One of the biggest questions parents deal with is when to tell their child that they are on the spectrum. It was the question hubby and I argued about the most. I had always wanted to tell CM1 almost from the very beginning while hubby thought it would make our son feel horrible about himself to know that he was different. Our difference was resolved when the school psychologist upon hearing that we had never told our 9-year-old CM1 that he was an aspergean, told us to IMMEDIATELY tell him.
At this point CM1 was fully included in school with a one on one para. Even though he was in a regular education classroom he did get pulled out for speech and reading help. The truth is he had been in an inclusion environment since first grade. Then he was partially included, spending most of his day in the autism-classroom but interacting with regular ed students during specials like art, gym, music and library. By second grade they had created a co-taught classroom model and our son was spending his days entirely among his typical peers.
So finally we sat him down and explained to him that the reason he has an aide and the reason he may find he has more trouble with somethings than other children is because his brain works differently. He has something called aspergers. I remember his words verbatim...
"So its nothing I did? It's not my fault?"
We assured him that of course it was not his fault. That he was just born this way. That everyone has problems but his are just more "in everyone's face" than some peoples. That everyone is here to help him be the best that he can be and that we are very very very proud of him. Well he went on his merry way and never looked back, He had a reason why things were at times more difficult than his peers and why even when he tried he simply had trouble interacting with the other children.
He grew up and underneath it all he understood that he had aspergers. He studied what autism meant (on his own) and could explain it to everyone who asked. He understood that it was a part of him and that this was how he was created. Somethings just are what they are.
The lesson I want parents to take from my experience is that it is so important NOT to wait. Tell your children early on. CM2 always knew that he had aspergers and adhd. I remember when he was 5-years-old and after a year of behavioral modification and child-study-teams at school we finally came to the conclusion that he needed some medication to help him with his attention deficits. He turned to us and said,
"It's about time."
Children know when there is something not right. It's us, the parents who need to get our heads out of our butts and accept that they have these issues. We need to be upfront with our children. Be honest. Tell them what is going on. Respect their intelligence.
Remember that CM1 thought everything that he was having trouble doing was his fault. No one ever told him any different. We had no idea that he thought this way. We thought he just accepted the ways things are without question. Yes, to this day I beat myself up for not following through on my instincts. Don't make the mistake we made with CM1. As soon as your child can truly tell that they are different than their peers. TELL THEM. As soon as they see that they have extra help, leave the room for therapies and are not invited to the birthday parties that everyone else talks about incessantly. TELL THEM. It won't make all the hurt go away, but they will know that the issues are not theirs but other people's ignorance too.
This is the reason that we were always open with CM2 about his issues. We did not talk of it in hushed tones like with did when CM1 was little. We were open and honest right from the beginning and let him know that hey..sometimes life is just what it is....and its no big deal and even more importantly nothing to ever be ashamed about...EVER.
I know many parents are afraid that if they tell their children that the child will try to use autism as an excuse for things that go wrong. Well yes they probably will. But how you handle that is what will set their path for life. If you tell them that hey yes autism can make some things harder, but that its no excuse. All it means is that you need to maybe work harder at the subject or find an unconventional way of doing something. The trick is letting them know in no uncertain terms, that they can do anything they want. Autism is no bar. If society doesn't get you then teach society. If something stands in your way find a way around it. Hold your head high, do your best and make no excuses.
I remember the boys never actually went that route of using autism as an excuse. I think its because from the git-go we never used it ourselves. But one day in highschool, after CM2 did have a meltdown at a teacher and called people names, was beyond inappropriate and was thrown out of the classroom, he was given detention. He told me that the school doesn't understand people with aspergers.
I looked at him and wondered where in the hell he got that one from. Of course, knowing CM2 he got it from his own little head. I quickly told him, that if the school didn't understand aspergers after the name calling, the screaming and the massive interruption of a hallway full of classes, he would have been suspended never mind sitting in detention. So yes the school understood aspergers and he had better learn how to handle his emotions better. The real world is not going to put up with is disregulation or his emotional outbursts. A boss is definitely not going to let you call him names and disrupt a business.
Getting no sympathy from us, he never tried that track again. By the way this does not preclude you getting them accommodations and teaching people around them about autism and who your child is and how to help them. It's teaching your child that they need to be the best that they can be and not allowing autism or anything to stand in their way.
So yes, tell your child as soon as they recognize that they walk to the beat of a different drummer and quite frankly as soon as they recognize that the world around them doesn't necessarily understand who they are. And yes make it age appropriate, giving a 6 year old a book on biology doesn't quite cut it. But I think you already figured this one out.... Make sure they understand who they are and that they are wonderful, gorgeous and above all that you love them beyond reason.
Until next time,