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So my 10yo son has recently been diagnosed with functioning autism. It has been a big relief for us to actually understand what he is experiencing - he would pace a lot, very fixated on destructive thoughts as entertaining, ("and then imagine if it just blew up!"), would get agitated seemingly out of nowhere, etc. It was frustrating for everyone because no one knew what the issues were, and he would be unable to explain. Now that we understand, we can then solve the issues.

However what I am struggling with is telling him that he has autism. One of his biggest habits is latching on to labels. He would use them as excuses for behaviours. For example dealing with self control, he would not fix the self control, regardless of the direction, and motivation we might give him, address and readdress, he would simply blame the "lack of self control".

In the same way I don't want him to identify himself as autistic, and use that as a label by which to limit himself.

For example, I myself have epilepsy. However it is not something I use to identify myself, it's just a part of my life. I take medication, I avoid triggers and I keep aware of any potential syndromes, but otherwise I live my life as per normal. I do not limit myself by my epilepsy.

How can I address this with my son, in a way that he understands that he is not an autistic person, but a person that has autism?

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I suggest your start describing some of the autistic traits without using the word "autism" at this point, because like you said, he may get stuck on preconceptions of what he thinks it means.

You know son, there are many different personality types. One type, that I see a lot in common with you, is someone who is loyal, honest, exacting, careful.. (describe all his good traits) but sometimes these very good traits can cause frustration. One may feel uncomfortable with sensory experiences, misunderstood (describe the challenges you see him facing) Mom and I have been reading up on this to better understand. Does any of this resonate? Would you be interested in learning more so we can get tips for how to lessen frustrating situations?

Then just listen and see where he goes with it.

Next discussion, you can mention there are differences in brain wiring and how these differences impact communication, understanding of the other person etc.

Once you are on solid footing, you can tell him that this personality type (with its blessings and challenges) falls under a category called "autism". The label is just meant for him to get the help he needs, and possibly connect with others like him if he wants, but it shouldn't limit him, define him, or worry him.

(I say this from experience with a close-family member being diagnosed. A slow moving learning and understanding was better for him that a sudden shock of an often-misunderstood diagnosis.)

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  • Also: It is not wrong, it is different. People with functional autism cant do some thing, but can do other things exceptionally well.
    – Martijn
    Commented May 30 at 13:50

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