Autism is a complex topic—one we’re still struggling to understand in many ways from a scientific perspective. Countless years have gone into researching and making sense of autism—and our understanding of the diagnosis has changed several times over the last few decades. As with so many things, autism is a spectrum. Autistic people can’t be easily divided into neatly organized categories.

Given its complexity, autism is obviously a difficult subject to explain to kids. Given that, it’s critical to frame it in simple, supportive, and positive terms. In today’s article, we’ll explore how to do just that.

Autism as a Natural Phenomena

One of the most important things to make sure kids understand about autism is that it occurs naturally. It’s something to be aware of—not ashamed of. Autism is a natural biological phenomenon affecting how they engage with and process the world. We all experience the world differently—for people with autism, that difference is simply more pronounced. It isn’t a fault or a failing; it doesn’t mean someone is broken or damaged.

Exploring & Embracing DifferencesExplaining Autism to Kids in a Gentle Way

Many people have a strong desire to fit in and conform—an impulse that can be a source of pain for people who fall outside the norms. For parents and children, it can be tremendously healing to approach understanding and explaining autism as an exploration.  Asking questions about how they see the world and sharing how you see it—talking about ways you struggled in school and comparing it to ways they may struggle in school. 

When sitting down with a child to discuss autism, try to guide the conversation in ways that remind them of their strengths. Linking these strengths with their autism diagnosis may help them see it as a difference rather than a negative. Further, celebrating diversity in other areas of life may help them see and celebrate their differences in a positive fashion.

Take Advantage of Role Models

Many children derive self-confidence when they see themselves represented by role models or in the media. There are countless examples of famous and accomplished individuals with autism whose successes are still celebrated today. Brilliant scientists and mathematicians like Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Sir Isaac Newton are thought to have been autistic. On the creative end of the spectrum, artists, musicians, and poets such as Andy Warhol, Mozart,  and Emily Dickinson are also suspected to have been autistic. Beyond historical examples, your child may connect with countless other individuals in the modern era.

When explaining autism to a child, consider helping them connect with the idea by teaching them about notable figures who speak to their strengths and interests.

Opportunity for Connection

Ultimately, viewing this conversation as an opportunity for connection and exploration can be helpful. As you talk to your child about autism, engage them by asking them open-ended questions about their experience—and connect them to your own. Your child likely experiences their senses differently than you. Understanding how they interact with sound, texture, and light can be exciting to discover and explore together. Some people love the crunch of potato chips, while others are driven mad by the sound; in many ways, it’s no different than someone’s favorite flavor of ice cream.

This is an opportunity to explore each other’s worlds and grow closer. You may be surprised by what you learn during these conversations!

Outside Support

An autism diagnosis is unfamiliar territory for many families—and sometimes, what’s most needed is a guide. Many families struggle to navigate differences in how members perceive and process the world. If you feel unprepared to have a conversation about autism with your child, reach out to learn more about child therapy. Together, we can make a plan to help you explore this topic with your kid. 

Skip to content