Telling my daughter she's autistic is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. She'd had the assessment, she'd been to the psychologist's office and she's not daft, she knew exactly why she was there; she'd read the posters on the walls. She'd have to know. I had to tell her.
Even though the diagnosis wasn't a surprise, it was still a shock. I'm not sure if that will make sense to everyone reading this but I wonder if other parents of ASD kids know what I mean. It's tough having a professional tell you there's something officially different about your child and the implications of that were terrifying for me. What did it mean? How would she be? Now? In the future?
I took a few days to level myself off before I told her. I ordered books to help her understand what autism is and what it means for her. (She loves books and needs facts to wrap her head around anything). I got a fantastic book written by an Asperger's kid, and a gorgeous picture book to keep it simple. And then I told her.
I told her that autism means that her brain is wired differently to Neuro Typicals. I told her it means she's quirky, creative and able to think about things in surprising, inventive ways. I told her some of the brilliantly clever people who work for NASA, physicists at Cambridge University and CERN are probably a bit autistic. They kind of have to be to do their job, to focus so specifically. I told her she's unique, special, gorgeous and loved. I explained that autism's like a rainbow and we're all a different colour on the spectrum.
I told her that people with autism sometimes need help in dealing with social situations. They sometimes need to be taught how to chat.
I reassured her that if she were to go Googling, she'd see a broad range of symptoms of autism in people with huge, huge differences. I told her not to be frightened.
And then I asked her how she felt.
She started crying.
It was heartbreaking. She was just ten. But I was relieved she had an emotional and not a purely intellectual response. I asked her why she was upset.
She said: "It's as if something dark and primal in me is broken."
God, she was ten.
I held her and held her and held her.
She read the books, she sat in her room, she started asking questions. And over a period of about a year, she accepted it.
Two months ago my son Joe asked her if Asperger's is curable. My daughter was OUTRAGED.
"I don't want to be cured! This is who I am! I like who I am! It's cool to have ASD."
My heart sang.
Now, in our house, she uses the term Neuro Typical like it's an insult. And honestly, I couldn't be happier.