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Asperger's Parents and Neurotypical Children

By HERWriter
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Asperger's Syndrome is finally moving into the spotlight. Questions that have perplexed Asperger's (AS) and neurotypical (NT) family members alike are now finding answers. Marriages between Aspies and NT's can improve as more becomes known about how to bridge the neurological gap.

People with Asperger's are writing articles, blogging, and being heard. Their voices have been given a platform that's been long in coming. They certainly deserve this understanding.

One group, though, that seems to be under-represented in all this new information and support, are the neurotypical children of Aspie parents. There's a certain irony here. From what I've read, this has been the story of their lives.

A cornucopia of material is available, finally, for AS children, and Asperger's / NT marriages, and Asperger's in adults. But their NT child is -- still -- overlooked.

An Asperger's parent might say everything is fine. They're not aware of any problem for their child. However, there's that Catch 22. Neurologically, they are unable to be aware of it. But that doesn't mean there isn't a problem.

The neurotypical parent's view may be completely different. They'd see the hurt feelings the Aspie would miss. They'd be aware of the emotional distance the child faces. Inevitably, the AS parent would not.

Some NT children of AS parents, now adults themselves, would say that as children they felt unloved. Their Aspie parent wasn't able to be sensitive to their feelings and their needs. As NT children, they couldn't understand the neurological disconnect. The present generation of NT adults with Asperger's parents had no way of knowing what was wrong when they were small.

Children assume, and internalize, that there is something wrong with them, that it is somehow their fault when their parents can't show them love and affection in non-verbal ways they can understand. To compound the situation, Asperger's was unheard of at that time. Who knew?

Many offspring of Aspies are dogged throughout their lives with depression and low self-worth.

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EmpowHER Guest

Double posting a comment here probably, but can I just say that the theme of Aspie parent's having isolated friends and family over the years and still feeling they are social and engaged is very sad. My parents have no one, my sister will have to retire early to care for them (I live in Australia they are in the UK) and it is as though they systematically engineered their lives to reach this blissful point of isolation.

That is probably one of the reasons I don't feel sorry for them, and that in itself has had me in the therapist's chair plenty of times - what is wrong with me?

I am not sure how this forum comments system works so I will post my original comment below for context, not to make it all about me.

As my mother slips in to vascular dementia and Alzheimers she has become a sweet little old lady. Her self-centred-to-the-point-of-being-greedy trait is now acceptable and she forgets to keep what was the life force of her relationship with my father going - the constant bickering.

Now that her personality is occluded by her conditions, I am reflecting on that personality - I suppose people with NT parents would call it being sad that the parent they knew is receding. I am wondering how my mother's life would have been improved if she had had a dx, if she had known that she had Aspergers ( I am adopting the immensely arrogant position of the diagnoser here, I know). Probably not, although she would have found it a relief not to have put so much energy in to pretending she understood people's emotions. She taught English as a job and used fiction as a guide. She collected books, all kinds, and accessioned them (recorded their Dewey numbers, time and place of purchase) in log books. She has over 25,000 books. I never heard her talk about enjoying or being moved by any of them.

However, and this is why I 'm offloading here, a dx would have been useful for me as a child. I could never understand why every single interaction, was very likely to end with her ( and by learned behaviour me) getting anxious, upset or angry, with a row or a hurt feeling or a sense of guilt, then fifteen minutes later everything was perfectly all right and would we like a nice cup of tea? (we are English).

I thought I was a difficult teenager, a volatile person, a difficult person, an angry person, maybe I was? Maybe I was awful? I always upset my dear sweet mother, didn't I?

I could not understand why the same patterns happened, even during my visits as a young adult and a mother with my own children - the same pattern, and the constant background bickering over minute details and perceived slights and unfairness between my parents.

My mother did love me, and she did show affection, however, she wasn't really interested in the details of quality of my life, just a long as she could summarise by saying "Oh that's marvellous, Darling". She used to say very hurtful things and would never stop talking, and would poke at the embers of a row or an upset without having learned that it was time to stop sharing the contents of her head. Only one thing made her more pleased than having the last word and was demonstrating how clever she was, she would spare no expense, miss no opportunity and spare no one's feelings to this end.

I suspected she may have Aspergers when I told her about my miscarriage in a phone call. She told me that she knew about my miscarriage because she had dreamed that she was visiting a museum and she noticed a baby hanging on a fascia board ( you know what a fascia board is, don't you, Darling?) and as she had walked past it had let go its grip and slid to the floor. "So you see, I knew about the miscarriage".

At that point I figured that either my mother was a monster or that she had no idea what she was doing and how she made people fee. That was 17 years ago. I emigrated to Australia with my husband and kids and never looked back.

My sister copes much better with her because she has been a psychiatric nurse for 35 years.

Anyway, thank you for the links, and the therapy session. It is so useful to know we are not the reason we feel these varying levels of neglect from our Asperger parents.

March 17, 2018 - 8:01pm

Thank you so much for this article. I am in my 40’s and just coming to the realization that my mother may have Asperger’s. My childhood was painful. My relationship with her now is difficult because I often feel like the parent and have a lot of resentment (something I’m working on in therapy). The more I look into Asperger’s, the more sense it makes. Back in the 70’s and 80’s there wasn’t a name for it. All I knew was that my mother wasn’t like other mothers I knew. She wasn’t nurturing and never showed affection, often seemed cold, was rude and offensive to people without meaning to be, didn’t adhere to society’s ‘rules’ or etiquette. I would tiptoe around the house and try not to make too much noise. She was very controlling. I thought she was just very unhappy. I spent a lot of time at my friends house and lived with my friend’s family for a while when I was a teen. My mother didn’t want me around until I became an adult and left the house, and then she became clingy. As a child I was often embarrassed by her behavior. As an adult I try to protect her (she doesn’t mean to be rude or offensive but comes off this way. People get offended by her so I try to remind her to say ‘thank you’ and acknowledge others, etc. I’m always watching her behavior and it’s exhausting). She doesn’t have friends and I’m the only person she feels comfortable with. I also feel that I’ve molded myself into a person that makes her the most comfortable. I’m working on distancing myself some. I’d like to know who I am as a person separate from her and this is something I’m working on. I still want to have a relationship with her but a healthier one if at all possible. Thank you again for this article and also to everyone who shared. I’m grateful to know I’m not alone.

January 31, 2018 - 6:08pm
HERWriter (reply to Ann1971)

Hi Ann1971

You are most definitely not alone. And it sounds like you are well on your way. I know the journey is not easy, and will take some time, but every little revelation, every little step forward will make a noticeable difference for you.

You ARE a person separate and distinct from your mother -- and from the persona you have taken on for her benefit. You WILL find out more of who your own personal self is, and wholeness will continue to grow. Good luck!


February 8, 2018 - 9:14am
(reply to Jody Smith)

Thank you, Jody!

February 9, 2018 - 6:45am
HERWriter (reply to Ann1971)

Go for it, girl:)

February 14, 2018 - 7:50am
EmpowHER Guest

I suffered the unfortunate double-whammy of being adopted by a father with Asperger's. He has never been diagnosed professionally, but the symptoms are abundantly clear. My adoptive mother is NT and completely submissive to her emotionally disabled husband. Apparently in 1975 it was enough to have a clean criminal background and a steady job if you wanted to adopt children. Nobody was bothering to give comprehensive psychological evaluations first. While it would be unfair to expect that people with Asperger's should be disallowed from procreating, I think they should be dissuaded from raising children. They definitely under no circumstances should be allowed to adopt a stranger's offspring. I agree with the other commenters who speculated that being raised by an emotionally vacant parent is a form of child abuse. In my case this compounded the myriad problems which were presented after being abandoned by my genetic family. My chaotic childhood left me with deep scars well into adulthood. Being raised by people who are not one's genetic mirrors is harmful enough. When one of those parents is also afflicted with Asperger's the results can be catastrophic. Fortunately my biological parents blessed me with strong genes, which gave me the intellectual fortitude to search for the real answers as to why my family always felt so insanely messed up. It was all there - my father's inability to understand my personal world view AT ALL, his permanent insistence that he knew best no matter what the scenario, his fixation with things the rest of us found trivial and unimportant, his inability to make any meaningful emotional connections, and above all else the epic, unnecessary and unpredictable meltdowns. This last piece is what really pushed my own personal despair over the edge. My father had no qualms about freaking out over the stupidest things at the drop of a hat. Many times these unexpected outbursts would come in public around my friends and complete strangers. I stopped counting the number of times people asked me what was wrong with him. I never had an answer for them. What made matters worse was that my NT mother would go along with him so as not to rock the boat herself. This left them with a permanent "us-against-the-kid" mentality. This is how I wound up being shopped around to various child-psychologists. I am convinced my parents kept looking for a professional to validate all their negative behaviors towards me. All the emphasis was put on ME and how MY actions contributed to the emotional anarchy in our household. Not once did a single family member, teacher, doctor, psychologist or other professional ever step forward and suggest that maybe, just maybe the imbalances laid with my parents instead of me. My personal desires were never taken seriously. My talents in art and music were brushed off as hobbies, when in reality I should have been encouraged to explore them professionally. Instead, my engineer father and schoolteacher mother incessantly pushed school on me in the hopes I would pick up on one of their pursuits. For instance - both my parents were teachers. I personally hate children, and have no patience. However, my father constantly asks why I've never considered teaching. I try to explain that music and art are the only things I'm interested in, yet anytime they have an opportunity to encourage me in that direction they show no interest. My father just gives me a confused look like "how do you think you'll ever become successful at that?" and then goes right back to suggesting pursuits that only he seems interested in. I have missed out on so many opportunities to better myself simply because their second-guessing has clouded my better judgement for myself. I have also lost out on friendships with people I admire, simply because the trauma of being around my family's perpetual psychological drama have proven to be too exhausting. My aunt is a clinical psychologist, and has watched our family's dynamic from the sideline for decades. She was the one who confirmed my father's illness for me. To all the commenters on here who are saying "its not an illness" or "you just don't understand people with Asperger's" I say this - call it what you will, the truth is the truth. My father, and his emotional deficiencies, destroyed any chances of me having a happy childhood and a well-adjusted adulthood. My mother's co-dependency sealed my fate. At 43 years old I can honestly say I am finished trying to compromise a healthy relationship out of the rubble. They never should have been allowed to adopt me. My best hope right now is walking away from this ugly situation so I at least have some shot at the rest of my life not being remotely as dysfunctional as the first part was. My only feelings lately are anger, frustration, resentment and loneliness. Having a parent with Asperger's was 100% responsible for this...

January 24, 2018 - 5:03pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

I hear what you are saying. You have every right to say it. This is your experience and it has affected you in profound ways. It sounds like you have a pretty decent handle on it, you are able to express yourself in a clear way. This bodes well for you:)

If you need to walk away from them, there's no reason you can't do that. You know what is best for you. Follow your gut. It's not too late to make a better happier life for yourself. I wish you well!

February 14, 2018 - 7:57am
EmpowHER Guest

The overwhelming negativity towards people with AS/ASP in these comments is staggering and quite frankly makes me sick; as well as the fact that AS/ASP is constantly reffered to as an illness is quite frankly disgusting. AS/ASD is a neurological difference not some illness to be cured. Furthermore as the child of a loving carring parent with AS/ASD i can say that i am just as maladjusted as any person with a neurotypical parent.

October 16, 2017 - 8:36am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I could not agree more with you. This is especially sick considering that most of these people do not even have official dx of ASD so the assumption is that if it is bad behavior == to ASD. Talk about pure bigotry. Most people with ASD have plenty of ability to be great parents and being a bad person or parent is not due to ASD.

January 3, 2018 - 11:40am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Sorry, but you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Try having a conversation with a parent who never believes your side of the story. Try exhibiting deeply personal emotions around a parent who does not possess the mechanism to process an appropriate response. Try being a happy musician around a parent who always tells you that you should just be a nerdy academic like they are instead. Try explaining to a parent that their verbal and physical mannerisms make you incredibly uncomfortable, only to see them refuse to change any of the offending behavior. Try living with a professional hypochondriac who convinces themselves that everybody else needs to share in their perpetual gloom and doom. Try making childhood friends around a parent who flies off the handle at the slightest infraction to the rules. Try surviving category 5 meltdowns in public by a parent who has no internal barometer for other peoples' discomfort. Try living in a world where every family member, teacher, authority figure and professional tells you "their your parents, you have to do what they say" even when it's beyond obvious that the parent themselves is the source of the constant disquiet. No, unless you've personally suffered a lifetime of these emotional and psychological indignities, you really have no grounds to contest the notion that people with Asperger's should be kept away from the business of child rearing...

January 24, 2018 - 5:22pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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