The Blog

When is the Right Time to Tell Your Child They Are Autistic?

One afternoon last week, my 6yo highly functioning autistic daughter came home from school in an absolutely foul mood. She wanted all of my attention, which as any mother of more than one child knows is impossible to give, unless the siblings aren't around. I sat with her for a little while, giving her gentle hugs and listening to her talk, but the second I stood up to tend to the dinner she went postal. She was lashing out at the younger two, and pushed her 20 month old brother over a couple of times when he came to innocently investigate what was going on. She was telling her three and a half year old sister that she hated her; that she was horrible and the worst sister in the world.

Our witching hour is more like three at the moment, and that evening was particularly bad.

Almost an hour and a half into this - and feeling utterly broken - I poured myself a G&T. It went a small way to help take the edge off the moody vibes, and allowed me the space to centre myself and take some deep breaths. Then I put the music on too loud, and we danced around the living room uptown funking and shaking it off. For about thirty minutes everything was going marvellously; until I started nudging the kids upstairs to start getting ready for bed. Which is when all hell broke loose again. Cue more tears and tantrums, which continued until they were asleep.

When I finally coaxed the reason for P's upset out of her, she told me that she'd been pushed over in the playground. She finds it exceptionally hard to let these things go, and often holds on to the notion that the other person did it on purpose and was out to get her. I'd love to say this doesn't happen very often at school, but that would be a bear faced lie. A few days later she came home with not one, but two slips to say that she'd banged her head (the incidences happened within 90 minutes of each other). She is one of the smallest in the year, and gets knocked over at least once a week, in the midst of other kids charging around.

My hubby and I have come to the conclusion that we need to tell P that she is autistic. School had mentioned eight or nine being the optimum age, and other people say you shouldn't tell them until they are in their teens, otherwise it will end up being used as 'an excuse for bad behaviour'. Hubby attended a talk recently, and it would seem the consensus among autism experts is that you can't tell them soon enough. Once the child understands that their brain works differently to their friends/siblings they can start to process the ways that it impacts their life. I'm inclined to agree that the earlier this starts happening the better.

Getting a six year old to understand autism is a tall order. How can I expect P to just get it, when I find it a complete minefield and I'm thirty years older?

We planned to take P out and tell her on Sunday, while my in-laws were with the little ones, but weren't able to in the end. Hubby's Granddad (who was very ill) had taken a turn for the worst and his mum and dad had to rush off. Unfortunately he passed away in the early hours of Monday morning, and we had to have a whole other sensitive conversation with the children instead. This has highlighted something that we knew already.

There will never be a perfect time to tell her.

Life will get in the way, and we could find excuse after excuse to put it off if we wanted. So we shall do it this weekend. Come hell or high water.

Collectively we've read endless books, blogs and forums about autism this year. All of them impart some wisdom, and give us hope. It's our first year after diagnosis, and was always going to be hard work.

I am confident though that once we get past this tricky stage, we will be able to move towards seeing autism as a blessing rather than a curse.