Raelene Dundon is a parent, a psychologist and the author of Talking with Your Child about Their Autism Diagnosis: A Guide for Parents. In this piece, Raelene tells her personal story of how she came to write this book, and what she hopes it will achieve. You can also read an edited extract from the book on our blog, here.
Looking back on where this book really started, I would have to say that it was 10 years in the making. It was about 10 years ago that my son Aaron was diagnosed with Autism, and I was launched into a world of speech therapy, behavioural intervention, visual supports and questions – lots of questions.
I was already a registered Psychologist at the time, and had been working with children with Autism and other developmental disabilities in an early intervention program in Melbourne, Australia. While with hindsight I can honestly say that my experience of being a parent to a child with Autism has been a challenging but overwhelmingly positive one, I can still remember the moment I was told that Aaron had Autism and my reaction was one I have since seen many other parents go through – fear, sadness, and confusion.
My journey since that day has been a colourful one, peppered with Thomas the Tank Engine, fussy eating, meltdowns, anxiety, laughter, and a quirky view of life that only a child with Autism can bring. I feel it has also brought me closer to the children and families I work with, giving me a unique insight into their experiences and needs, and being better able to support them in their own journeys.
One big part of the ‘Autism Journey’ for many parents is making the decision to talk to a child about their diagnosis, and share the diagnosis with others. I have been lucky enough to assist many families with this process over the years, and my experiences both personally and professionally ultimately led me to want to share the knowledge I have gained with others through presentations and workshops, and more recently through this book.
I first introduced the idea of Autism to Aaron when he was around 5 years old and about to start school. At the time he was a bit resistant to the idea, not really understanding my explanation that his Autism was why he sometimes had trouble talking, so I just planted the seed and left things for a while before I brought it up again. Over the next several years, we were open about using the word Autism to describe Aaron’s strengths and difficulties, and available to answer any questions he had about what Autism meant for him, and his understanding and acceptance of his Autism grew. Aaron is now 14 years old and has embraced his Autism as just another part of who he is.
My own experience of talking to Aaron about his diagnosis was certainly not perfect, and is a good illustration of how the ‘Autism talk’ is more of a process than a single event, one that will grow and evolve as a child’s understanding of their Autism develops over time. My story, along with the stories of many other families, is included in the book to help parents see that just as all children with Autism are different, each child’s journey to understand their Autism will be different, but that it can be a positive experience for everyone involved.
I believe that it is important for children to know that they have Autism, and my hope is that Talking with Your Child about Their Autism Diagnosis will give parents the confidence to empower their children to understand and embrace their diagnosis as a part of who they are.
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