Parents and the dreaded A word

Hello again, blog and readers. You’re probably not wondering why I’ve barely made an appearance lately. If you are, blame it on third year group projects (!!!). If not, why not? I’ve been struggling to keep to my principle of ‘one blog post on autism, one on something different’ but starting today, I am not wavering.

I’m also taking the liberty of actually writing about something that’s currently trending. Readers who know me well, no, my blog isn’t being hacked. Anyone else here been watching The A Word on BBC1? It’s a six episode drama about a family getting their small son diagnosed with Asperger’s, it’s on every Tuesday at 9 starting last week, and it inspired me to write this post.

More specifically, it got me thinking about the parents’ reactions to the whole idea. Denial. Offence. Anger. Hopelessness. Because my mum had been only too relieved to have me diagnosed, all of the above reactions were somewhat hard for me to relate to. Yet for many people – particularly adults, who were born in a time where few things were diagnosed – the thought that an unfamiliar condition may be affecting a young person they are responsible for, can be too much to process.

But a diagnosis isn’t bad news. It’s an opportunity to understand what your child might be going through everyday, and how you can help them deal with it.

But they don’t act “autistic”

Firstly, autism is a word that refers to a range of conditions commonly known as the autistic spectrum. Someone might have severe learning difficulties with little to no use of language. Or they might be precocious in some areas, worryingly naive in others and generally a little odd. Maybe they make eye contact. Or show affection. Or have a sense of humour. Is this because they have learnt these behaviours or because they don’t fit every last stereotype? Either way, what you see may only be a tip of the iceberg that says little about their inner world.

How could you suggest such a thing?

If someone, particularly an expert, suggests that your child may need help, it is unlikely to be a jibe at you or the child. If anything, this is the first stage to paving a way forward. The staff at my first primary school insisted I was just “odd”, “slow” and “strange” from being in a single parent family. I was first diagnosed when a member of Autism Outreach had come to my second school to help another child and immediately noticed me!

I’m not labelling them!

I think these things are only as much of a label as people make them out to be. Naming the condition does not mean that your child will become a caricature of a stereotype. Not doing so doesn’t make it any less real. I spent my secondary school years trying to deny I was any different, and much of the time, I was miserable. Yet now, having Asperger’s is no more of a label than being a brunette with glasses. It doesn’t define me, but you can’t deny it’s true!

What sort of a life will they have?

You could ask this about anyone. One with trials and tribulations, and just enough fun times to make it worthwhile. And it will be a challenge, particularly as they grow older and start to care more. Some people will understand. Some might not. But the more your child and the people around them understand their condition, the better equipped they will be to handle it. And it’s never too early, or late, to start.