It didn’t even occur to me to keep my children’s autism a secret. For Lady Bug, her speech delay and social differences and stimming were becoming more and more obvious, and it only made sense to me to help others understand my daughter so that they would not be confused or hurt when she didn’t respond to their attempts to engage her. And when the boys were officially identified/diagnosed, Early Bird had been in the middle of some big struggles that had caused a temporary rift with good friends, and explaining to people that, no, he’s not a spoiled horrible child he’s having a hard time and his brain is hijacked by anxiety and flight or fight, was only natural.
So it surprises me when I see parents in private facebook groups asking about whether to tell people about their children’s autism or not. One reason is there was no way we were going to keep that information from our kids. And once our kids knew, there was not way to keep it a secret. “Hi, I’m [Early Bird.] I’m autistic level 1 with sensory processing disorder. My sister is also autistic and is level 3. My brother is autistic level 1, like me!” This is Early Bird’s introduction script to every new person he meets. We told him it was a positive thing, so he lives accordingly. Except for a few months after he found out there are people who think autism is a disease that they want to “cure.” Then he was terrified to tell new people for fear they would try to take him away from us and try to “cure” him. (He read over my shoulder and asked questions that I had to answer.) Thankfully he’s grown less afraid and more confident about it again.
I understand that not everyone we encounter is going to be accepting, understanding, and non-judgmental. But that is their problem, not mine. Probably it’s my own neurodiversity that helps me not worry about fitting in their box. Surely the benefit of appropriate expectations and some grace and understanding is worth the risk of people looking at your family as atypical. (Which, you are.) I can understand that is difficult for some people. But if you hide it like it’s shameful, that message is going to get picked up by your kid, and they may believe that it makes them wrong and shameful. And I don’t believe any parent wants that.
Also, for every silent judge on social media I also have PMs from people asking questions, self identifying, or finally getting their kid assessed. And that makes it worth it.