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8 Questions Your Kids Might Have about Autism and How to Answer

By Carrie Sporer, Fraser Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist • autism, ASD, autism spectrum disorder, autism spectrum, ASD and kids, questions about autism, kids questions • July 22, 2021

The CDC states that now 1 in 54 U.S. children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 8. That means your children will likely know or meet someone with autism.

As a parent, you may struggle with how to explain ASD to your children. With the help of Fraser Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Carrie Sporer, here are 8 questions your children might ask about autism, how to answer these questions and teach your children about autism.

1. How does someone get autism?

Sporer says to answer in a way that your child can relate to. You could point out your child was born with blonde hair, but their sister has brown hair. Tell them that everyone is born unique, and we all have different traits and act in different ways. People born with autism are just different in that way.  

2. Is autism something you are born with?

Simply put, yes. Sporer says you can tell your children doctors and scientists think autism is something people are born with. Explain sometimes people might not know right away that they have autism. That’s because people with autism are unique, so each person with autism thinks and acts differently.

3. How do you know if you have autism?

You can explain that people like parents and grandparents might notice that a child isn’t talking or that they learn things differently. Then the mom or dad takes the child to a talking and listening appointment with a special doctor to find out why.  

4. How should I treat someone who has autism?

Most parents teach their children the Golden Rule: to treat people how you want to be treated. Tell your child the Golden Rule definitely applies to a person with autism. Encourage your child to be kind to children with autism, even if they act differently. Explain that being different can be hard, so showing kindness can mean a lot to another person.  

5. How can I be a good friend to someone with autism?

Your child may want to be friends with someone with autism, but is unsure how to act. Explain that it’s important to find out what their new friend likes and doesn’t like, just as they would with other friends. Tell your child their new friend might have different dislikes than they’re used to; they may not like loud sounds or large crowds, for example.

If their new friend doesn’t like large crowds, they probably shouldn’t suggest a trip to the Minnesota State Fair. If they don’t enjoy loud sounds, your child should avoid playing loud music when they’re around their new friend. Tell your child to be patient about their friend’s difference and appreciate everything that makes their friend unique.

6. Why are they doing that thing with their hands, etc.?

People with autism sometimes do repetitive behaviors, known as stimming. They might flap their hands or rock back and forth repeatedly. If your child notices another child or adult stimming, explain that helps the person calm down when they feel overwhelmed or too excited.

“You can also point out things your child does to comfort themselves, like maybe sleeping with a certain blanket or twirling their hair,” says Sporer. “Then explain the things the other child is doing gives the same comfort, but it just might be more noticeable to them because it’s something they haven’t seen before.”

7. Will autism ever go away?

Remind your child every day they’re growing and getting bigger and stronger. Explain that just like them, children with autism will grow and change and learn new things. Just because they may act differently or learn new things doesn’t mean their autism has gone away. Tell them that doctors and scientists believe people with autism will always have autism.

8. Why can’t they learn to act like everyone else?

Sporer suggests you explain everyone has different things they’re good at and things that are harder for them. Maybe your child draws well, but struggles with riding a bike. For people with autism, it can be hard to learn to behave in certain ways, and just like riding a bike takes practice, it might take a person with autism a while to learn how to act a certain way.

It’s also important to tell your child that every person on the planet is different, and we should learn to appreciate those differences rather than look down on them. You could point out something you love about your child that makes them different, like their freckles, that they can curl their tongue or that they memorized their favorite book.

Sporer says it’s okay if you don’t know all the answers to your child’s questions. It provides a learning opportunity. If you don’t have the answer, it’s okay to tell them you don’t know, but maybe you can find out together. It’s natural for children to be curious and seek answers that support their developing empathy and understanding. This teaches your child that no one has all the answers, and learning is an important and ongoing skill.