I see so many articles and one day courses on how to tell your child they have autism. There have been many, from, teaching your child that they are different, to showing them the positives …. again, these approaches are from a non autistic perspective and don’t take into account context blindness or how theory of mind works from an autistic view.
The dangers in ‘having a chat’ with your dd or ds is that they may not be able to apply what they have been told to themselves in the context of their daily life and in the contexts that will follow throughout their lives. In other words, teaching them about their diagnosis is a project, that is a journey of contexts and situations and revisiting events in a visual way in order to show them how they process the world.
An example of this, I can recall my, now 9 year old, son loved mine craft. It was the only thing that motivated him (I’m sure we can all relate). So I used this as his visual to help him understand himself. We build a world together and in this world he built a giant creature which was him. Inside he had departments, his brain, hands, ears, mouth, nose, and eyes. In each department were files. We began with his likes and dislikes around his senses and he added them into the departments. Over time a clearer picture emerged. In his brain were floating words, which he said happens when people talk to him. He also added sounds and touches he liked and disliked.
This work in itself, never had to mention autism and I deliberately didn’t until a fuller picture emerged. You see, simply telling an autistic child just isn’t enough to create a big and comprehensive self image and by talking about things separately they find it very difficult to put it all together.
After we had worked on this for a while, he came to me (he was 6 at the time) and said he didn’t want to go to school because his teacher wouldn’t be in. I reassured him and did ( as the professionals will advise) show him what would happen and usually they put him with another teacher with the same group of friends. But he was still upset.
So we took out our image. And I pointed to the brain, where he had put in, that he didn’t like things changing and asked him if this was why he didn’t want to go. He scanned the image and eventually said, no and pointed to the ears. I thought maybe it was a noise issue. He shook his head. Then after a series of deductions he recognised that it was the teachers voice that hurt his ears. ( most likely the high pitch).
In doing this I gave him options as to what he could do. 1. Scream and walk away, 2. Tell someone what was causing the issue, 3. I could write a note asking for him to be placed in another classroom. He chose 2 because he said his teacher would understand.
It’s very important to note that in teaching him these skills and self advocacy is part of it, that disclosure becomes situational and in context. Neither does everything have to be explained by the word ‘autism’ as that seems to produce a typical image in people’s head.
I would like to stress that the work I do has to be done on a continuous basis because as situations and context change, understanding doesn’t always follow.