Many parents struggle with the issue of telling their child the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.
First of all, how do you explain it in terms that they will understand and secondly, how old should the child be? A three-year-old has a much different level of understanding than a six-year-old and a teenager is likely to tune right out. This is a decision that parents need to make, sooner or later, and while I cannot tell you the perfect age to tell your child, I can tell you how we told our son.
Our son was eleven years old when he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. This came as a complete surprise to my husband and myself because we had long given up on the theory that our son has “a touch of autism”. We thought we were going to hear a diagnosis of Developmental Co-ordination Disorder, instead, we received two diagnoses.
After researching Asperger’s Syndrome for several days and letting the diagnosis sink in, we decided to tell our son. The groundwork for this conversation had been done many weeks prior to when we took him to different specialists. Each time we went to a specialist, he grumbled about feeling like a “lab rat” and we explained that we thought there was a reason why he finds certain things hard to do, like catch a ball, tie his shoes, ride a bike, or open a can of pop. We also had explained that we thought he was having trouble with school because of a reason but we just didn’t know what it was.
For years my son had been saying that he was different from the other children and that I didn’t realize how different he truly was, until the night we told him about Asperger’s Syndrome. I started out by reminding him of this often uttered statement and told him that the reason he feels different from other children is that he has something called “Asperger’s Syndrome”. We told him that the doctors had diagnosed him with this condition, it wasn’t a disease and it wasn’t life-threatening. Of course, then we got to the hard part when he asked: “Well, what exactly is it?”.
I explained the condition this way: “You know that wonderful ability you have to spell any word in the English language, and you know what problem you have remembered your multiplication tables – well, Asperger’s Syndrome gives you great ability in certain areas, and problems with abilities in other areas. Asperger’s Syndrome is a difference in the way your brain takes information in, remembers it, stores it and uses it. You do those steps differently from some children and that’s why you are slightly different from other children. Asperger’s Syndrome is also responsible for some of your physical coordination difficulties.” His response was not what I had expected. He said, “I told you so, I told you I was different and now I am some kind of freak!” We then talked about some famous people with Asperger’s Syndrome but that didn’t seem to make him feel any better about the diagnosis. When I brought up Bill Gates as an example, he responded: “Oh great – now I am a geek!” We left the conversation at this point re-assuring him that this diagnosis wasn’t the end of the world, we now had answers to some of his problems and we certainly still loved him.