Thursday, December 29, 2011

Am I Prepared to Talk to My Son About Autism?

On our last visit to the library, a children’s book that was displayed on the shelf caught my eye: Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles.

Hmm, that’s an amusing title, I thought. In the past, Kai has wanted to blow out the Hanukkah candles so he would probably relate. And a quick look through the book showed that it had pictures that would help to keep Kai’s interest. As Hanukkah had just begun, it was very timely. And I thought perhaps that it would help Kai learn a little more about this holiday.

So, I checked the book out and brought it home to read with Kai. And, the other night, he picked it as our bedtime story.

As I began reading, I realized that the title character was a boy with autism. I had unwittingly chosen a book that might spur a discussion with my son about autism.

The story is told from the perspective of Jacob, the younger brother who is embarrassed by his older sibling with autism. Nathan repeats himself constantly and recites the 50 United States in alphabetical order. His mother reminds Jacob that Nathan’s brain is wired differently. But, Jacob is mortified when, in the presence of his new friend, Nathan blows out the Hanukkah candles during the menorah-lighting ceremony.

In the end, the boys’ parents deal with the situation in a patient, creative, and loving way that embraces Nathan and teaches acceptance.

It was a wonderful story.

But, I was uncomfortable reading it with Kai. We haven’t told him that he has autism. And I wasn’t sure that I was prepared to have that discussion now.

I was worried that the book would spur questions from him. Lately, he has frequently been asking me to explain what words mean. What would I say to him if he asked what ‘autism’ is? Would he know that he has autism? How would I explain that to him?

Well, for now, these are hypothetical questions. Kai did not ask any questions that night. I don’t know how much of the story he understood. I really don’t know if he noticed any resemblance between himself and Nathan. And, I was too chicken to question him about it.

So, I’ve got a little more time to think about it.

But, I know one day we will have this talk. And I’d better be prepared.

Have any of you had this talk with your kids? What did you say? How did they react? How old were they when you had the discussion? What advice do you have for other parents?


  1. I can't remember when we had first talked about Autism with our son (many years ago). I just remember that he just took it in stride. We told him of what to expect in way of a more difficult time in reading people and what many take to be as....common sense. We also discussed his tics and compulsions and he understands why. We simply said that in order to correct things, we have to identify the problem. I stressed that we had to work to overcome them and for him to adapt and compensate until the deficiencies have been corrected.

    I constantly reinforce the idea that while, we, his parents, will always accept and love him, the world often will not. They base their acceptance of him, ultimately, on his performance. He knows that he must adapt and compensate for any deficiencies he may have later in life while not neglecting his strengths. I don't want Alex to blame others for their fair expectations of him. He knows that he has to work extra hard in some areas, and that though it is not his fault...neither is it anyone else's. He must make his own way in the world without expecting the world to have to adapt to him.

    He realizes that the world runs on merit and that is one of the reasons he works so hard in his studies. He wants to make his dreams come true through his efforts. I have been telling him this since before I can remember.

    We, of course, always encourage his achievements through great praise. I just love to see that gleam in his eyes when he gets his praise. I can see the pride in himself. I have him concentrate on being efficient in effort to effect the greatest results. This will ultimately be what he will be judged on...efficient and effective results.

    One last point...I also constantly reinforce the idea of being conservative in nature. To be an observer in life. He will be able to discern patterns and commonalities in people and in life. He knows that what comes naturally to many children, he will have to learn through experience. I tell him that in order to observe, he must keep his eyes and ears open, and to observe and reflect on patterns, causes and effects, main ideas...etc. He must constantly observe results and to question the mechanism behind them...and to try to predict future outcomes based upon similar patterns...and to always adapt his findings based upon new variables. I stressed that to just go through an experience is worthless unless he consciously thinks about the causes that had led to the results through reflection of the situation. Should he not have situations where he may learn from at the moment...he may play a "what if" game in his head. This is being engaged in life...and one of the things which makes life so interesting.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think my son is probably a long way from being able to comprehend many of these ideas, but we still try to communicate the importance of working hard.


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