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.
I Think I Might Be Autistic: A Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and Self-Discovery for Adults
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.
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 😀
You are definitly not alone. I am single mother with four kids! And I am aspie… but my children learned my needs and took advantage from my strenghts! They do not play laudly, they cry quietly…. somehow they fitted in. But I struggled a lot, not directly with children; had terrible time with tenancy agreements, work payrises, my ex, other painful events which I couldnt deal with properly. Now my kids are almost grown up. And I am so praud of them and myself! It was definitely worth the struggle. And they know me well; they know the things I can or can’t do. If you are aspie parent just accept yourself. And do your best; it will work out.
My son is aspie to… maybe I passed it to him. But I dont feel guilty; this is not a disaster; this is a gift! Just get on eith it; you are wonderful!
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.
I like this idea of Gary Chapman’s – if taught early on it could save a lot of heartache in any relationship!
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?
Maybe just a different family Phil. 🙂 i can totally relate to this (if that is not a contradiction in terms amongst aspies lol).
I am a male co-parent to a 7 year old girl. Her mother and i have been divorced for 6 years but we live close and have equal custody of our daughter, who lives equally with each of us.
My daughter’s mother had been concerned about our daughter’s unconventional and occasionally challenging behaviour but i was having none of it as her behaviour appeared perfectly normal to me…. until i took the AQ and scored well on the spectrum :). (Recently confirmed by psychologist.)
We do what we can with what we have. It is usually enough.
best of luck with everything Phil.
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.
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!
> he hated the sound of us playing noisily
This is quite interesting to me. When I was a kid, I didn’t really like playing with other kids. I liked “hanging around” but not playing. You know how kids make sound effects when playing with dinky cars and whatnot? I was originally diagnosed juvenile schizophrenic because amongst everything else that was weird about me, I never made those sound effects. And t irritated the hell out of me when other kids did. I was the weirdly silent one who didn’t seem to actually be playing with the others even when I was *with* the others.
I was also notorious for muting the television during commercials because the loud compression and the constant repeat used to make me want to throw things because I hated it so much.
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?
I am an adult child of a mother with diagnosed Asperger’s. A woman with Asperger’s should never have children. I thank you for your decision.
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.
55 years old, male, separated but still in regular contact with family, including one Aspie daughter. I was diagnosed ASD a year ago, my Dad was also ASD, undiagnosed but with fairly obvious deficiencies. I have always struggled with being something of an outsider, and took to the life of a hippy/artist as it meant feeling at least part of some kind of family or tribe. It allowed being individual and creative. Belonging.
Still, it’s taken me a long time to recognise that I just can’t have the kind of interaction others seem to have. I might seem to have the right ingredients, but for some reason just don’t seem to connect with people. I have struggled with life, in short. The flow of energy that people get from the Universe seems to come to me in drips – never a steady and dependable flow. So I struggle with a stop-start and broken-up drip-feed of life force. I have tried to explain to NT people how it is for me, that there seems to be some kind of psychic “disconnect” going on, that prevents true contact with the world at large. They don’t see this at all. You probably have to be stuck in the condition to know it.
Here’s an Aspie joke; A group meeting is organised for ASD people. Sign up for the day you want to go – I’m going Monday, you go Tuesday etc. Yes, people do mean well, and I love them for trying to help. Don’t stop trying. I find I can’t join in with groups but it breaks my heart to leave. What to do about this?
I was diagnosed this year at the age of 51. It was quite a revelation. All of my why’s ever have been answered. I think I’m going through the different stages of grief as a result of the news. Is this normal?
I found this page whilst looking for support. I am currently undergoing individualised family therapy to help me put to rest a lot of my childhood. At a recent session my therapist told me that mum sounds like she has been and continues to display a lot of typical aspergers behaviour. She is quite cold with her parenting style, very regimented in routine, has never had friends or instigated friend relationships even at work, has poor eye contact, is very obsessional about weight and exercise, drinks a lot of alcohol and perceives the world in a totally different way – if you say some thing happened this way she will say the opposite. She hates mess and is obsessional about germs. Would telling her help her in anyway? It’s helping me to process all the oddities of my childhood but I’m not sure if she knew it would help in anyway. Are there any books on this kind of thing?
If anyone’s wondering if getting diagnosed, especially as an adult, makes sense, the answer is yes. My father is a disaster of a person and since he doesn’t think he has autism, he doesn’t improve or try anything. The outcome? Both my sister and I moved, not just out of the house but out of the region.
I don’t think you want to lose your children like that.
As a woman with AS, I know that I personally could never be a good parent. There is a single, very simple reason for this: I CANNOT tolerate the sound of a young baby screaming. From the time they are born until maybe 6-9 months when they lose the “newborn screech,” their cries make me want to run into a corner and plug my ears to escape the unbearable auditory assault. Unfortunately, screaming is the only tool newborns have to make their needs known, so you can’t really have a baby and not have to deal with at least some level of screaming. Even the most attentive parents can’t keep their baby happy every moment of every day. So I’m afraid that having children is simply off the table for me, unless they invent some magical kind of earplugs that block newborn screaming but no other sounds.
I am also the child of two AS parents (neither was diagnosed, but if you know them and know about AS, it’s pretty obvious). The one biggest suggestion I have for children of AS parents is NOT to get involved with any talk about “narcissistic parents.” While the behavior of AS parents can be superficially similar to that of parents with narcissistic personality disorder, the underlying dynamic is quite different. A narcissist genuinely does not care how you feel unless they are trying to get something from you. Someone with AS does care how you feel, but they have trouble understanding how you feel in the first place, and then have trouble figuring out what they are supposed to do about it. It can be very easy for people who are on the spectrum themselves to miss this distinction and come away with a mistaken impression that there is no use trying to save the relationship with their parents. Of course, parents with AS can be abusive just like any other parents and it is important to recognize that, but AS in and of itself does not make someone an abuser.
A good litmus test is to ask yourself this: when my parent’s behavior hurts me and I point this out, do they seem upset and try to make it up to me? Or do they double down and insist that they did nothing wrong and it was my fault for being hurt? People with AS may not realize when they have accidentally hurt someone, but once made aware that they have, they are usually remorseful and will try to make things right and behave better in the future. They do not have very much affective empathy, but they have plenty of cognitive empathy once it has been explained to them how the other person feels. Abusers lack any empathy for their victims and will only show remorse if it keeps the victim close for further abuse.
I am a 65-year-old woman raised by a mother with Asperger’s. People with Asperger’s should never under any circumstances become parents they lack the basic qualities. Children learn empathy and compassion from the way they are treated by their mothers. You cannot be a mother without being sensitive and compassionate a child must be touched and shown affection and be given praise for doing something well. If anyone wants to argue about this, I experienced it personally so I know exactly how completely these people fail at motherhood.
I would like to add to my original post I am not guessing that my mother has Asperger’s. She was diagnosed by a mental health professional.