When you deliver a diagnosis of autism, expect parents to receive the information with a lot of emotions. In many situations, this diagnosis is a traumatic experience for parents and, depending on the age, the child. The discussion you have with the parents during this critical visit can affect the lives of affected family members and the way treatment is received.
1. Prepare a Comfortable Atmosphere
As much as possible, set up an environment that is comfortable and “safe” for this diagnostic session. Naturally, the room should provide privacy and should be set up for an open conversation. For example, arrange chairs, so all participants can make eye contact without moving around. Choose comfortable chairs for this session. Make sure you have tissues handy, and if the child or siblings are going to attend the session, make sure there are toys or other activities available.
2. Be Clear and Honest About the Diagnosis
Your session with the family will be much more successful when you are open and honest about an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Here are some tips for helping families through this discussion:
Use clear language that family members can easily understand. Make sure family members understand the key aspects of the diagnosis. Some assessments provide this accessible language for clinicians to use with parents.
Give the family time to work through any questions or feelings before you deliver further details. Ask for questions before you move on.
Address any feelings and concerns that family members share.
Acknowledge concerns while also delivering positive examples of treatment and recognizing the child’s strengths.
As a clinician, you need to respond to the family’s needs within a structure that allows you to discuss further details of diagnosis and treatment.
3. Answer Parents’ Questions
There are several questions that families have when first learning of the autism diagnosis. Parents may wonder what they did to cause the condition and may blame themselves for somehow causing the autism. It’s common for parents to wonder whether their child will have a “normal” life and how to plan for the future. Families want to know how they should proceed and what their family life will look like. They may even wonder what to tell their friends and extended family. Remember that effective, compassionate communication can improve the parents’ confidence in addressing their child’s diagnosis.
It’s important that clinicians receive training on delivering an autism diagnosis. This may be done through observation and consultation. Naturally, time and practice will improve your ability to deliver this information to parents.
See how the best way to conduct an autism evaluation is to collect and consider all sources of data, including evidence-based measures. Visit WPS, the leading publisher of autism spectrum disorder assessments.