Rebecca Duffus shares some strategies for support.
Many autistic people discuss the term ‘autistic identification’ as affirming and valid, in place of ‘diagnosis’. Referring to autistic identity means an individual can acknowledge all the parts that make up their identity as a whole, and the core autistic characteristics that are integral to who they are. There is also strength and solace in a shared identity, increasing wellbeing and reducing anxiety through your place in a community of like-minded people.
When a young person gets a diagnosis, the parents and school may be offered support, but young people may not be given the opportunity to explore their autistic identity and gradually build their understanding, with the support of understanding adults. This allows young people to develop their own unique story, using visual prompts to positively explore their personality and interests, feelings of difference and what this means to them.
If parents feel that they ought to be the person to speak to their child about their autism diagnosis, but don’t feel prepared, it might be preferable for someone from school to take the lead, while helping the family to access support as it is important that the supporting adult is able to speak about autism positively.
The role of the chosen adult should be reassuring, supportive and well-equipped with resources. Planning and information gathering with the parents should take place in advance of the meeting to share any previous conversations the family have had about autism, and the young person’s likes and dislikes, so you can tailor the support to their interests. Giving young people the space and time to explore and embrace their autistic identity, in a way that is positive and empowering, is essential for their sense of self and belonging.
Rebecca Duffus is an Specialist Advisory Teacher working with autistic students and educators in mainstream and specialist schools, plus local council and education services.