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. In their early lives their thoughts and feelings weren't acknowledged so the ability to develop healthy relationships later in life was stunted.
They don't expect to be heard. They don't expect to be understood. They have no frame of reference for it. And though they don't have the Asperger's neurological profile, some never learned how to fully express and receive love and affection for those around them, and so the ripples of isolation spread.
- Due to a substantial response to this article from 2009 I wrote another for NT children of AS parents in 2015 called "NT Children of Parents with Aspergers: Looking for Information?" You can read it here.
Frequently Asked Questions About Asperger Syndrome. Aspergerfoundation.org.uk.
FAAAS, Inc. Faaas.org.
Asperger Relationships. Autism.lovetoknow.com.
About.com:Adults and Asperger Syndrome. Autism.about.com.
Feeling Invisible in the Asperger World. Psychcentral.com.
Children of a parent with ASD / Asperger’s Syndrome. Aspergerpartner.com.
Visit Jody's website and blog at http://www.ncubator.ca and http://ncubator.ca/blogger
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Get a load of https://itmustbemum.wordpress.com/2017/02/10/engaging-with-professionals-when-you-are-a-parent-with-aspergers/ .
Nothing in the post, not in the comments, acknowledges the possibility of an Aspie's child not having autism himself or herself. This is does not suggest good treatment for their kids who have neurotypicality, William Syndrome, Down syndrome, or whatever instead of autism.May 4, 2018 - 11:24pm
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
I just saw and responded to your original posting on my other article. And I'm glad to see you decided you had more to say here on this one. I have seen the same phenomenon -- a parent who was busy avoiding contact with people including his family all their lives ... and is now vulnerable and in a nursing home. He knows he is lucky to have some family who will come see him several times a week -- especially since everyone concerned knows he would never have done the same favour for any of the family.
Something I noticed in your posting that I wanted to bring out a bit -- You said "I will post my original comment below for context, not to make it all about me." Spoken like a true NT child of an Aspie parent:)
I notice these things because ... well, it's evidence of a life that's been spent knowing that nothing is all about you. It's all about somebody else -- in this case, your mother. You should not expect to be the center focus, even for a minute. You should not even give the appearance of it and if you do, you'd best explain that you didn't mean for it to happen and give evidence to prove this.
Because the way you grew up convinced you that even though you may have wished that sometimes it could be about you, this was not allowed and you were not a good person for even wishing it.
But here's the thing about all that. It's perfectly OK for things to be about you sometimes -- maybe even ALL about you sometimes. And maybe even a LOT of times:) People who are good for you will agree with that. People who are bothered by such a thing are selfish and will only help to continue propagating the lie that you are not worth the attention and that you are selfish to want it, seek it out or enjoy it.
One other thing I noticed. You said "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 can understand why you sought out therapy, because feeling that way about your own reactions needed sorting. And hopefully the therapy was good and healthy and reassured you that in point of fact not being sorry for someone even a parent, is not an indicator that something is wrong with you. Sounds to me like you are simply very clear-eyed about what you are seeing.
It's OK to see her as she is as a person, it is not required in order to be a good person that you are "loyal" to her in every respect. How you feel is your own business, and people have negative feelings about other people -- sometimes especially family:) Especially when that family member has been callous, indifferent, self-absorbed and leaning heavily on people (like their children) who they did not bother to spend time building a relationship with.
Many children of Aspie parents spend a great deal of time apologizing for everything under the sun. Sometimes even for their own existence or needs. It is a hallmark of such children. The realization that such apologies are not needed and are not even desired by healthy and kind people can be a step along the way to wholeness and acceptance of self in a new way.
I hope some of this may be of use to you. I know you are on a journey that can seem very complicated and learning new ways. I think you will do well:)March 20, 2018 - 7:34am
Thank you Jody. I will find a quite moment and absorb all of this properly. Thank you for respondingApril 26, 2018 - 11:55pm
It was my pleasure to respond to you:) When you're not sure how things "should" be in a relationship -- what makes for a healthy relationship -- remember this as being one of the important features. In a healthy relationship, the person you are involved with will be happy to respond to you.
They won't dismiss your feelings or ignore your thoughts. Those things will be as important to them as their thoughts and feelings are to you.
JodyApril 28, 2018 - 7:42am
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
I can completely relate to your comments, Ann, thank you so much for sharing. It feels so good to hear from people who have gone through similar!
There really is a shocking lack of literature on the impact that having a parent with ASD has on a child - which only compounds the feelings of isolation I've felt as an adult child of a mother with autism. Thank you Jody for this article!
I would be really grateful if anyone is able to point me in the direction of any resources (other literature online, or specialist therapists).
Thanks againJuly 28, 2018 - 5:44pm
I'm glad you found my article helpful. I also was surprised and disappointed to find so little information available online for adult children of those on the spectrum.
Best of luck in your search and your personal journey.
JodyAugust 3, 2018 - 6:25pm
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!
JodyFebruary 8, 2018 - 9:14am
Thank you, Jody!February 9, 2018 - 6:45am