Explaining a Diagnosis to Your Child
Talking to your child about their diagnosis is tricky.
Yet, when we don’t talk to kids about their differently-wired brains, they start to develop their own narrative about why they’ve different – and these narratives are often negative and harmful.
In the last post, I shared a template for understanding your child’s profile. Today, I’ll share a way to use that language to help your child understand their diagnosis in a positive and empowering way!
In other words, to shift their narrative from, “I’m broken,” to:
A Conversation Template
To help you talk to your child about their diagnosis, I put together a fill-in-the-blank template. This is designed as a starting place, to give you ideas for what to say and how to say it.
I hope it’s helpful for your family!
Here’s what you’ll need to know to fill it out and start talking to your child about their amazing brain!
1. What’s Their Problem?
The best place to start this conversation is by thinking about a problem your child wants to solve.
Chances are your child was tested because adults saw a problem or difficulty and wanted to know more. But the way we – as adults – describe problems is often different than how kids describe their daily experience.
So, the first step for talking to your child about their diagnosis is thinking about how they describe the things that are most challenging for them.
Then, you can open the conversation like this:
You know your were saying [problem in your child’s words]?
I learned some things that may help us understand why that’s been so tricky. Can I share with you what I learned?
2. A Brain Under Construction
In my previous article, I described a way to understand your child’s profile or diagnosis using a construction metaphor. Now, we can share this metaphor with your child.
It may sound like this:
Your brain has many different parts, all working together to help you learn and do what you want to do.
Your brain works by sending messages from one part to another using special cells called “neurons.”
Neurons connect to each other, making pathways in our brains, like billions of tiny roads.
Just like the roads we use every day, some brain roads are easy to travel and others may feel tricky. Sometimes getting where you want to go is a straight-shot, and other times you need to find a different way to get to your destination.
3. Your Child’s Highways
There are some things that come easily to your child. You can think of these as their highways – the roads that are easier to travel.
Start by asking your child,
What are some things that come easily for you? What do you love to do?
Write down their answers on your template, and add a few of your own. Try to come up with a list of at least 5.
4. Your Child’s Construction Zones
Some things may be more challenging for your child’s brain. You can think of these as their construction zones. These are the skills that their brain is building, or where they may need to build a different route to get to their goals.
Talking about challenges can be hard for many kids, so before asking “what’s challenging?” I find it helpful to ask this:
What’s something that used to be hard for you?
If they don’t know, you may have some ideas such as walking, riding a bike, or writing their name! This is an example of how their brain is constantly building new roads.
Now that they know their brain builds new roads all the time, we can ask about their next construction project:
What is your brain working on now?
Make a list of 1-3 things that your child agrees are current “construction projects.”
5. Explaining the Diagnosis
Now that your child has helped you make a list of how they describe their highways and construction zones, you can bring these words together to help them understand their diagnosis – and what it means for them.
To introduce diagnostic terms, I start by letting them know they are not alone!
It turns our you’re not alone! Lots of people have highways and construction zones just like you. In fact, there’s a name for it! It’s called…
Here, I may use specific terms like ADHD, autism, or dyslexia. Or, if a child does not have a specific diagnosis, I might use a more general word like neurodiversity.
Next, I define their diagnosis using their words:
For you, [your diagnosis] means your brain was built in a way that makes [your highways] come easily and [your construction projects]more difficult.
Here are a few examples:
6. Tools & Construction Crew
In other words, you can tell your child:
Now that we know more about your brain, we can build on your highways and help you with your construction projects!
There are some tools and strategies that may be helpful to you, as well as people – your construction crew – who will be supporting you along the way.
While the evaluator may have recommended many things, focus on the “top 5” supports your child will receive. For example:
- Working with a tutor to build math skills
- Using a computer to build note-taking skills
- Using “brain breaks” in class to build self-awareness
- Joining a lunch group to build friendships
- Talking with a peer to build on your ideas
When kids know why they are getting a specific intervention or support, it not only becomes more meaningful, but it will be more effective.
Finally, here are a few additional tools that may help:
Make it visual!
This spreadsheet contains helpful videos and websites to show your child that they are not alone!
Find the Right Words
It can be challenging for children to explain their experience. Click below to learn some of the ways kids have described their strengths, challenges, and diagnosis.
Perhaps their words will resonate with your child!
Watch the Video Course
Watch me walk through the steps of talking to your child about their diagnosis on Thrive Hive TV! This platform includes many mini-courses for parents to help navigate the world of neurodivergence and supporting your child.
You can try it out for FREE for 30 days.