There comes a time in the life of every parent of a special needs child when you have to decide how to approach the topic of diagnosis with your child. For us, we chose to approach Austin's issues on a symptom-by-symptom basis. We felt that saddling him with the label of his autism diagnosis would discourage him too much and provide a too-ready excuse for not rising above his challenges. For the longest time, one of those challenges was a lack of initiative and motivation, so we had a real fear that a full knowledge of his developmental disorder would derail the progress he was making. With that in mind, we had always explained his interventions to him in vague terms.
But now, after so much growth and so many giant steps made, we decided that our sweet son, now 16 years old, was ready to know his own story. The facts-of-life talk was nothing to this hurdle for me. Even after making this decision, we delayed the actual discussion for three months. Yesterday, though, we pushed aside our excuses for delaying and plunged in. Austin seemed a little distressed over the news, but it opened the door for more open dialogue and he seemed comfortable in the end. We tried hard to stress the fact that all people have weaknesses and strengths and he is different only in the specific nature of his weaknesses. We also let him know that we will continue to stand with him and support him in his efforts to achieve a full, independent, and happy life.
I know a lot of parents choose to address these issues at a much earlier age, and I will be the first to say that I don't think there is a "right" time to do it, but I'm very pleased with the road we've taken and where it has led us. That doesn't stop me from feeling uncertain about where to step next, but there is a definite sense of hope when I look a little farther into the future. I truly believe in my son.