How to Explain High-Functioning Autism to Your Child and the Siblings

“We recently got a diagnosis. How should I explain high functioning autism to my affected son and his ‘typical’ siblings?"

Kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) are very intelligent and inquisitive. Their struggles are obvious to them, but they may not be able to actually pinpoint the areas of weakness.

If asked, young people with HFA will tell you that they are different from their friends and siblings. Their friends and siblings also notice the differences. It can be difficult to live with and understand a youngster with HFA. It can be tough for all involved.

You should be completely honest with all your kids about HFA. The youngster who has this disorder needs to understand the condition in age-appropriate context. Your “neurotyical” kids need to know about HFA so that they will be able to support their brother as much as possible.

Educate yourself about HFA so you can share the details with everyone involved with your child (e.g., teachers, pastors, youth workers, etc.). Contact your local Autism society chapter and ask for information on the disorder and also about the events in your area that they sponsor. Ask about support group sessions and educational events for the affected child’s brothers and sisters.

Speak with the special education staff at your son’s school about resources that can assist in explaining HFA to your youngster and his siblings, as well as information that will help you discuss HFA with your extended family.

You can find a lot of information on the Internet. The Autism Society and other Autism support organizations have websites chock-full of information and materials for families affected by HFA. Other websites offer testimonials and products produced by people with HFA, families affected by HFA, and professionals trained to treat the challenges associated with HFA.

Your kids will be more comfortable when they know exactly what having HFA means. They will see that while there are challenges to overcome, there are also numerous strengths associated with this disorder.

For more in-depth information about how to explain HFA and AS to “neurotypical” siblings, go to this post: Explaining Aspergers To Your Neurotypical Children

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
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Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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•    Anonymous said... Google the Arthur tv episode
•    Anonymous said... I agree and do the same with my daughter Kristin... I pray every day ... She's my heart and soul ..
•    Anonymous said... I treat my son no different than anyone else, and expose him to as much as he can, to experience life, and not hold him back. He's expected to pull his own weight at home and has certain responsibilities.
•    Anonymous said... We talk about how our brains work differently, so my daughters might think my son is saying or doing something that is unusual to them. I point out that he feels the same way about them sometimes too and we all need to accept we are different. It doesn't make anyone wrong, just not the same. They all know that he has to work at understanding society's rules but doesn't get it right all the time and that's ok. Good luck with it all
•    Anonymous said... What I tell people is that my son struggles with social skills, just like Jimmy may struggle in math or Lucy struggles in English. Everybody has a hard time with something, and ---- has a hard time with social skills. The parents in our neighborhood asked how to explain it to their kids, and this seems to work. My son is really good at scholastics, so I would point that out and then say that he has to practice social skills just like Jimmy has to practice his math skills. I hope this helps. Good luck to you.

*   Anonymous said... We had a great experience reading "Can I Tell You About Asperger Syndrome?" with our 8-year-old Aspie. We've talked a lot over the years about differences people have in learning, in strengths and weaknesses, in friendship and emotional control. We got the diagnosis shortly before his 7th birthday and have recently felt ready to give him a name for it. This book was great, and I wrote out "Asperger Syndrome" "AS" "Aspie" and "Aspergian" for him on a piece of paper. He's asked us to use "Aspie."

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