Helping her Understand Autism
Q. I have a 2-year-old son who was recently diagnosed with autism. He has severe and profound developmental delays, and while we plan on giving him as many services as he needs to have a full life, my husband and I understand he'll never be a typically functioning child or adult.
What should we be saying, if anything, to our 5-year-old daughter who already is asking why Brice won't play with her? Does she need to know the extent to his disabilities now? Is there a timeline we should consider for giving her details?
A. Understanding the complexities of autism, and the resulting developmental delays, are difficult for most people to understand. Therefore, it will be difficult for your 5-year-old to fully grasp your son's disability. That being said, it's important for her to receive information about her brother's atypical behavior. Offer information to her in sound bites rather than long dissertations.
The most common condition associated with autism is impaired social reciprocity. This means that when your daughter tries to play or talk with him, he's likely to be unresponsive. Therefore, your daughter will probably feel frustrated when she tries to interact with her brother, because she most likely won't receive a response in return. That's when you'll need to say something to the effect of, "Your brother is different from other children. He likes to play by himself rather than with others."