Growing up as an autistic in a world not designed for you is hard, but it is even harder managing this alone. Telling your parents that you think you are autistic is the first step to self acceptance but it can feel like a large hurdle. Maybe you’re worried your parents won’t get it or that they will be ashamed of you. You may find they experience a sense of relief because they have always known you were different and autism provides the explanation they never had. No matter how they react, it is important to remember that they love you and it is their job to help and support you, they will come around.
It is natural to feel scared, I remember feeling petrified of it all coming out wrong when I spoke about it for the first time, but I hope this list will give you some ideas for how best to approach the conversation.
Do your research
Autism is a very complex neurological disability so spend time learning about it. Research carefully before you make any assumptions – one article isn’t enough!
- Do online tests
- Read lists of traits and articles
- Investigate related and co-occurring conditions – ADHD, OCD, Social Anxiety etc. Could you have any of these as well as or instead of autism?
- Learn from the #ActuallyAutistic community – autistic people are often the best source, because we have lived experience
Gather all your evidence in a folder, ready to present to your parents.
Reflect upon what you’ve read.
As you read, ask yourself “does this fit me?” Think back on your childhood, your quirks and your needs, when you consider autism, does everything start to make more sense? Reflect on your childhood and see if autism explains any of your quirks, strengths, or struggles.
How do they perceive autism?
Before telling them that you might be autistic, think about how they might react to such a statement. Maybe it would be worth warming them up to the subject of autism first – try recommending some of the awesome autism books that are out there or promote a movie which has a good representation (Eg ‘The Accountant’).
Choose a calm, quiet time to talk.
You’ll want a time when no one is especially stressed or distracted.
- If your parents are moving quickly, being louder than usual, or being short with you, that means they are probably stressed and not ready to listen.
- Avoid times of extra stress, like when someone is sick, a big family transition (e.g. right before a vacation), or holidays with relatives over. Your parents may not be as focused, and have a hard time listening well.
- Explain that you have something important to talk about – you could say something like “I have something big to tell you, and I’m wondering if now is a good time.”
Explain the possibility that you may be autistic
Give some examples of your unusual behavior and experiences. Let them know that you’ve been thinking about this carefully and that finding answers is important to you.
- For example, “I think I could be autistic. I’ve been researching it for the past month and a lot of the qualities describe me and helped me understand myself better.”
- Bring up the most noticeable & obvious traits first – for example, having meltdowns or lining up things are more obvious than face blindness
- Talk about the strengths & positives that autism gives you as well as the negatives & your struggles
- Present your evidence folder – this shows the effort you’ve put in
Focus on the benefits of pursuing this
Describe how a diagnosis, and the subsequent support, could help you. I would assume your parents want what’s best for you, so focus on how seeing a specialist could improve your life.
Here are some examples of the benefits:
- It may help you (and your family, partner, employer, colleagues and friends) to understand why you may experience certain difficulties and what you can do about them.
- It may correct a previous misdiagnosis (such as schizophrenia) and mean that any mental health problems can be better addressed.
- It may help you to get access to appropriate services and benefits for your specific challenges (eg. Sensory integration therapy)
- You will be entitled to have reasonable adjustments made by your employer, college or university, this could improve your work ethic and reduce stress
- You and your parents would have access to a supportive community of autistics and their loved ones.
You don’t have to get your parents to agree that you may be autistic today, you just need to convince them that it’s worth bringing up with a doctor.
Be prepared to correct common misconceptions.
Many people don’t know much about autism, and believe the stereotypes that don’t fit many autistic people. Here are some examples:
- Many autistic people are able to speak, we are not all non-verbal. Some of us may be a mix of both depending on the circumstances
- Autistic people do care about others, often quite deeply. Many autistics have empathy but not all of us know how to show this in ways that others understand.
- Autism is not a childhood disability, it is lifelong. There is no “cure.”
- Autism is not limited to white boys. People of all ethnicities, ages, and genders can be autistic.
- Autism is not an epidemic. It is not a contagious disease.
- Autism is a spectrum and no two autistic people are the same.
Explain how your diagnosis would benefit them.
When parents are told they may react a number of ways. If your parents are dismissive or resistant then focus on how their life might be improved by you getting a diagnosis.
- A therapist could help you avoid meltdowns which means you may not be crying or making a scene as much
- Parents are important in the diagnosis process so they will be interviewed and be given the opportunity to express their views
- If you get a diagnosis then you will have answers and won’t have to keep wondering why you are different
If they still don’t listen or understand there are other options. You could go to a school counsellor or other trusted adult and explain the situation – they may be able to talk to your parents. There are charities that can help talk to your parents and explain how beneficial a diagnosis is. You can also explain to your doctor that you think you may be autistic, once it’s time for your check-up.
Give your parents time to process this.
This is big news, and your parents may need time to absorb it. They may also not understand what autism is very well so may want to do their own research. Do your best to be patient with them even if they react badly. I can promise you that it’s not personal; they’re just confused and in shock.