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.