How to explain autism to children with the condition

There is no steadfast rule about when, if or how to tell your child he has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because there is no simple explanation that applies to every individual who has autism, explaining the condition can be a process that takes time and may even require the help of a therapist or counselor who can work with your child and family.

There are several factors to consider when planning if and how to explain your child’s autism diagnosis to him:

  • Your child’s level of functioning
  • The level of insight and awareness your child has about his vulnerabilities
  • Whether your child is directly asking about his challenges

There can be extreme variations in levels of functioning, including levels of cognition, language, social skills and behavioral challenges. When a child’s disability limits his awareness of that disability, then it’s often more practical to focus on specific issues or challenges as they arise, such as bullying or teasing.

Children who have a better understanding of their challenges will often express their feelings about their struggles. This might mean asking about a certain issue rather than whether they have a specific disorder or disability.

Whatever the circumstances, a general rule of thumb is to meet your child where he is. Ensure that he has a safe and trusting person, like a counselor or family member, he can talk to.

If the discussion involves disclosing the diagnostic label of autism, there are local and national support networks that can connect your child to like-minded peers. However, be sure these are closely monitored to ensure their safety and legitimacy.


We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.