The only disability in life is a bad attitude.
March 18, 2014 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Should I disclose my son's ASD and ADHD to other parents when he goes on playdates where we are not present?

At nearly-8, my son is starting to get invitations to hang out after school at friends houses. He has been friends with the kids all year (and in one case several years) and has attended birthday parties and other group outings with them (where we have been present). We don't know the parents to do much more than say hello.

My wonderful, funny, smart, compassionate son has an ADHD diagnosis, and also, more recently an autism spectrum diagnosis. If he has autism (he only barely fits the criteria; my personal opinion is that once we get the ADHD under control a lot of the social processing behaviors will reduce a great deal, but I digress), it's very mild. He is also highly gifted (I have testing!) and, as his teacher so kindly put it, while all the kids in his class seem to like and respect him, it's taken him a long time to find someone who has shared interests with whom he can be real friends.

I am afraid that if I disclose to the parents any information at all, these fragile proto-friendships will be discouraged. However, I'm also afraid if I don't disclose, his ADHD behaviors (particularly his ability to not hear or immediately forget directions or instructions, and his tendency to get hooked on doing one specific thing one specific way (hyperfocus)) will cause them to think that he's an ill-raised problem child, and not want him back anyhow.

We have often left him with adults who are our friends and who have known him since birth, and they always tell us what a wonderful guest he was, but they're used to him and his quirks. He is in an afterschool program which has no idea about his diagnosis or the accommodations he gets in school, and he thrives there.

He is not currently medicated (he had a heart murmur as a infant and there is a family history; we are going to go the medication route but need to get the cardiologist to sign off first), so there isn't any issue of afterschool behavior "crash" as can sometimes happen. It's just him being himself, quirks and all.

This is a modern parenting dilemma if there ever was one. Do I tell them? What do I say?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (27 answers total)
Will he need any specialized medical treatment...or does he pose a risk to others that kids without his conditions do not?

If not, then no need to make this a bigger deal for your son than it needs to be.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:33 PM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Just explain his behavioral issues as though they're a stage. "Benny is doing that selective hearing thing, you might have to ask him five times to stop playing and wash his hands for dinner."

I have a 7 year old Godson and he's doing the selective hearing thing and he doesn't have a diagnosis. Most kids that age are kind of a mess anyway.

You can also ask the other kid over to see what he's like.

Another note SO many kids have some kind of thing, don't be surprised if his friend has ADD or ADHD or some other issue.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:35 PM on March 18, 2014 [13 favorites]

Have you tried asking your kid whether he would like people to know?

Surely an eight-year-old is old enough to have an opinion.
posted by BlueJae at 12:39 PM on March 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

I don't think you should. It sounds like his issues are mild, these are kids who already know him and play with him, and he has a history of behaving well when he is a guest.

However, I do want to caution you that regardless of whether you tell them you may end up signalling that there is some sort of issue. The mom of one of my son's friends from school has made such repeated, anxious, and specific inquiries about her son's behavior and our son's reactions that we strongly suspect her boy has been diagnosed with mild autism.
posted by Area Man at 12:40 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kids are kids. My children had all sorts of children over, some were easier to deal with than others, but one doesn't expect them to be perfectly socialized, and I never felt like I'd wished I'd had some sort of warning. If he doesn't pose some sort of specific risk — may get violent, may make difficult demands, may start screaming uncontrollably, etc — then I wouldn't bothering mentioning a diagnosis you suspect to be inexact, and that won't provide them with any better coping tools than fear and apprehension.
posted by ubiquity at 12:42 PM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't worry about it. Kids around that age start tempering their behavior when outside the house. My experience has been that the quirks can be tempered a bit when in a social situation and then there's a bit of decompression needed when the kid gets home.

Being in someone else's home is different than the school environment and the one on one makes it easier to deal with social cues. I often heard compliments about behavior that I couldn't have imagined at home.
posted by readery at 12:43 PM on March 18, 2014

ADHD is far less stigmatized than ASD. I don't know if you should disclose or not, but when disclosing I think it is better to choose the least-stigmatizing explanatory diagnosis. Sure, it might perpetuate stigma to think in this way, but having dealt with this issue in an adult context, I don't think anyone is obligated to "fight the good fight" when it comes at the expense of their well-being.
posted by decathexis at 1:06 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was this age, parents weren't really that involved in afterschool playdates/hangouts. They were there to make sure nobody got hurt, the house didn't burn down, etc. but they were not really hands on or even directly supervising us unless we were doing something that required specific adult involvement (cooking, swimming, etc).

There were plenty of kids I hung out with who had low-level annoying/ill-raised problem behaviors, and unless it was causing severe conflicts, parents really were not getting involved. And if it got to the point where parents were stepping in and judging who was behaving vs. not behaving, that indicated that there was a larger problem and the writing was pretty much on the wall.

So, I don't know? I don't see the point in disclosing this. Either your son is going to do fine and have a grand time at his friends' houses, or your son is going to be a terror and it's not going to matter whether he has whatever diagnosis. It's not like the parents are going to say, "Now I know Trevor is being a little asshole, but he has ADHD so you have to play with him!"
posted by Sara C. at 1:21 PM on March 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

If there is some behavior they need to be aware of describe it. (See hal_c_on and Ruthless Bunny comments above). I'd avoid labeling the kid (in his mind or the minds of others).
posted by Carbolic at 1:21 PM on March 18, 2014

there is nothing shameful about being on the spectrum, but the language you are using here, including words like mild, and gifted, suggest you might. even the language of disclosing or not disclosing, you should think about why you are nervous like this.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:25 PM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I divulge, hell, I blurt, because it makes people more forgiving. That might not be an issue for you.

My son is a bit older than yours, and I always ask him before bringing it up to a new person.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:35 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

> There were plenty of kids I hung out with who had low-level annoying/ill-raised problem behaviors, and unless it was causing severe conflicts, parents really were not getting involved. And if it got to the point where parents were stepping in and judging who was behaving vs. not behaving, that indicated that there was a larger problem and the writing was pretty much on the wall. So, I don't know? I don't see the point in disclosing this

So people know it's not a matter of being "ill-raised," and that the kid might be doing the best he can.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:37 PM on March 18, 2014

I used the term "ill-raised" because the OP brought up that point in the question.

The reality is that either the kids are going to get along, or they won't.
posted by Sara C. at 1:44 PM on March 18, 2014

I read Sara C.'s list as a random grabbag of reasons why kids would glue glitter on the dog and reasons parents might ascribe to glitter-gluing kids.

And there's always the risk play date parents might judge your kid as ill-raised because he prefers cow milk to almond milk.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:49 PM on March 18, 2014

As a mom of 4 my rule of thumb would be for play dates no but for sleepovers yes. Of course asking your little dude what he thinks is the best option.
posted by lasamana at 2:00 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

As an adult without kids, I've had parents warn me in advance that their kids were autistic or on the spectrum. I appreciated the warning because then I didn't think that their kids' odd behavior was in response to anything I'd done. If I had kids I wouldn't discourage friendships with autistic kids, I'd just have a talk with them about being understanding and flexible around their friend's quirks. I think people are more compassionate than you're giving them credit for.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:01 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd like to add that if there is a behavior you are particularly worried about try discussing it with your son beforehand. In our house when my kids were little flushing the toilet was apparently optional so we always discussed how it was important to do that at someone else's. I realize that's gross but it must be a boy thing.
posted by lasamana at 2:06 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to put myself in the position of the parent of the friend hosting the playdate and think what my response would be. I think if you mentioned beforehand that he had ADHD/is frequently a very active child, it might help with setting the expectation, so that when he was at the playdate it would be more like, "Oh, I see!" and less like, "Wow, this one's a handful!" You might also give the parents a heads up about the particular behaviors without mentioning the diagnosis, because for their purposes they don't really need to know what the diagnosis is.

Maybe just on the phone when arranging the playdate, you could say, "Anonymous Jr. is quite an energetic kid!" They'll probably be able to read between the lines and it might soften things.
posted by mermily at 2:31 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, I have a 9 year-old child with a diagnosed mental health issue. Her symptoms rarely come out at school, but certainly at home. Play dates are off-and-on depending on with whom and how familiar they are to our family.

What we have done in similar situations is kept play dates pretty short at first -- familiarity is key to my kid in particular. We also prefer public play dates (at a playground for example) until we know the family better.

Sounds very sheltering of us, but it's what's worked thus far.

Our kid has never divulged her diagnoses except with very close confidants (who aren't always who we expect them to be, but she owns her challenges, which has been a huge and very recent step.)

Good on you for thinking this through carefully.
posted by mamabear at 2:49 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

> I used the term "ill-raised" because the OP brought up that point in the question

I missed that. You're right. Sorry, I get defensive on that topic.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:24 PM on March 18, 2014

If he has behavorial issues I'd mention the (likely) cause. If a parent would be put off by a diagnosis (as opposed to behavior) then they can be written off anyways.

A friend of our kids is sort of a monster, and knowing he's been diagnosed with something makes us more, rather than less, likely to have play dates.
posted by jpe at 3:53 PM on March 18, 2014

If he's functioning well enough that other kids want to play with him, and adults, who have met him, invite him over, he's fine. I would think nothing of it if your son were to play with my daughter. If there's a specific behavior, like, 'He'll freak out if you serve him orange juice' or 'he's terrified of dogs' that's a handy thing to know, but otherwise, sounds like a nice normal kid.

I wouldn't worry about this so much. It's very common.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:07 PM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Just about everything you describe in your child describes my child too, and I have gone through this internal debate over and over again over the years. A similar debate: do I tell every summer camp/new teacher about her first, potentially creating a negative attitude at the get-go, or let her establish herself and then deal with what happens when it happens? I have no absolute answer and you will likely have to continually assess this at every age, for different play dates, etc. And also, while you display and even keeled attitude, this is very emotional stuff, and for me, involves some shame, embarrassment, anger (at her, at myself, at the other parents/teachers/camp counselors etc).

I don't know about you, but I've undergone a 20 minute lecture about my lack of discipline from the only parent in her class I thought was "cool", I've been called into the principal's office enough times that I feel like I'm on detention myself, and I've experienced other parents not returning my calls anymore. It's just hard and complicated is what I'm trying to say.

Anyway, what I can say from the perspective of having done this for more than 11 years is, you can't control other people, and other people's reactions to your child will likely be more or less the same whether or not you give them a heads up.

I tend to fall on the side of a light heads up at this point. Something along the lines of, "BTW, Little Latkes can get pretty spaced out after school so..." or "BTW, just a heads up, sometimes Little Latkes can get frustrated and hard to redirect. I find it best to just give her space at those times." But as I say, having tried giving very detailed explanations before hand, no explanation before hand, and this middle ground I've mostly settled on, people seem to do their thing no matter what. Rigid people get rigid. Laid back people stay laid back. You're doing the right thing thinking about this, but be prepared to not have much impact on this, unfortunately.

Please feel free to mefi mail me - always looking to talk to more parents of spacey, hyper, emotionally disregulated, socially delayed, empathetic geniuses!
posted by latkes at 4:33 PM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have ASD, and I hated my mom for constantly bringing this up and "warning" people when i was a kid.

It always ended up with me being unfairly judged for just being weird, or for shit that people ignored when other kids who were around had done it.

I had a much better time just being a slightly weird kid than having peoples preloaded assumptions come into the mix, and while i had several friends for a long time whose parents didn't know and just put up with my oddness, several parents who were told ended up just disallowing me from hanging out with my friends after they actually noticed the weirdness.

Confirmation bias? maybe. But i've never had a positive experience in my entire fucking life of someone knowing who wasn't like, my psychologist or some other professional who was there to help me.

I'm also afraid if I don't disclose, his ADHD behaviors (particularly his ability to not hear or immediately forget directions or instructions, and his tendency to get hooked on doing one specific thing one specific way (hyperfocus)) will cause them to think that he's an ill-raised problem child, and not want him back anyhow.

A lot of kids are like this, and a lot of friends of mine ended up being kids who were very similar to myself in those kinds of regards but whose parents were flatly against acknowledging that their childs behavior was at all out of the norm.

I lost friendships over parents not wanting to see that their kid acted like me, the kid with a problem.

Overall, i think this type of thing is much more accepted as just quirkyness than as big scary autism.

I agree with asking him what he thinks, but i think the default without that should be not saying anything.
posted by emptythought at 4:44 PM on March 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

If agree with asking him.

Also have questions for you about your path to diagnosis if you don't mind memailing me.

posted by tilde at 6:33 PM on March 18, 2014

I think it can be worth it, just as a means to protect him - not everyone is accepting or understanding of being ignored (which the selective hearing/auditory processing/hyperfocus can manifest like) and it can smooth that over. I wouldn't mention anything but that behaviour though, and that he does try hard, and that these are tactics that might work.

My daughter loses focus, a lot. She's like her dad that way (walk to the kitchen for dinner, stop to put a thing away, sit and draw and paint and suddenly you're starving). So I try and remind anyone caring for her - which, regardless of how 'hands off' playdates are, is exactly what this situation is - that she needs regular reminders if she's got things to do.

That said, sometimes you're gonna lose friends over this. I can't stand screaming kids, you know the ones who can't talk, just yell and scream and squeal and every game is about fighting and guns and dying and carry on? I don't like that in my house, or around my kid, so I don't encourage those friendships. And if I thought a kid was deliberately ignoring me, I would probably be a little offput by that too, unless I'd been given a headsup.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:31 PM on March 18, 2014

If your kid was a potential danger to other kids or, alternately, was especially fragile and needed special care (like, if he had brittle bones and some activities would be too rough or something?), THEN I would want to know, because I'd want the kids in my care to all feel comfortable they'd be safe enough with me.

But as for the rest, I think I wouldn't divulge anything. Maybe have a talk with your son about play dates and expectations. Encourage him to speak up if he needs directions repeated, remind him that the other parent is to be listened to and their home respected, that kind of thing.

Honestly, though, I think most parents worry about their kids on playdates, basically wanting them to be okay (and also hoping they'll be on their best behavior). The other parents, being parents too, understand that they have to make accommodations for kids when they are hosting those play dates. And kids are amazingly adaptive.

You just have to go for it and see what happens.

And usually? It goes FINE! :)
posted by misha at 9:55 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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