On this week’s Parenting segment, one listener is unsure if they should tell their son about his autism diagnosis.
“I have an eight-year-old son who we recently got tested for autism,” they told Moncrieff.
“We had been told by his teacher... as he can struggle to communicate with others in class, and with social cues.
“We have now been told that he does have autism. We are struggling to come to terms with it, but at this stage our son does not know.”
The listener said they don’t want their son to stress over the diagnosis and unsure how to tell him.
“Is there a right age to tell him?” the listener asked. “And how do we tell him in a way that he won’t start panicking?”
'He's still the same kid'
Child psychotherapist Dr Joanna Fortune said the first step is for the parent to address their own stress.
“Let's look at how this is going to play out in your family home,” she said. “He's still the same kid he was before you did this assessment.”
The parents should not speak to their son until they have adjusted to the diagnosis themselves, according to Joanna.
“You've got so much stress that you're holding that you will - even inadvertently - convey that to him,” she said.
'Talk to him clearly'
Telling the son he is autistic as soon as possible is still important, however.
“He needs to know because his teachers will know,” Joanna said.
The parents need to create a safe and calm environment when they tell their son about his diagnosis.
“Talk to him very clearly and be specific about his strengths and his interests and the things he's good at,” Joanna said.
“Then talk about in an honest way the areas that can be a challenge for him... [say], ‘Now that we know this about you, this is great because we can make sure that you have the supports that you need'.
“This is just going to because of this new understanding... of how his own brain works, how he experiences the world and how those challenges are not him or anything wrong with him.”
The most important thing, Joanna urged, is to remind the son there is nothing wrong with him.
Joanna recommended AsIAm.ie as a support service for the parents and the child to learn more about autism.
She also recommended listening to broadcaster Stefanie Preissner’s own experience being autistic to understand how best to adjust.
“Give your son an appropriate type of language and story that he can share – it's a way of normalising all of this,” Joanna said.