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How to explain an autism diagnosis to family

Updated on March 22, 2016

Prior knowledge

Most of the time, something was suspected to be wrong with the child being diagnosed with autism. There were things the child did that weren't age appropriate, such as delayed or nonexistent speech or abnormal meltdowns. Maybe the child was misdiagnosed as mentally retarded before receiving a second opinion. In these situations, giving the official diagnosis to the family is merely confirming suspicions. A diagnosis often is closure to the questioning, allowing everyone to move on and figure out ways to help the child.

Mia's Autism Documentary


When a child isn't severely affected by autism, presenting the diagnosis to family may be more of a challenge. Children with mild forms of autism such as high functioning autism, Asperger Syndrome or PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified) may not be as obvious with their symptoms. They may seem fine to people outside of the immediate family, where they may not feel as comfortable showing their true selves. Family may just consider their actions to be quirks instead of signs of a real problem. When this is the case, it may be difficult to convince the family that the child has autism, even with an official diagnosis. Because autism really isn't understood by those who don't have to live with it, it may be difficult to explain.


If possible, present the written evaluation given to determine the child had autism. This should show the actual symptoms the child displays. Print out a list of common symptoms to show two sources to back up the shocking news being delivered. Explain what has been happening at home that caused the examination to confirm or settle the fears that autism was the culprit. If denial persists, be firm in your resolve to not allow the family to be upsetting. Understand that this came as a complete shock to them and give them time to digest the news. Be prepared to answer the same questions that have been pondered while sitting in the room when the news was heard for the first time.

Explain that even though the child has autism, this doesn't mean the child's development or chance of a normal life are hopeless. Let them know that many children have it, and many adults live normal lives despite some form of autism. Discuss the types of therapies being explored and possible solutions. Explain that help would be appreciated with babysitting other children in the family or with meeting appointments. Share websites or other forms of information so they can learn as much about autism as possible. This helps the family feel involved, squashing any feelings of helplessness they may be feeling.


Autism can be a challenge to the entire family living with it. Parents have to learn new ways of parenting their special child while learning a lot of new terms. Often, the parents and children thrive when they have the support of their extended family members. Having grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins involved in the process of recovery brings more people into the child's inner circle, giving him more opportunities to interact with others.

"Living with Autism" Documentary


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