How to Explain Autism to a Child

How to Explain Autism to a Child

autistic child surrounded by puzzle pieces

Your autistic son or daughter engages with their siblings and classmates more than they do with anyone else (apart from yourself, as their parent). 

In light of this, explaining autism to your child’s siblings and friends can have a crucial impact on how they cope with their condition.

In this article we are going to give you some tips for how to explain your child’s autism to their siblings and friends. However, there is an important step that comes before you can explain the autism diagnosis to others. 

Process the Diagnosis Yourself First

Before talking to your non-autistic kids, you should concentrate on processing the news of your son or daughter’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis yourself.

As a parent, here are a few methods for coping with an autism diagnosis:

  • Give yourself enough time to process your emotions (whether it’s sadness, shock, anger, or denial), accept the new reality, and develop a sense of optimism about the future.
  • Don’t suppress your emotions. Instead, find ways to deal with them, such as by talking to others and/or joining a support group. 
  • Focus on the present and helping your child rather than trying to determine if you caused the diagnosis or if you could’ve done something differently (which is never the case).
  • Don’t allow the ASD diagnosis to define your son or daughter’s identity. They are an individual with their own strengths and weaknesses. Autism influences them, but it doesn’t define them.
  • Celebrate your kid’s own achievements and avoid comparing them to their neurotypical peers.
  • Establish a new routine that balances between treating your child and spending time with friends and family.
  • Work with others who can help your autistic boy or girl. Friends, family members, and teachers are examples.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional support from a therapist or an applied behavior analysis (ABA) practitioner, especially when it comes to behavioral or emotional problems that are difficult for you to address.

After you process your emotions and come to terms with the diagnosis, you’ll want your autistic child to do the same.

Telling your child that they are autistic

Discussing autism with your child is very important for their emotional and developmental well being. In fact, autistic kids that aren’t told that they were diagnosed with ASD typically suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

A good place to start is to go over the basics. The following approaches will enable you to have a productive and comfortable conversation regarding autism with your child:

  • Ask them if they are aware of what ASD is and what they currently know about it.
  • Explain to your son or daughter that each person’s brain works differently, and that the world would be too plain and boring if all people were identical.
  • Highlight that, while their autism comes with its own set of challenges, your child is skilled in certain areas that neurotypical kids aren’t.
  • Make sure that your child is fully aware that you comprehend the difficulties that they face. In the same vein, tell them that it’s perfectly normal for anyone to struggle with some tasks or activities, and that there are plenty of ways for them to learn and improve (such as reading books and doing online research).
  • Point out that, although many activities and aspects of life are tailored towards neurotypical people, the world is beginning to understand autism better and accommodate the needs of individuals with ASD when it comes to education, employment, and more.
  • Find autistic role models for your son or daughter.
  • Give your child control over how they identify with the autism label and process their emotions. Similarly, let them be aware that they don’t have to inform others about their ASD diagnosis (unless they prefer to, which is also fine).
  • Encourage them to ask questions, pursue more knowledge, and share their opinion because it’s always valuable.

Above all, you want your son or daughter to know that the conversation is an ongoing one. After all, they will further learn how ASD affects them as they grow up and take on new challenges in life.

Maintaining an ongoing conversation is even more important when you have a younger child. Many ASD symptoms tend to change up until a boy or girl turns 6 years old. Some of them will stay stable or may increase or decrease over time, and certain symptoms might appear in the future.

Now let’s examine how to explain your child’s autism to their siblings and classmates.

Share Information Specific to Your Child

According to the autism diagnosis criteria DSM-5 (the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), ASD can range from severe (level 3) to high-functioning (level 1).

The former means that the patient requires assistance and supervision when completing day-to-day tasks. Those with level 1 autism only require minimal help to function normally.

When you explain your son or daughter’s autism to a neurotypical sibling or classmate, start by telling them about ASD as a spectrum and where your kid stands on it.

In turn, their siblings and peers can know what to expect. Here are several areas that you want to go over:

  • Socializing: Your autistic son or daughter may respond to social interactions in an abnormal way or appear disinterested in others. Their friends and siblings should be aware of these challenges and avoid mistaking them for rudeness or a lack of enthusiasm. The level of your child’s ASD diagnosis impacts the severity of this.
  • Communicating: Your kid’s brothers/sisters and classmates can expect short and direct responses when they communicate with your autistic child. This is a characteristic of ASD, and it doesn’t mean that a kid with autism wants to avoid conversations. 
  • Behavioral Issues: Autism (especially level 2 and level 3) can lead your child to behave in an obsessive or repetitive manner. When you describe how and why autism causes these issues, your son or daughter’s siblings and classmates will understand them better.
  • Interests: Many children with ASD have specific interests, and they struggle when they have to engage in a new activity. Talk to your child’s colleagues and siblings about this and underline the importance of being patient.
  • Adapting to Change: Similarly, autistic kids may have a hard time switching rooms or to a new environment, even if they want the change. Their friends should know that your son or daughter is genuinely interested in playing or watching TV with them, but it might take them some effort to transition.

On occasion, you will have to rely on additional sources to educate your child’s siblings, classmates, and friends.

Read Books About Autism and Autistic Characters

There are many great books out there that can teach your child’s siblings and classmates about ASD.

For that matter, they could even help your child with understanding their condition better.

You can read scientific books, but fictional stories with autistic characters and heroes are equally as important. Your son or daughter may find a role model, while you, your household members, and your kid’s friends can get an idea of how ASD patients see the world.

Explain Your Child’s Strengths

Other kids should recognize what your autistic child’s strengths are. After all, while autism can create its own set of difficulties, autistic children are known for excelling in certain areas.

You can find a variety of strengths and abilities in your autistic children. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Autistic kids are notably reliable and very honest.
  • They pay attention to details, closely follow instructions, and adhere to time commitments.
  • Children with ASD are capable of focusing on a specific task or topic for prolonged periods.
  • Autism and an exceptionally strong memory typically go hand-in-hand.
  • Autistic children might perform extremely well in technical and logical fields that don’t entail socializing, such as engineering and math.
  • Many boys and girls with ASD have hyperlexia (the ability to read at a very young age).
  • Autism enables children to be creative and offer outside-the-box solutions.

By highlighting the strengths of your autistic child, you are encouraging their siblings and friends to interact with them, value their unique capabilities, and become more curious about ASD.

Don’t Get Angry When Answering Their Questions

Your son or daughter’s siblings and classmates can ask all sorts of questions. As a parent, you shouldn’t get angry or offended by them.

Keep in mind that many people will ask questions out of eagerness rather than prejudice and bigotry. When you calmly and clearly answer their questions, you eliminate ignorance and demonstrate that your child’s brothers/sisters and friends can talk to you whenever they need to.

Anger, on the other hand, could be interpreted as aggression. It also discourages people from wanting to learn about your son or daughter’s ASD.

What to do when an autistic child hits them

Unfortunately, violence and hitting are common among autistic children, especially when they become confused or struggle to use their words to communicate.

You can effectively address this aggressive behavior (and teach your household members and child’s classmates how to do so) by identifying its cause.

Autistic kids typically resort to hitting and aggression for the following reasons:

  • When they can’t comprehend what people around them are talking about or doing. This can be resolved by including your child in activities in a way that takes their social anxiety into consideration.
  • As a reaction to their sensory sensitivities, which may be related to noise, lights, or the need to let out pent-up energy.
  • To communicate that the autistic child is uncomfortable with their surroundings.
  • When the kid with ASD can’t express themselves properly. 

Many of these issues are solved when you talk to your son or daughter’s friends, classmates, and siblings regarding how autism specifically impacts them. This is based on the severity of your child’s ASD symptoms.

Nonetheless, you should still focus on processing the diagnosis yourself and explaining what autism is to your kid. After that, you can discuss it with household members and those in your child’s school.

While doing so, you want to recommend books that educate readers about autism, go over your son or daughter’s unique capabilities, and, perhaps most importantly, remain calm as you discuss this with others and answer their questions.


We hope you found this article on explaining autism to a child helpful. Are there any tips for explaining autism to a child that you think we missed? Please let us know below.

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