With all the negative things being said about aspergers on the internet, you could be forgiven for thinking that they make terrible parents. It's not true.
In general, aspies make no better or no worse parents than neurotypicals. Everyone is different and everyone selects their own parenting style. A lot of things affect your parenting style, including your own parents, the environment, the nature of your partner and your childen themselves. Parenting is not some genetic switch than simply turns itself on when your child is born, it takes years of hard work, guidance, plenty of mistakes and a lot of patience, experience and love.
It's sad to think that we only become the best parents possible for a given age group when our children are leaving it for the next set of age-related behaviours.
It's funny to look back on my original thoughts about parenting and some of the naieve things I said that "my children would never do". I've been wrong in most areas.
- My children didn't turn out like the kids on the sound of music.
- They don't tidy their own rooms without a lot of prompting/threats.
- I use bribes as a parent to get my kids to behave
- We do take the kids to McDonalds - and we do buy happy meals, not just burgers.
- I don't spend enough quality time with my kids.
- They do have a game console (playstation 2)
- I do use smacking (albeit rarely) and shouting (a little more often) as forms of discipline.
All things I said I'd never do.
It's funny to watch young first-time parents trying to stick to their guns - or to listen to naieve teenagers talking about how they'd never do things that their parents did... only to see that despite the struggle, everyone backflips on at least some of their rules in the development of parenting skills.
The "Bad Things" about Aspie Parents
I guess it's time to focus on the bad things about aspie parents and perhaps put some of those myths to rest;
Carefree around Danger
It's often said that aspie parents, particularly "new" aspie parents are carefree around danger when it comes to children. To a certain extent, this is true of all new parents but aspie parents do seem to take longer to pick up some of the necessary danger-elimination skills.
I remember when my first son was born. I didn't know how to do anything. I remember watching my wife and other people (some of whom had never had children). They seemed to know exactly where and how to hold the baby, how to bathe it, how to change nappies etc. I needed to be carefully (and procedurally) shown each of these things - and it took me quite a while to master them.
After a few years, I was quite good at doing the baby things and when our second son was born, I was a natural father. As I heard stories from my wife's mother's group, I began to realise that although my fathering skills were increasing constantly, there were plenty of fathers in the group who never changed nappies, fed their children or read stories to them. They didn't have the same amount of hands-on experience and as a result, my knowledge and abilities in this regard had surpassed them.
I'd started off with a "delayed fatherhood instinct" but practice makes perfect.
The same applies to safety. I've either had to have individual safety items pointed out to me - or I've had to have bad experiences happen. Either way, I've learn't from them.
I was told by my wife that One of the children in her mother's group had pulled a hot cup of coffee onto herself. Once I'd taken that information in and processed it - I became over-cautious of hot drinks (I'd been mostly oblivious before). In fact, when my kids were younger, I only ever drank cold/lukewarm coffee.
Now, whenever we have guests over, particularly if they have babies, I'm forever (and probably quite annoyingly) moving their cups towards the center of the table and out of reach of their own baby's flailing arms.
Of course, there were accidents. My own son ran away (down the street) at age two, wearing only a singlet because I left him in the backyard while I went to fetch a clean nappy. It took me about 30 minutes to locate him - and even then, I had to explain it to the police before I was allowed to take him home. After that, I learned to check all the gates.
These days, whenever I go to a new place, I scan for "known issues". I'm not always intuitive enough to scan for new problems (poisonous plants, allowing my kids to pet cockatoos etc..) but I'm improving as a safe parent and that's the main thing.
It's no secret that men in general (and male aspies in particular) really have no ability to multi-task. If I'm talking to my wife while undoing a knot for instance, there will be frequent pauses in the conversation while I give mental attention to the knot. In a way, it's kind of like having a computer with a runaway task that is affecting the others.
Parents need to multi-task to some extent. It's a critical skill when you have more than one child. For instance, when getting the kids ready for school, you have to get them changed (with their clothes on the right way around), get their breakfast, sort through their lunches, bags, books etc, deal with any other distractions that occur during that space of time - phone calls for instance.
My wife can do it. She is amazing.
I, on the other hand, can't do any of it without some form of checklist. It doesn't have to be much and it can be a mental one provided that it is not too long. Above all, it needs to be sequential. This means that I have to do breakfast and then get the boys into their school uniform. I can't vary it, I can't do it in the wrong order and I can't cope well with sudden changes to the plan. Then there's the distractions. I have to ignore them. I won't pick up the phone during an activity like this because I'm too busy - and because it could interfere with.. the plan.
That said, I'm perfectly capable of getting the boys ready and off to school on my own terms - just don't expect me to do it the same way (or necessarily the same timeframe) as my wife.
Aspies can't multi-task but they can follow procedures. It may take longer but they will get the job done.
This one is difficult for me. I'm not a great fan of censorship and I really don't have much of an idea of how to judge appropriate versus inappropriate content. My jokes and language aren't always as kid-appropriate as they should be and sometimes I only realise after the fact. I'm improving on this but it's a process of change.
I have always valued honesty highly. Other than for important things like Christmas etc, I prefer the truth that hurts to a lie that keeps us snug in our beds. For that reason, I'm always brutally honest with my family - even when it hurts. Obviously these are traits that my kids will pick up on.
Then there's the whole subject of media exposure. Every child loves to be scared while snug in their parents laps. I remember that feeling from watching horror films (and Doctor Who) in my childhood. I like my kids to have exposure to all kinds of stories.
Usually I'll read them a bedtime story from Enid Blyton or some other children's author but occasionally, I'll go for harder stuff. A few weeks ago, I read them an abbreviated version of Edgar Allen Poe's Masque of the Red Death. They were thrilled. I was prepared for nightmares, but there were none. My kids (aged 8 and 5) have a better developed sense of what's real and what's imaginary, than many kids twice their years. Even better, my eldest interrupted my story to tell me that he recognised the red death - he proceeded to talk about the black plague - and quoted "ring around the rosie". I know that technically, the "plague theory" has holes but I was still impressed with my son's connection. It shows that he is learning and that he's able to connect fables with history.
As far as films are concerned, my theory goes that a film is ok for my kids (not necessarily for others) provided that;
- Foul Language is used appropriately (South Park is ok, Pulp Fiction is not)
- Sex is a minute or so of low-visual stuff (Total Recall is ok, Basic Instinct is not)
- Monsters are obviously not real (Terminator is ok, Jaws/Halloween is not)
- The Settings aren't familiar (Resident Evil: Apocolypse is ok, Poltergeist is not because of the clown under the bed and the tree outside).
- Reality concepts are used carefully (Neverending Story is ok, Elm Street is not)
- "True" Stories can't happen to them (Braveheart and The Passion are ok, The Exorcist and United 93 are not).
Obviously I never let my kids watch these sorts of films alone. I'm always on hand (and talking throughout) to reassure them that it's all popcorn entertainment and to point out which things are real and which aren't - eg: In Terminator 2, we don't have those robots but we do have those bombs.
I guess it would be easy for strict parents to see my openness as bad parenting but my kids seem happy, they'll openly discuss issues which their peers hide from their parents and they're not showing signs at all of any issues related to their media exposure. More importantly, they're learning important emotive, historical and conceptual lessons from these films which they'd miss if they stuck only to the Walt Disney library.
This is obviously a long way from the end but I've just realised how long this post was getting and have decided to cut it short (into parts). Next time I'll continue with debunking the negatives and deal with; Social Issues (non-attendance of parents), Parent Group Issues,
difficulty handling emotional children. Then I'll try to cover the"good things" about Aspie Parents.
It may take a few posts - and if anyone has any other aspie parenting questions/statements, I'll be happy to hear from you.