Answer by Amanda Tendler:
I would have liked if my parents said something like this:
Let's talk about some differences in people for a minute. What kinds of hair do people have? What kinds of eyes? What about how tall people are?
Well, even though we can't always see it, people are made differently on the inside too – what kind of stuff is on the inside? Heart, lungs, stomach, and BRAIN!
Brains can be different in all kinds of ways. It's a very complicated organ and there are so many pieces that make it whole. Even if a few of those are different, it can make people think very differently. Imagine how many possibilities there are for kinds of brains.
Do you think your brain is different? (I knew I was different at about age 5 in my Kindergarten classroom, so I do think this is an appropriate question to ask). How is your brain different?
That's right! You are very smart and don't have trouble learning anything new. You can read alone for hours and enjoy the company of adults more than children. The way your brain has grown makes you very special in a lot of ways.
There are also some things you might struggle with. I've noticed you are very sensitive to the textures of foods – especially bananas and tomatoes; you won't wear anything but the softest stretchiest pants; and you walk around during recess by yourself talking about math problems you don't really understand instead of playing with the other kids.
Sometimes it's difficult for you to talk to other kids and that's something you'll have to pay extra attention to. We will help you work on that and find ways for you to practice in safe environments until you feel confident and comfortable.
There are all kinds of brain differences people can have. In your case, it's called Autism and there's lots of people who have a brain similar to yours. Some of them have written books about some challenges you're more likely to face, so you can be prepared ahead of time. (Therapy as an option for them to consider could be brought in at this point).
Anytime you have questions or concerns or just want to talk more about it, we are here. We love you and we want you to have a happy, healthy, and successful life."
Obviously the conversation should be adjusted for age appropriateness and you should check that the child is following and understanding the conversation. Ask questions and ask if they have a question. Encourage the dialogue often and keep a positive attitude about it.
Depending on comprehension level, you could also turn the conversation around on NTs. What strengths and weakness do they have? What could mom and dad work on? (In my case we probably would have had to use someone else as an example because I suspect both my parents are on the spectrum – but you get the idea).
As a child, I already knew I was different. I needed my parents and guardians to acknowledge this and explain (not just tell) to me why I was still EQUAL.
Regarding friends and family: need to know basis.