Little is known about how parents talk about autism with their autistic children, particularly among families in which both a parent and child are autistic. Using an online survey, we gathered quantitative and qualitative data from 34 autistic parents (most of whom had told their children about their diagnosis) to address this knowledge gap. There was considerable overlap between the views and experiences of the autistic parents in this study and the largely non-autistic parent samples in previous research. Specifically, parents emphasised the importance of being open and honest about the diagnosis, disclosing the diagnosis as early as possible, individualising discussions to children’s needs and framing the diagnosis positively. There were, however, areas in which the views and experiences of the current sample differed from previous research on non-autistic samples. First, our sample of autistic parents outlined the benefits of their own experiential expertise, which they felt resulted in heightened understanding and empathy with their children. Second, our sample tended not to express concerns about disclosure potentially having a negative impact. Finally, our participants did not express a want or need for professional support with disclosure. Instead, they reported feeling well equipped to support their children using their own knowledge and lived experience. Lay abstract: Previous research examining how parents talk about autism with their children has tended to focus on parents who are not autistic themselves. We collected information on this topic from 34 autistic parents of autistic children (most of whom had told their children about their diagnosis). We found similarities, but also differences, between the views and experiences of autistic parents in this research and those reported in previous research (in studies of largely non-autistic parents). Similarities include the following: it is important to be open and honest about the diagnosis; the diagnosis should be introduced/discussed as early as possible; discussions should be tailored to each individual child’s needs; and we should not overlook the challenges associated with autism, but it is important to focus on positive aspects too. Differences include the following: autistic parents used personal experiences in conversations about autism, which was felt to result in increased understanding and empathy with their children; autistic parents overwhelmingly focused on more positive aspects of an autism diagnosis; our sample did not express concerns that discussions could have negative consequences too (e.g. making children more anxious); and autistic parents did not want or need professional support to talk about autism with their children (instead, they felt confident in using their own knowledge/experiences to guide discussions).
- autism spectrum disorders
- family functioning and support