[Alternately titled: “Oh, by the way, you have autism.”]
Being that I’m supposed to be talking to Henry’s class about autism, I thought probably we should address his diagnosis with him directly before heading into the classroom. Although I have been preparing myself for this day for a while now (almost since we first got the diagnosis), I wasn’t really prepared to try to explain this to him at 6 years old. I read articles, did internet searches. I studied Dr. Stephen Shore’s video about his steps to disclosing an autism diagnosis to someone.
We have always talked openly about autism and Henry is very familiar with the words. But I’ve never been sure how much he was taking in or if he could really be applying these words to himself.
A few weeks ago, Grant and I were in the kitchen and the little ones were watching an episode of Arthur in the other room. Coincidentally, it was the episode where one of the characters meets a new friend with Asperger’s. At one point near the very end, they had real kids with Asperger’s saying their names. Immediately after we overheard Henry whisper, “and Henry” adding his name to the list.
Grant and I just looked at each other wide-eyed. Now I really felt we owed it to Henry to talk about autism directly with him!
The next big step was to find the right moment. One where he would be most receptive and open to conversation. I wanted to handle this EXACTLY right. (If you haven’t already, check out Dr. Shore’s link above. I was aiming for “text-book perfect” disclosure here!)
One evening at bedtime Henry and I were in his room before Lucy got there. Now is the time. Here was my window.
“Hey, dude, I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”
“Okay, but then can I play my 3DS?”
“Sure but let’s talk a minute. You know I’m coming to talk to your class, right?”
“Do you know I’m coming to talk about autism?”
“Well, I am. Do you understand about autism?”
“Do you understand that YOU have autism?”
“Yes. Can I play my video game now?”
“Well, in a minute. I thought we could talk about your autism right now.”
“No, I want to play my DS.”
Discussion over. *sigh*
Of course, I still wasn’t sure how much he understood so I vowed to bring the topic back up another time. My next window came one day not long after when Henry was home sick from school. In the afternoon he and I were alone just hanging out together. At that point he was pretty much over whatever bug it was that he had and he was in a good mood.
“So, Henry, remember that I’m coming to talk to your class about autism soon.”
“Well, I was hoping you could be my helper.”
“I don’t know.” He’s starting to sound annoyed.
“I’d like to talk about autism a little bit with you. You know, how people with autism can see the world very differently than others. How our brains are wired differently. So we can help teach your friends at school about it.”
“I don’t want to help.”
“Okay. You don’t have too. But do you understand that YOU have autism, Henry?”
“Arrrgh. Yes! I know! I don’t want to talk about it. I want to watch a show. Can I watch a show now?” he asks matter-of-factly.
Again, discussion over.
I’m not sure why I though there would be more to it at this point. Knowing Henry’s personality, he is a dude of very few words unless, of course, it’s something HE chooses to talk about…ad nauseum. Otherwise, once he has his brain wrapped around something, he’s done talking about it and too bad for you if you feel the need to discuss it further. He’s obviously gotten it and that is that.
So we’ll continue on as we have been, with autism just naturally being a part of all of our lives. And I’m okay with that because what is most important is that Henry is okay with it. At least he seems okay with it right now. This actually gives me much comfort and relief. I know there will be more in-depth talk in the future as Henry grows and has more questions about it (or maybe not) but right now I am so pleased that autism is “normal” for our family. We accept it and embrace it. No need to talk about it because it just IS. Henry IS himself, first and foremost….oh, and by the way, he also happens to have autism.