What do I tell the kids about my autism diagnosis?
September 23, 2018 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I am middle-aged and was recently officially diagnosed with (high-functioning) autism, what would previously probably have been called aspergers. Our kids are teens. What/how/how much do we tell them about autism and my diagnosis?

I feel like we should tell them something about autism and my diagnosis, because they may see autism books lying around the house as Mrs. AHIMH and I read about it or overhear us discussing it, and because one of the kids might also be mildly autistic (based on our own observation; no official diagnosis).

But we aren't sure what to tell them. Any advice appreciated.
posted by at home in my head to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Dunno. If I had teenagers I'd love to be able to tell the kids that, personally. Especially if it explained something about how I interacted with them, how I interpreted the world and the guardrails that existed between our family and the rest of the world. To me, it would seem that being able to quantify a difference between my family and other families - which most teenagers can see - would be kind of a simultaneous shock to the system and a relief... I mean *boom*, oh.

So maybe they are autistic as well, or maybe their behavior is learned behavior - maybe its nurture not nature. But whatever it is - its quite likely your diagnosis is something that they've known but haven't known. This is an opportunity to be closer, or to figure out how to be closer. Part of that is by opening up to them and including them in this revelation.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:19 AM on September 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

One thing to bear in mind is no matter how beautifully and carefully you think it out, teenagers are generally not hugely interested in anything about their parents. And pretty much everything we tell our kids is viewed through a lens where they're embarrassed by every single thing we do and say.

So sure, explain you got some interesting news about the way you see the world, but don't expect them to appear very interested (they are interested, but they probably won't show you).
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:45 AM on September 23, 2018 [14 favorites]

Is there a particular behavior of yours that the diagnosis helps to explain? You could pose it to the kids as, “You know how sometimes I [do thing]? I recently learned why...”
posted by dayintoday at 8:02 AM on September 23, 2018 [8 favorites]

you could just talk to each other about it in whatever way you naturally would as adults/partners, without whispering or retreating to another room, and let them eavesdrop or cut in to the conversation if they care, same as any other topic. If you make no effort to treat it like a delicate secret, you won't need to make a formal announcement unless you want to.

do make sure to leave the books around in a public space so your kids can read them without having to interrogate you or be sneaky about it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:15 AM on September 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

Is there any reason to think that they should have negative preconceptions about it? I mean, obviously they're likely to be a little wary of something that's usually seen (especially from the outside) as a disability, but would they have strong negative views about it? Are you aware of them being in a peer group “that's autistic” being used as a slur, which seems not-that-rare here in England?

Because, absent any “don't treat autistic people badly”* message that needs to be given, then it's just something you should mention: “I got an autism diagnosis. It was because I'd not been dealing well with [exhausting aspect of interacting in a non-autistic world]”, and then you only need to mention it when it comes up incidentally.

So yeah, all you need to do is say “yeah, I've decided to give myself a bit more time to prepare myself for [social task] now I know I'm autistic” or whatever, just as and when it crops up.

That's my feeling. Because I don't think it should be a big deal. You're the same person you always were, you're just going to slowly start doing things in a way that leaves you with more energy and makes your interactions less brittle.

*obviously in conjunction with a “don't use slurs, end of story” message.
posted by ambrosen at 9:36 AM on September 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

I really like the idea of calling out when it comes up, "oh, now that I know I'm autistic, I realize that I can do x thing differently to make it easier for me/people around me," in front of them. They might not be interested in the particulars of the diagnosis (or might be, and its fine for them to know) but I'd think the most useful part of it for them is knowing that making accommodations for it and doing things the way that works best for you is fine and good.
posted by gaybobbie at 12:09 PM on September 23, 2018

Trying to ask this delicately: is your relationship with your kids good--on the relationships with teenagers scale, anyway? Are there aspects of your behavior that may have been legitimately hurtful or alienating (I don't mean "embarrassing") to them that you now think may be traced back to your diagnosis? Because that's where, I think, they would have the most interest and the right to know. I think it's also where they would be owed an explanation of how you are going to try to modify that behavior now that you understand what's causing it.
posted by praemunire at 1:02 PM on September 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ah, well it's likely the kids noticed there were problems between you, so maybe you can tell them that you were having a hard time communicating, and it turns out that's because dad has a certain way of thinking. This way of thinking can make him really great at ______, but sometimes he has a harder time with talking to people. Now he knows that's why he can do _____, he's able to work on that.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:05 PM on September 23, 2018

My partner was diagnosed a couple years ago with autism, at 42. I have teenagers, and we told them soon after the diagnosis. It has helped them to be more understanding & flexible over stuff, since they understand he's not trying to be a pain in the ass.

My best advice would be to not make it too big a deal. Be matter-of-fact about it. "I recently had some testing done and I've been diagnosed as autistic. I'm still figuring what that means, but it might explain why I do some things differently." Ask if they have any questions or concerns and let them know you're open to talking about it. Depending on your kids, they may or may not want to engage you about it (one of my kids did, the other didn't.)

One thing I've found my kids to be really sensitive about on this front is any whiff of autism being used as an excuse. If my partner handles a situation poorly, they don't want to hear that he doesn't get social cues because he's autistic - they just want him to apologize for handling the situation poorly and that he'll try to do better next time. If he wants them to stop making a noise because it's bothering him, he just needs to say that rather than explaining that some autistic people are sensitive to certain sounds, etc. It's fine for him to have those explanations in his mind, but they don't want to hear it because it feels like he's making excuses or like they're being lectured (he really wants to give explanations).
posted by Emmc325 at 3:29 PM on September 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

[Couple comments removed; if you and your partner are cool co-discussing something in Ask, that's fine, but that should probably be coming from the person asking the question so it's clear that it's what they want to be adding or that they want you commenting by proxy etc.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:58 PM on September 23, 2018

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