On Telling You that You are Autistic

Boy looking out of a window at NT Croome

Gorgeous boy, you are sitting on the stairs, tears running down your face. As you heave and splutter, you try to begin a word – over and over – but you cannot make it come.

“Shhhh sweetheart. Everything is ok. Think about breathing in and out. I am here.”

I am sitting at the bottom of the stairs, hands resting on your knees. A few moments ago you were taken away from the dining table. I can still hear daddy in the kitchen, comforting your sister.

You calm enough to relax your shoulders. Huge blue eyes look up at me with so any questions, so much distress.

“Why did you do that to your sister?”

“I thought she was going to stick her tongue out!” The panic rises in your voice again.

“It is alright. We are just talking so that we understand. But did she stick her tongue out?”

“Ut…ut…ut… I thought she was going to!”

“You were scared she was going to…I understand. But did you scream because she did, or because you were frightened that she would?

“I was frightened. I was frightened. I do not think I saw it! I just got so frightened and so angry!”

“I understand. But listen… If H does something that is making you feel bad, what must you do?”

There is a brief pause. You wipe your nose on the edge of your sleeve.

“I should tell you.”

“Yes, sweetheart. You should tell me, or daddy, or any other adult around you who you trust. Because shouting at H makes her sad. And it does not help. If an adult knows then they can help. Can you try to remember that?”

Your face crumples again. Fresh tears stream down your face. There is so much pain written in your expression. One look and I know how deeply you feel it.

“But, but, but, I get so angry. And I get so worried. And I cannot stop and I cannot think. It is so hard. I do not know why I get so worried and so angry!”  You heave and shudder again.

But I do, gorgeous boy – I know why.

You bury your head into my shoulder and oh I could break into a thousand pieces.

But I will not. Because you need me not to.

For a long time now, I have thought that we should tell you that you are autistic. You have given voice to your differences many times. We have our own language for it. You know the things that you find ‘tricky’. You know that you sometimes struggle with speaking and crowds and changes and loud noises.

You know you love words and lights and music and flapping your hands and when you love something you love it oh so dearly, oh so passionately.

But we have never really given that difference a name.

I have read several articles, several posts from others who have been through this. There are no hard and fast rules about when is the ‘right’ time. Some say that waiting until you ask is best. Others think you should know the word, and be proud, as early as you can. Most agree that there is no right time for all. Only the right time for you.

And daddy and I agree – it feels like that time is now.

On a chilly Saturday afternoon, we all curl up on the same sofa, me, you, Daddy and H. We explain that we have something to talk about, and we begin to talk.

We talk about the things you find tricky.

We talk about why you sometimes need help.

We talk about the things you love.

We talk about your extraordinary talents, your wonderful sense of humour.

And we tell you that the reason for many of these things is because your brain works a little differently to other people, and we call that difference autism. We call the people whose brains are a little different, autistic.

Just like there are all kinds of differences between people – some are men, some are women, some are from one country, some from another, some have dark skin, some lighter, some worship a certain god, others another, some fall in love with men, some fall in love with women – just in that way, some have slightly different brains. Those differences mean they find some things tricky but they also have some wonderful talents, just like you. And all the differences make up the world and make it such an interesting and remarkable place.

You are much quieter than usual. I thought you would ask questions right away, but you do not at first. There is a lot to process.

“My brain is a little different? What was the word?”

“Autistic. People with your kind of brain are autistic and people with a more common sort of brain we often call neurotypical.” It is a long word but I think you will like it. Words bring you joy.

“Aut-is-tic. Neuro-typical. And what kind of brain do you have mummy?”

“Ah, that is an interesting question. Daddy is neurotypical. Harriet is a little young to know for sure, but we think she is neurotypical. I think I am autistic, sweetheart, like you. I will have a special appointment soon to find out for sure.”

This information relaxes you, I think. You raise your arms to your face and begin to stim.

“So, give me an example. What things am I good at?”

“Well, you are excellent at reading and making up jokes and you love words. You know how much you love Harry Potter and how much you love Rubik’s cubes and you get a bit sad when you cannot do things that are about them? That is probably your slightly different brain.”

“I am good at making puns!” You smile, flapping in between us.

“Yes, you are very good at that.”

You get to your feet and begin to trot on your toes.

“And, and, and…what do I find tricky?”

“You find it tricky when things are unexpected. You find some movements are a little tricky, like climbing and getting dressed. You find some noises and feelings make you feel very sad or very angry.”

“Like when H sings and kisses me and sticks her tongue out!”

You beam at us. It is a revelation.

“I find that tricky because of my brain! I get angry and worried and I cannot stop because my brain is a little different!”

Yes, my darling. Your brain is a little different –

and unique, wonderful, astonishing, challenging and beautiful.

Just like you.

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6 thoughts on “On Telling You that You are Autistic

  1. I never actually thought about the difficulty in deciding when to tell a (so called) higher functioning autistic child about autism. I think you handled it beautifully. Our King Ben is (so called) severe classic autism so his differences are extreme. He’s heard the word since he was a toddler.
    If he ever does ask questions about autism, I hope I am able to explain to him as well as you did to your little guy.

  2. The beginning of this post made me think of my son and how anxiety can be so hard to live with for our kids. The second half was such a perfect way to tell your son he is autistic. So glad the discussion went well for you. #spectrumsunday

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