Diagnosis and Identity
In an effort to be as informed a possible about my clients and their perspectives, I follow a number of Facebook groups focused on autistic adults sharing their experiences and expressing their opinions.
In one particular group (Ask An Autistic), the mother of a 6-year-old autistic boy recently asked for the group's advice on how and when to tell her son a) that he is autistic and b) that she wants to try taking him to therapy to address some of his difficulties. Here are some of the answers she received (included anonymously, with permission from the group; emphasis mine):
"[H]e should have access to identity and community. Understanding oneself and seeing oneself reflected in others is important!"
"I learned so much about myself and could explain so much more about my experiences after a few months in these groups and learning from other autistics. Having had that as a kid honestly sounds like a dream."
"I spent my whole childhood feeling like all my struggles were because I was weird and couldn't understand things that were easy for everyone else. Being autistic is not shameful."
"I knew I was different for a long time when I was younger, wasn’t diagnosed until I was 12, my mother told me nothing about what was happening and I found out about my diagnosis by going thru her emails at age 12."
"Hiding the thing will make it more shameful to him when he finds out - and trust me, we always find out."
"I was diagnosed as an adult after my son bc his evaluators pointed out that i toe walk a lot. I wish my parents had taken me in as a kid. I mask a lot, and the therapist said that’s part of why my anxiety is soooo bad."
"And please, please tell him he's autistic before the therapist does. It is incredibly traumatic having it dropped out of the blue. Be honest, because having it hidden hurts worse. And make sure it comes from you."
"If you go to therapy, mentioning that can help normalize it. I went for 7-8 years starting when I was like 7. I remember little about it starting other than that it was where I went every Wednesday. Also, do better than my parents and be sure to tell your son that he’s autistic. It’ll do him a world of good to know that his “differences” are just how his brain is wired and that it’s not a bad thing. My parents didn’t give me that courtesy and I’m still dealing with that 5 years after I found out (which was 10 years after being diagnosed)."
"Tell him he's going to therapy to help him understand and love himself and be comfortable with his own brain."
Here are excerpts from another person's account of how knowledge of their autism impacted their life:
Some additional articles written about this issue:
The importance of identification (especially recommended; it's written by an autistic mother of autistic children)
A book written by a late-diagnosed author about the diagnosis process and how to navigate it as an adult: I Think I Might Be Autistic: A Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and Self-Discovery for Adults