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ASK THE EXPERT: HOW DO I EXPLAIN A SPECIAL NEEDS DIAGNOSIS TO MY CHILD?

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by Melanie Pearl, Ph.D.

Related: aspberger's, aspbergers, autism, autism spectrum, child, diagnosis, special needs, explain, how to tell your child, young child, advice, tips,


We asked Melanie Pearl, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist based in Stamford, CT, how to explain a special needs diagnosis to the affected child, and, specifically, her advice on how to tell a child with Aspberger's Syndrome that he has Aspberger's. Read on for her response.

 

"Generally speaking, the best way to share any information with a child is to consider the child's developmental level, and provide positive information about the topic tailored to the child's level of understanding. Be available to answer questions, be understanding and accepting of the child's feelings regarding the topic, and attempt to correct any misperceptions.

The younger the child, the less of an immediate reaction you will receive, and the more you will need to be prepared to answer questions over time that may appear to come out of the blue. Children process information in bits and pieces when it is relevant to them, and not necessarily according to an adult's schedule or expectations.
Specific to Asperger's Syndrome, Tony Attwood, a leading expert on Asperger's Syndrome, in his book, The Complete Guide to Asperger's, comments that given the trajectory of children's cognitive development, children with Asperger's who are younger than 8 years old may not perceive themselves as being different from others. Dr. Attwood recommends that explanations to younger children focus on the purposes and benefits of services they receive, with emphasis on appreciating individual differences. For older children, Dr. Attwood recommends "The Attributes Activity," which focuses on a child's strengths and involves the entire family in explaining the diagnosis to the child."

-Melanie Pearl, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist, Center for Social Enrichment and Education Development (The SEED Center), Stamford, CT

 


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