Telling Your Child With Autism That They Have Autism — 5 Minutes for Special Needs


I’m not a big television watcher but the buzz this week on social media sites was apparently Max’s parents finally sitting down and telling him he had Asperger’s (that Parenthood show). Now, on the show Max is like, ten? Something like that? Ten. Soak that in for a minute. And they were JUST telling him.

I watched a clip of the scene over and over. It was emotional. It was dramatic. And it was…ridiculous. I’m sorry, I know not everyone agrees with me but there is a reason I skip that show. It’s because of the way they treat autism on the show. And many other shows and movies, for that matter. The parents were petrified to tell their kid. They were upset. They were embarrassed. The looks on their faces said it all. They were afraid to tell him.

My advice to you? DON’T. Don’t be afraid to tell them.

If your kid had chicken pox, or a rash, or diabetes or cancer, would you keep it from them? If they had a broken arm? If they had a stomach virus? If they needed glasses? If they were gifted? If they made the baseball team? If they got straight A’s on a test? You’d tell them. You’d tell them in every case.Or you should tell them.  Because it’s wrong to withold information from them, when it’s about them. If they are autistic or have PDD or Asperger’s or ADHD or OCD, it doesn’t matter. They deserve to know.

Start with books. Start with books or stories on their level. Talk to them, read to them, discuss it with them. Don’t blame their issues on their disabilities. Never, EVER let them use it as an excuse for inappropriate behavior. Make them understand it’s part of who they are, their brain may work differently but they are super-amazing kids. Tell them it makes them unique and different but it also makes them BETTER. It enhances them. Celebrate it with them. Understand their struggles, explain it’s WHY they count everything/hate the cafeteria/stim but don’t put the blame on their autism. Help them learn to accept it, shrug their shoulders and move on.

A diagnosis not a death sentence. A label is not a negative thing. It’s a means to an end. It is a tool to get services and work through issues.

Don’t underestimate your kids. Presume intelligence. Even if you think they cannot understand, they get something. They will understand something. Don’t be like people I know with a NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD who doesn’t understand why he is different and gets frustrated because he’s never, ever been told why. You might be surprised at how well your kid accepts it.

You might have a kid like mine who’s all, “Autism? Dude. I can totally handle it. Whatever. Easy.”

You might have a kid like mine who looks at me when I say it, shrugs his shoulders and goes out to jump on his trampoline. Sure, he’s non-verbal, but I think he knows and I think he doesn’t care. He does, however, care about how many slices of pepperoni are on his pizza.

You might have a kid like mine who explains his autism to people in terms of “autism super powers.” His super power is super-reading and math and super-sonic hearing and touch (clothing tags are bad, yo). His brother’s super power is lightning fast speed, super strength and flexibility. Able to leap stockade fences in a single bound.Expert locksmith, too (We’ve only had to call 911 twice. It’s okay).

You might have a kid who tells people that his autism gives him Jedi powers. And he’ll refer to himself as Luke Skywalker Jedi. And wear a cape with shorts and cowboy boots and a light saber (pool noodle) attached to his belt loop.

But most of all, you might have a kid with autism and that’s okay. And it’s okay to tell them. And you don’t have to worry. They’re going to be just fine.

Email Author    |    Website About MarjH

I am a Domestic Engineer, Total Babe and SAHM to two boys with autism, ADHD, OCD and a variety of other acronyms. I was a band geek in high school, live vicariously through computers and prefer dogs to people, which means I have STELLAR social skills.

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1 GeekChick March 4, 2011 at 11:45 am

Excellent – and so true! But how do you get them to NOT use it as an excuse to get out of things or to not do things?

2 Jenny March 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Hey, Twitter Friend! So good to see your writing. I think the reason Max is 10 and finding out because they got a diagnosis a year ago and probably didn’t know what to do. They didn’t have your stellar advice.

That episode actually brought up the discussion w/my husband. He wants to tell Josh soon so it’s matter of fact, just like you say. I never thought it was important because he currently seems clueless about it. I’m a bit nervous about “getting it right” the first time because typically what Josh hears the first time is what he expects the rest. However, I’m going to do my best to chill out. You can hold me to that. 😉

3 Miss Mommy March 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I am so glad that the parents FINALLY told their son about his diagnosis, but I also sat their yelling at my tv as they did it. First of all, to be a little fair to the characters, they only found out about their son’s diagnosis a year ago, so it’s not like they’ve been hiding this from him his whole life, but the parents have always viewed this like it was a big secret. The first time they told him in the episode was awful. Max had overheard them yelling to another family member; they sat him down to talk to him even though it was late at night and they were already emotional. And then the mom CRIED! And the dad talked about how it was this big disability!! It was awful! Luckily, they consulted with a child psychologist and got better info about ways to talk about Asperger’s in a more positive light, and the second talk went much better.

I like, for the most part, how they handle the issue on the show, but those parents drive me crazy!!!

4 the Domestic Goddess March 4, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I know, I jsut wish they’d stop being so damn whimpy. Take the bull by the horns, yo!

5 Janet March 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Parenthood is past my bedtime 🙁

I am always a fan of keeping things in the open.

Folks would ask me when and how I was going to tell my children they were adopted. Since I have always talked about the trip to bring them home, we always celebrated family day, it was a non-issue.

Same with my oldest’s CAH. She has taken meds 3X a day since 15-months — I just started by telling her what her meds were for. Start simple, grow as the child grows. I have never had to have a talk with her about CAH. (It was tough when I had to explain that that you have to have a recessive gene from both birth parents to have CAH)

OK — now there is Luke. We talk about autism all.the.time in our house. We also talk sensory integration, verbal apraxia (i.e. non-verbal), cleft lip/palate, … Does Luke, at 8 get it? I have no idea. Does it seem to bother him? No. I feel fairly confident in this because on one of his family days we were talking about his specific situation and he made it perfectly clear I wasn’t to talk about it.

Thaks for a great post 🙂

6 the Domestic Goddess March 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I don’t believe in secrets. Being open with your children is critical to your relationship with them! Even if you don’t think they understand!

7 Lisa Quinones-Fontanez March 4, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Another great post Marj! I just got into The Parenthood and I do really love it. (I am however a TV, Reality TV, Crap TV junkie – just because I can’t think all the time).

I totally get your point, because the boo hoos gets kind of tired but in the show’s defense, the boy Max was just recently diagnosed. So I do kind of get it. They are still in the “mourning” period.

I have yet to tell my kid he has autism, he’s five and I don’t know if he would understand just yet. But since he loves books, books are a good place to start. I never want to hide it from him and we never ever allow autism to be an excuse.

8 the Domestic Goddess March 4, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Books are a great place to start. You’d be surprised what they understand. Start simple.

9 Mary E.S. March 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I just read this post to my son who is autistic and also has severe anxiety issues and he loved the last part.He then described himself in super power language. We have never been secretive about their autism.Our 17 yr old is diagnosed with Aspergers so when the little one was diagnosed as autistic,he was used to hearing about it and has never had a problem with people talking about it.He has heard Mommy get on her soapbox to inform people about the spectrum a million times so he knows enough that he can educate new friends when they ask questions.No parent should be afraid to tell their child that they are autistic.In our home it’s just another part of them,like having green or blue eyes.

10 MarjH March 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm

At his school they have a social skills curriculum they use called “Super Flex.” It’s pretty good!
And, I agree. Just like blue or brown or green eyes.

11 rickismom March 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm

We told Ricki about Down syndrome when she was about 5. I prepared a book about people with different disabilities, and the tools they used to manage, including a girl with DS who uses a computer to write. THEN wer told her. adding that her “tool” was her aide

12 MarjH March 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I like that approach!
I think it’s important to be prepared before talking to them. Books and such help tremendously.

13 Lea M.- March 6, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Your doing a great job! Keep it up!

14 Tarasview March 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I love that show- I’ve watched every episode since the first one. Max is 8 and the parents have only known about his Autism for less than a year and most of the show has been about them processing it and figuring out how to deal with it. Hence the fear and stuff on their part. The show actually has an excellent blog that talks about all this stuff too and their rationals behind it etc.. 🙂 I agree that it is a bit unrealistic but most TV is. I actually think they have done an amazing job portraying what it is like to have a child with high-functioning Autism. I cry as I watch it each week.

I agree that kids should know- my autistic son is 8 and he has known about his autism almost as long as we have known. But we did have to process it ourselves before we were able to effectively explain it to him. We also got help from a professional- our counsellor has been amazing in helping my son understand his differences. She has also helped us explain it to our other two (younger) children.

And I agree- a label is not a bad thing. I swear getting a label saved my sanity!

Excellent post 🙂

15 MarjH March 8, 2011 at 10:29 am

I get waiting until you process it and learn about it before you tell them, that makes sense. But I just feel like the dramatic aspect of it – I don’t know. I felt like the were embarrassed or something. Just my opinion.

16 Tarasview March 8, 2011 at 11:19 am

oh I agree- I think they were embarrassed about it. That has been part of the show- the dad’s inability to just accept Max as he is and to see the positive in the diagnosis.

And I definitely agree the storyline is not a “do this” kind of a show. More of a “what not to do” kind of a post. But I did appreciate the fact that they showed just how negative and sad a parent can feel about the diagnosis. It can take a long time to see the good for some people. I like that they show the not good side of things too.

Again- excellent post 🙂

17 Amanda Daybyday March 7, 2011 at 10:08 am

Thank you! Great post.

18 MarjH March 8, 2011 at 10:34 am


19 amanda rasmussen April 6, 2011 at 8:23 am

I think it’s the judgmental attitude from other parents(your whole blog) that is adding to the problem of isolation for many parents with kids on the spectrum…
They say if you’ve met one child with Autism then you’ve met one child with Autism….they are all unique. Many children with Autism…(HFA/ Asperger’s) have issues with self awareness and therefore I think the answer as to when to talk to your child would be different for each individual set of circumstances.
It makes me so annoyed when people stand on their high horse and judge others…..
Take each day one by one…I think 8-10 is a perfect time to talk with your kids….but that is just my opinion based on my experiences….and certainly I would not say that it was the right approach for all…
Your whole blog made me sad and appreciative for the supportive people in my life…

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