to have autism.

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Focus on their strengths. Many people with autism have skills that their neurotypical peers will never possess. These include the ability to focus on topics to the exclusion of others. Often those with autism are passionate about a topic and that can lead them to truly excel in areas where these subjects are important -- whether that be computer programming, geology, science or mathematics.

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Ensure that your voice is calm. Smile! If you are worried and nervous, your child may be too.

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Communicate at the appropriate age level. Understand that a younger child needs -- and can understand -- simpler information. If your child is 7 years old, they should be given a much simpler explanation than if they are a teenager. For example, there is no need to discuss future career options if your child is in grammar school.

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Keep it simple and factual. Too much information at one time is not necessarily a good idea. Information can be shared over time. Don't provide a "data dump." There is no need to tell every bit of information you have ever learned about autism or Asperger's at one sitting.

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Allow your loved one to ask questions. Make sure the communication is two way. Ask your son or daughter if they have questions or concerns. Make answers direct. Remember, those with autism/Asperger's do not understand subtleties of language. Don't expect them to infer information. Use plain language and be direct.

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Ease into the conversation with a story. Many have shared that telling your loved one how special they are is a good way to begin the conversation. Communicate that everyone -- parents included -- have strengths and weaknesses. Start the story by ensuring your loved one that you are always there from them and are proud of them. A good tip is to say, "I understand that some things are hard for you, but I feel very luck to have such a special son/daughter."

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Provide specific examples of strengths they have that you admire. If they are young, it may be that you admire the way they can focus on a video game for a long time. Or that they know a lot about Thomas the Train. Or that you admire that they know so much about their special interest (most with autism have a passion that they are highly knowledgeable about).

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Discuss challenges in terms of solutions. Eventually transition into challenges that you have noticed that he or she has. Often this is lack of friends or other specifics that they can understand. Reassure your son or daughter in very specific and clear language that you have a plan for helping them overcome their challenges. For example, you may say, "We go to the therapist to learn new ways for you to make friends."

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Ensure the overall conversation is positive. You want the conversation to end on a positive note. You want your son or daughter to know that you think they are special, that you love them and that everyone has things that they are not so good at. And that you are actively helping them with training or therapy to gain new skills.

Remember, eventually everything works out for the best. So relax and enjoy your child's special gifs. Follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/aspergers.support) and read Chapter Six of my book The Asperger's Syndrome Survival Guide, "Treating Asperger's Syndrome" HERE.

Learn from the advice of hundreds of other moms and dads how to help your son or daughter ...

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Make and keep friends

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Prevent meltdowns

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Be happy and lead a fulfilling life

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Do well in school

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Understand therapy options and much more.

 Yes, Craig, I want to help my loved one live a happy life

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Thank you,

Craig Kendall, Author