My sociable, loving, sensitive seven-year-old son does not know he’s autistic. He doesn’t know because my husband and I haven’t found a way to tell him, even though we have known about his condition since he was a baby.
He is old enough to understand. He even knows what autism is because there is another boy at his Saturday drama class who has learning disabilities and possibly attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
This boy is impulsive – he’ll grab someone else’s lines and rip them up. His behaviour is quite unlike that of my son, who hates getting into trouble and worries about being told off.
Jessie Hewitson, pictured with her seven year old autistic son, does not want to to tell her boy about his afflictioniPhone transfer software
So how do I explain to him that he has, on paper at least, a similar condition when he is so different?
I’m not sure how to convey to him what I have learned through writing a book on the subject: that there is the same huge variety of autistic people as non-autistic. I understood the concept of the spectrum, but not how vast it is. The many chatty, self-aware, empathetic and funny autistic adults I interviewed for my book, Autism: How To Raise A Happy Autistic Child, gave me a new appreciation.
Published last week, it is the kind of book – gathering views from world-leading experts and from autistic adults – that I wish I’d been handed when my son was first diagnosed. Like so much in the autism world, there is no medical consensus on how parents should navigate these things.
So I put the question to many of the experts and autistic people I interviewed for the book: when should you tell a child they are autistic? Every one of them agreed it was important that I did tell him.
Ms Hewitson, pictured, has written a book about her boy and how to raise a happy autistic child
Many said the best time is when the child starts asking questions – that is, when it naturally comes up in conversation. A few suggested using the word ‘autism’ as soon as the child gets the diagnosis, and not making it a big deal.
One autistic woman, an academic who used to work in a school, said: ‘Children have a sense they are different anyway. At the age of seven or eight, I attributed my social awkwardness to my physical appearance, which tied in with what other people were saying about me. I couldn’t fit in because of my size, my hair, my rosy complexion. If I had known about autism, I could have created a different narrative for how I was feeling.’
But I suppose I still feel nervous of denting my lovely, sensitive son’s self-esteem, which is already fragile. Indeed, he knows I’ve written a book about autism, just not that it was inspired by my journey as a parent trying to understand how I can best support him.
My son was diagnosed aged two after a year of assessments – my mother-in-law