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Parents may wonder about when and whether to tell their child about his autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis. Following are some commonly asked questions about discussing diagnosis of an ASD with a child:

Should we tell our child about her ASD diagnosis?

Parents may worry that finding out about an ASD diagnosis will be hard on their son or daughter. Some children can initially find the news upsetting, especially if they are very sensitive to any suggestion that they are different from their peers. Many individuals with ASDs, however, have shared that learning they were on the autism spectrum suddenly made clear why so many things had been difficult or why they had been treated differently. With increased awareness of ASDs, diagnosis also may provide a reason for their behavior that they think other people might understand. For some, diagnosis can take away the notion that past problems had all been the result of some personal failing; replacing this with the notion of a legitimate condition helps explain their challenges.

When should we tell our child about his ASD diagnosis?

While it is important to tell an individual with an ASD about his diagnosis, there is no exact, “correct” age or time to tell a child. A child's personality, abilities, and social awareness are all factors to consider in determining when he is ready for information about his diagnosis. For example, a parent may decide to talk about ASDs when a child begins asking questions such as, “Why am I different?”

Considering the potential effect of the information, how can we best explain to our child that she has an ASD?

Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics HealthyChildren.org: www.HealthyChildren.org

Foden T, Anderson C. ASD diagnosis: what do we tell the kids? http://www.iancommunity.org/cs/articles/telling_a_child_about his asd. Accessed April 5, 2012

National Autistic Society. Diagnosis: telling a child about their diagnosis. http://www.autism.org.uk/about-autism/all-about-diagnosis/diagnosis-the-process-for-children/after-diagnosis/diagnosis-telling-a-child-about-their-diagnosis.aspx. Accessed April 5, 2012

Family handout from Autism: Caring for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Resource Toolkit for Clinicians, 2nd Edition, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Children With Disabilities Autism Subcommittee (ASC).

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