The Impact of an Asperger’s Parent on a Family by Cynthia Kim

Having a parent with Asperger’s in the family can a mixed bag. Aspie parents tend to be unconventional. This can mean anything from having an unusual way of expressing love to being the kind of parent who will spend weeks helping their child build a scale model replica of the Island of Sodor out of Legos.

The effect of an Asperger’s parent on a family may be positive or negative, but most likely it will be some of each. At times, in two parent households, the parent who isn’t on the spectrum will need to step in and help out in areas where the aspie parent struggles. Of course, the aspie parent can return the favor by helping out in areas of their own strength. Children often figure out early on that Dad is better at helping with math homework and more fun to watch sci-fi shows with while Mom is better at kissing boo-boos and giving friendship advice. This happens naturally in most families; it just may be a little more pronounced in families where one parent has Asperger’s.

Beyond their personal strengths and weaknesses, parents with Asperger’s face some natural hurdles that can impact a family:

Sensory sensitivities: Aspies can be sensitive to certain types of light, noise, or smells. With children in the house, limiting things like the sound of the television, the level of noise during a play date or the smells that a baby produces can be difficult. It may be helpful for the aspie parent to have a quiet place they can escape to when necessary to regroup or to divide up family responsibilities to accommodate the aspie partner’s sensitivities.

Social communication deficits: Social communication is a big part of parenting. At home, parents are constantly communicating with their children, whether it’s to discipline them, to let them know that they’re loved or to explain a difficult homework assignment. Away from home, children rely on their parents to advocate for them at school and show them how to get along in the world. When a parent struggles in this area, it may be necessary for them to seek assistance, either from their partner or another trusted family member.

Household management: Executive function difficulties can make it hard for aspies to stay organized themselves, let alone keep a household of three or more people running smoothly. Many families with a parent on the spectrum rely heavily on organizational aids like family calendars, reminder lists and routines to stay on track.

Love and support: Aspies often have an unusual way of showing love and bonding with others. For example, many people on the spectrum are naturally drawn to practical gestures of love and support, such as solving a problem or doing something helpful for a loved one. If a child finds it difficult to understand an aspie parent’s bonding style (or any aspect of their parenting), it may help for both parents to explain that mommy/daddy’s brain is wired differently and that’s why they do X instead of Y.

On the upside, many parents with Asperger’s find that they make great parents. Aspies are known for being loyal, honest, and nonjudgmental with strong values and an independent spirit. Being raised in a family that is somewhat nontraditional, children of aspie parents often grow up to be open-minded, independent thinkers who are tolerant of other people’s differences.

Often, the effect that an aspie parent has on a family is largely dependent on how the family sees Asperger’s. Both parents can set a positive example for the family by treating Asperger’s as a natural difference that requires everyone to make some adaptations. As the family grows and ages, those adaptations may change and in time, they may become so natural that everyone will forget that their family isn’t quite the same as other families.

Cynthia Kim blogs at www.musingsofanaspie.com, where she writes about her experiences as a woman, wife and mother who was diagnosed later in life with Asperger’s Syndrome. She is also the author of  I Think I Might Be Autistic: A Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and Self-Discovery for Adults   a must read for anyone who is beginning their journey of self discovery into Asperger’s Syndrome.

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Autism Parenting Magazine

9 thoughts on “The Impact of an Asperger’s Parent on a Family by Cynthia Kim

  1. what if ur a single parent? i havefound no articles that mention single parents with aspergers. i would find this helpful as it is what im experiencing.

    • christina on said:

      Hey Jen why not write something about being a single parent with aspergers? I always think if I can’t find what I’m looking for maybe I need to make it. So maybe you need to create an article about your experiences. I bet your not the only single aspie parent out there :-D

  2. Lindsey on said:

    Sorry this is going to be a bit long, but this article really spoke to me, and reminded me of something I learned in counseling that helped me understand all the “love miscommunication in my life. As someone wavering over a self diagnosis, I have done a fair amount of counseling to understand why I am the way I am, and one of the things my counselor taught me about was Gary Chapman’s idea of the 5 languages of love. I believe they are: receiving gifts, words of affirnation, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. Essentially, everyone prefers to receive love in one or two of these in particular, and that is the same way they give it. When people prefer different love languages, there can be confusion and feelings of being unloved. Understanding how each loved one shows love and wishes to receive it enables people to recognize the love they are receiving, and also gives the opportunity to make efforts to show love in the other person’s preferred language.

  3. Single parent, male, undiagnosed (at the time, until age 57) extremely but too good at hiding it (as per ARC research tests) aspie, bringing up daughter also undiagnosed aspie (until late teens). Behaviour of daughter seemed perfectly normal … oops
    Or is this an example of dysfunctional family?

  4. Womandrogyne on said:

    I’m a 51 year old trans woman who has long term PTSS, and I’m coming to terms with the almost certainty that I’m on the aspie spectrum. One consequence of my exploration (which was helped enormously by the book Aspergirls) is that it’s dawned one just over the last few days that my dad was very definitely on the spectrum. The way we had to live around him was so obviously a consequence of his need to manage his environment and lack of communication skills (whilst paradoxically making his living as a voice actor). And his sisters and mother were clearly struck from the same mould, and his father survived the trenches in WWI, which damaged both him and his family. I’d been assuming my dad was affected just by that, but now I can see his dad was on the spectrum as well as being war-harmed.
    Some of what you wrote had made more of this fall into place – the need to fend off extremes of sense input (read: children, especially gender-ambiguous ones) by creating spaces we weren’t allowed into – so I want to thank you for your help with this.
    It’s been a bit of a mad job, reading out my aspiedom from my PTSS, since some of the patterns are congruent, but it’s obvious now that both have been present since childhood. And like gender dysphoria, medical professionals tend to focus on one issue to the detriment of caring for the other ones, sigh.

  5. My Dad is a typical Aspie – as you say when I was a child he hated the sound of us playing noisily so I think the idea of having a separate area that is child proof is a very good idea. Having daughters must have been very hard for him on reflection, he’d have loved a boy he could get his train set out and play together with.
    The few times we connected I remember quite vividly – I guess that’s the bonus!
    I find as an adult that texting has saved our relationship (with my sisters too) as we then have time to think about what we’re going to say – especially to be able to see how it sounds before it is communicated!

  6. I have Asperger’s syndrome that was diagnosed late last year. As an adult in my late fifties, I decided and never having regretted that having children would be too much responsibility to handle. I had learned that Asperger’s is genetic and could be passed on to the children. If I had children 30-odd years ago and then struggled with raising them, I would have been devastated that I had passed on “bad” genetic material to someone. It is up to each person’s decisions to have children, but to do so, one may have to face the consequences of such decisions. Do we want to see afflicted children who may end up institutionalized? In foster care because parents break up under the stressful situations? Or placed into adoption because affected children are too much to handle?

  7. I am one of four of our six family members who are afflicted with Asperger’s, a genetic condition passed on from our mother’s side. I am the youngest of us who is in my late fifties. My youngest brother, or the fifth child of our family, who is afflicted with the same genetic condition, is very angry and won’t even speak or write to me because he remembers how emotionally unstable I was back in my teens. I tried to apologize and explain to him why I did not ask for relationship help back in my teen years to no avail. We were living together in foster care at the time. I myself had gone into foster care in at least three places as a newborn child when our parents were going through a divorce. My foster sister, one of my best friends, remembers how I struggled with life but understands that I was not properly cared for.

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