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5 Tips for Talking to Your Child About His or Her Autism

The prospect of talking to your child about his or her ASD can be daunting for any parent. To prepare for the discussion, experts offer these strategies:

Reach out to other parents. Joining a support group for parents of children with ASD or forging friendships with such mothers and fathers can help you prepare for talking with your child about his or her autism, says Lisa Goring, chief program and marketing officer at Autism Speaks. “It can be helpful for parents to talk through with other parents what approaches have worked,” she says.

Generally, talk to your child sooner rather than later. Talking to kids about their ASD “builds self-awareness and contributes to building self-determination skills critical for a successful transition to adulthood,”  Amy Alvord, education director at the Ivymount School in Potomac, Maryland, says. Such talks can also help kids with ASD understand why they have difficulty making and maintaining friendships, why they’re provided special accommodations at school and why it may be harder for them to learn or retain learned skills.

It’s a good idea to get ready for the conversation earlier than you think you need to, adds Sarah Kuriakose, clinical director of the Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinical and Research Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “I’ve talked to too many parents who thought the conversation was several years away, and then find out that a classmate, sibling or even stranger has told their child they have autism! Or, the child has been looking up the topic on their own.

Strike a calm demeanor. Your child is likely to take emotional cues from you, so it’s important to maintain a calm tone, says Rain Newbold-Coco, a board certified behavior analyst with doctoral training in Melbourne, Florida, and the mother of a 4-year-old with ASD. Newbold-Coco talked to her son about his ASD when he was 3. “You want to be cautious you don’t have this catastrophizing tone, because the child may start to internalize that something is wrong with him or her,” she says. “Your approach should depend on your relationship with your child.

Take advantage of ASD resources. Newbold-Coco introduced her son to the concept of ASD with the help of a Sesame Street storybook about Julia, a character with autism. She also showed him videos, such as one featuring a young girl diagnosed with autism talking about what she’d like neurotypical kids – a term used in the autism community to refer to people with typical neurological development –to know about her condition. “My child is an auditory and visual learner,” Newbold-Coco explains. “I See Things Differently: A First Look at Autism,” an illustrated book that helps explain what autism is to kids, also helped her son understand his autism, she says. You can find a wealth of books and videos about ASD with an online search.

Keep things simple and strike a balance. Avoid using clinical language, says psychologist Matt Segall, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Emory Autism Center at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “For example, a parent might talk about a ‘hard time making friends’ as opposed to ‘challenges creating and sustaining peer relationships,’” Segall says. “There should be a balance between [talking about] strengths and weaknesses. Individuals with autism often possess wonderful strengths such as excellent memories, [they can be] highly visual, highly logical, with an orientation towards fairness and following rules, with unique ways of seeing the world or problem- solving.”

Parents should also be clear that having ASD is not an excuse for misbehavior or poor performance. Says Segall: “Having this conversation is a wonderful opportunity for parents to remind children that everyone has various challenges and strengths.”

Excerpted from “5 Tips for Talking to Your Child About His or Her Autism” in U.S. News & World Report. Read the full article.

Source: U.S. News & World Report |  5 Tips for Talking to Your Child About His or Her Autism, https://health.usnews.com/wellness/family/articles/2017-03-13/5-tips-for-talking-to-your-child-about-his-or-her-autism | Copyright 2019 © U.S. News & World Report L.P.

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