Saturday, July 4, 2009

Can Aspies Make Good Parents? (Part 3)

The plan for this post is to round up the topic of Aspie parenting with a look at some of the many benefits that aspie parents can give their children.

Emotional Clarity
One unexpected benefit of having difficulty reading and expressing emotions is that you become considerably more verbal in their expression. Aspie parents don't wait for their children to magically read their emotional state - they tell them outright.

This in turn teaches children to express their emotive state verbally. There are no emotional secrets in aspie families - at least, not if you're listening*.

* note that I've often heard people complain about how an aspie partner never lets them know how he's feeling but quite often I find that the "complainers" are looking for an emotive expression rather than a direct statement.


Honesty and Integrity
Aspies are usually sticklers for rules and honesty is one of the most important of these. In a world where it is normal, even expected, that people will tell "white lies" all the time - (for example; no, the dress doesn't make you look fat), you can often rely on aspies to tell the truth no matter how tactless or hurtful it might be.

This can be quite a good thing really because it's nice to know that there is someone you can rely upon for honesty. It often means that you can trust aspie children to follow rules to the letter and that family discussions are open and honest.

Routine and Planning
All children thrive on routine and planning but aspergers and autistic children do so more than most. An aspergers parent needs routine in their life. They need to plan things in intricate detail and they need to make lists. Not surprisingly all this is good for their children who quickly fall into the routine and know, from the various charts and lists around the house, exactly what is expected of them. Of course, this only works when the aspie parent is directly responsible for the children. Aspie moms are particularly effective in this regard - aspie dads, less so.

Shared Special Interests
Aspie Parents will usually pass through a brief period in which their special interest is popular with their children. Unfortunately, with neurotypical children, this moment is all too brief. Aspie parents with aspie children however have a different story to tell. In particular, special interest crossovers occur when the parent's interests are "child-like" in nature. For example, in my case, I've a big interest in Doctor Who, and a lesser but still good interest (and knowledge of) Star Wars. These don't serve me particularly well in terms of employment but it does make me very popular with my kids, both of whom have varying degrees of special interest in these subjects.

Understanding and Suitability
This really only applies to aspie parents with aspie kids. There's nothing quite like insider understanding. Aspie parents know what it's like to be shunned by other children in the playground and usually our memories of childhood (and our childhood feelings) are as clear as yesterday's memories. This makes us considerably more empathetic with our own aspie children than neruotypical parents could be.

Aspie parents with aspie children are also much less likely to put social stress on their children and are less likely to engage in heavily social or strenuous activities (for which low muscle tone is an issue). They are also less likely to induce stress in their children over the display of empathy, tone and eye contact.


Summary
I think that this topic has presented a very positive message about parents with aspergers. Yes, it is recognised that we have our difficulties but it seems pretty clear that our methods of dealing with these difficulties are generally sound and unlikely to harm our children.

Furthermore, it's obvious that aspergers parents bring a number of strengths to their parenting style and in particular, that they are probably more suited to the parenting of children with aspergers, than neurotypical parents.

29 comments:

Rachel said...

Beautiful post, Gavin. I agree with every word. It's so important to put out the message that Aspies can be great parents. I've seen it lift the burden of worry from the shoulders of many a potential Aspie mom or dad.

One additional benefit of being an Aspie parent is that if you have a neuro-typical child, you will give that child a very positive feeling about Aspies. My daughter doesn't have the fear and stereotypes about autism that so many people have, and she is able to pass on her understanding to her friends. And while so many people complain about their insensitive teenagers, I can happily say that my teenage daughter is very considerate of my sensory issues and other Aspie challenges, and she makes her friends aware of them, too.

We Aspie parents have a great deal to offer.

Drew said...

Thanks for all of your posts, very insightful.

"Aspie" has been a term being knocked around the family for a while now and reading your posts make a lot of sense. I recognize a number of things you've mentioned in myself (should I be worried ;) ).

Keep up the good work!

The Quiet One said...

Brilliant post, I agree with the analysis. I've never understood people who've tried to tell me that people with aspergers make ever so dramatically terrible parents.

Aspergers parents may not have all the same things to offer as neurotypical parents but they do have very valuable things to offer.

Saja said...

If I may present a wee voice of dissent. Well, not really dissent, but just one of the harder aspects of having an Aspie for a mom.

I've had a hard time as a mother, related to the unpredictability of kids and the 24/7 nature of parenting in the early years. My executive dysfunction and need for lists and routines does not translate to keeping things orderly and to my kids knowing exactly what's expected when...far from it. Mostly I feel overwhelmed by the constant need to redo tasks just done (cleaning, laundry) and am in various stages of hopelessness, frazzle, and/or meltdown. My children routinely report an absence of clean underwear. :-)

That said, the honesty and the ability to let someone be exactly who they are are things I consider very positive about me as a mother. I'm a good listener (when not frazzled) and I do, at core, think I'm a very good mother.

Priscilla said...

I was googling for stuff to read on Aspie Parents and found your blog. I love what you wrote. The piece is very encouraging.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to rain on the parade, but I think it's a good idea not to approach this with unbounded "It'll Be Great." You have to keep in mind that you're talking about an enterprise that'll last the rest of your life, and if it turns out not to be something you can handle well, you're likely to hurt your children and grandchildren. I'd go beyond "hurt" to "damage".

Rachel's talking about what wonderful things her daughter does *for her*, and spinning that to make it be a gift to the daughter. This is just about the reverse of what you'll see most NT moms doing, which is to foreground the daughter and her needs to the point where you have to remind the mother to think of herself. And unfortunately, as a daughter of an Aspie, I must admit sadly that this my experience, too. My Aspie parent does not repay all this consideration with love, connection, interest in others' interests and lives, visits to grandchildren, etc. It's all about my parent. When others in the family are confrontational about the harm this causes, the reaction is rage -- and never a thought about why the confrontation's occurred. The entire focus is on getting an apology. Again, all about the Aspie parent.

It's deeply harmful, and it continues harmful long after childhood is over.

Go have a look at some mothers' boards in which mothers are talking about their effects on their children. See how quickly the conversation turns almost exclusively to the children themselves, the children's interests, the children's problems. Then compare with this page. And before you embark on some critique of why the other page is "wrong", or adopt a self-defensive posture that says that you're great *too*, stop, please, and think about why the other mothers behave that way, and what it might be doing for children. Why, in general, mothers behave like that, and not like this.

If you can't take your focus off yourself, if you can't give children the sort of connection and empathy and interest and chronic tolerance they need, please, don't have kids. Yeah, they'll live...mostly. This is not the same as happiness. Don't have children for yourselves only to condemn them to pain, if, constitutionally, you cannot offer what a normal child needs.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I forgot to mention: Things like not having clean underwear? When chronic, they're not cute. Kids who have to go to school wearing dirty clothes smell bad. Other kids react to the smell, and it's your kids who take the social hit for it, not you. If your house is gross, because it's too much to manage? Yes, other parents will be less willing to let their kids play over with yours. They'll sense that something's wrong. That playground shunning you find so understandable? You have to stop and ask yourself how much of it has to do with *your* behavior, things over which your kids have no control.

I'm not saying that AShood is bad in itself. But it has very real consequences for your children. I don't know, I'm probably talking to a wall here, just as I am when I try to show my Aspie parent that the behavior does cause real damage to me, my brother, our children. My parent is pretty much impervious to the suggestion that there are behaviors -- changeable behaviors -- that hurt other people badly. Unless, of course, they're someone else's behavior is hurting my parent. Then suddenly it's possible for one person to harm another.

Perkywarrior said...

Great post. I married a man who has Aspergers who has two sons with Aspergers. I love their minds, I love the routines of our family. Sometimes I feel envious being so neuro-typical.

Anonymous said...

Im another child of an Aspie parent. The reason I am here today is because after 40 years that Aspie parent is still damaging my life!
Aspei parents are all about the parent. Everything done is for the self not the child. "Look at MY lovely child" every achievement of the child is attributed to the parent, every conversation about the child is to draw attention to the parent, their hardwork, their effort, their sacrifice and suffering. OMG the suffering! Eevrythign that happens in the world is a direct attack, deliberate plot or conspiracy to cause the aspei pain. Get a grip. people live thier life and a lot of teh time what they need to do to survive will not be a perfect outcome for you or in line with what you want. deal with it.

Anonymous said...

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that each Aspie presents differently. No 2 are the same. So while one person with aspergers may not be the ideal parent that does not mean that another will not be.

Vanessa said...

I'm a 29 year old Aspie, contemplating motherhood. I came here in search of some insight. My biggest issue is getting information from ADULT children of aspie parents, and it seems that they are rather negative. I was adopted at birth, and I had a fairly horrible childhood, which is another reason for contemplating bringing a child into this world.

If you're thinking about posting your life experience, please do! We can all benefit from it.

Anonymous said...

I'm contemplating on having children as well. I am a woman with Aspergers syndrome and have a husband without it (although his uncle does ) I don't know if we should have children or not, I just don't want them to have the horrible life I have endured. I have mild aspergers syndrome in my opinion, because I can look people in the eyes, understand social cues, have a non-monotone voice, cry from things anyone else would cry about, love children, and just want a family. I just don't have enough resources on asperger moms and how rare or common it is to have a child on the autism spectrum. If anyone knows I'd love to find out!

Flaggamotha said...

Hi I'm an aspie woman and wondering if it is common or rare for aspie women to have aspie/autistic children if the Aspie woman is with a neurotypical male.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 29 year-old aspie female contemplating having kids in the next couple of years. I suspect that my parents are both Aspies, although neither have been diagnosed and I have only been diagnosed recently.

I can see where I will struggle with keeping the meltdowns away and the 24/7 nature of parenting, but I also know that I love kids and am great with kids and the periods of my life that have been smoothest emotionally were the times where I had to make my existence about other people so I literally didn't have time to be anxious about my own problems.

As a child of Aspies, I certainly have accused my parents of being egotistical and not sensitive to my emotional needs...many and many times. I also see their good qualities though and I would not say my life was hard because of them. Life IS hard. You get knocked down and scraped up and kicked. I have simply come to accept what my parents' individual limitations are and what is just them being them, just as I must accept my own limitations and that I don't always thrive in the same situations as my neurotypical peers. (Some people can work 60 hours a week and still have their wits about them. I start becoming a wreck somewhere around 48 hours.)

I am going to have kids because my whole life, having children has been something that I've wanted, and it's something that my husband(NT) has always wanted. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be hard. And I'll need support and my kids will need support. There will be days when my kids detest me as there are days when all kids detest their parents. It's going to be worth it though; I may be an aspie, but I have a lot of love to give.

Anonymous said...

As a aspie child and now a aspie mother to a aspie daughter i have 3 generations of aspie ..I see there is negative and postives to every style of parenting .. I see how my mum damaged me but I also see how she made me strong enought to cope with motherhood .. Im now dealing with an aspie daughter and Ive come to realize it ist just 123 it takes a lot of time and patience and self realisation ..One thing i know its discrimination and ignorance which makes it harder for the kids..but the determination I have is like a nucleae bomb, so despite up and downs remembee be proud to be Aspie because your special and not just a sheep ..

Anonymous said...

My husband is an Aspie and my young daughter who is NT will have virtually nothing to do with him. It became noticeable around 18 months and has continued to progress to where she says she wants a new dad. She has no emotional connection to him which has left me to essentially raise her alone. He does not seem capable of understanding her emotional needs and when she does something wrong, does not deal with the situation appropriately. I had no idea that this could lead to such poor family dynamics. I can't change him, but at least in my household, he is incapable of fulfilling a parenting role.

Anonymous said...

How a parent is, is how a person is and what they grew up with. Im too be a new mom and i have aspergers. The thing is i love being touched, cuddled, and i do have social abilities and direct eye contact. Which i had years of learning to do. my child will be nice and respectfull because i will teach him to be that way. And disipline him too

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. That last comment is kind of frightening..."the child will be this way because I will teach him to be." Well, maybe, and maybe not. Children are people, and you really can't control other people to that extent.

I've seen this in my family, too. My father will try to instruct someone to do something, and when it doesn't take -- often because it makes no sense in the context of that person's life -- he'll be surprised, even startled, and then shrug and walk away. This can be devastating for a child, and, in my family, often was. My dad didn't notice how badly he'd hurt me and my sibs that way, either, and if my mother told him he'd upset someone else, he'd be defensive, believing it was unreasonable, insist he had done nothing wrong, and actually make the situation worse. And then he'd take off, leaving my mom to try to make everything better.

I have actually had to limit and set rules for my dad's contact with my girl. Most of the time it's fine as he doesn't notice, I don't think he remembers she exists. But when he does want to spend time with her he comes on like a hurricane and freaks her out, also says staggeringly insensitive things that really hurt her. And then just as quickly he's not interested anymore, which also hurts her. He's put out by my doing this, but I won't let him just roll in and damage another child with his behavior. I've had to put him on notice, too, that if he flies into a rage, melts down around her, he's done visiting, permanently. Fortunately she's not used to that as a normal thing in life, watching a much larger man, a grownup, lose control and terrorize her.

I really would not suggest that aspies who have significant deficits in everyday living -- including having to have partners run interference -- have children. Your life will become more complicated, stressful, and not-about-you than you have any idea, and if you don't handle those things readily, you will damage yourself, the partner who has to take up the slack while managing your stress, and that child.

Someone else mentioned getting frazzled around 48 hours in a workweek. Please stop and think: It is not unusual for parents to spend *nearly all their waking hours* either working or doing things for and with their children. And no, your children will not be happy with being fobbed off on someone else because you're too overwhelmed to handle them. Caregivers are not interchangeable. Your children will take your turning them away personally, and this will hurt them. There's a strong chance they'll feel they've done something wrong, but not know what it is, and think of themselves as bad people. Telling them otherwise won't do the trick, either. They'll go by their feelings, not by your words, and they'll feel rejected.

Please do not underestimate how much work, uncertainty, and loss of control comes with having a child. And how much self-control is required every single day. It cannot be about you; you cannot rage at the children and expect that because you're ashamed or sorry that you melted down it's all right; you cannot go uncommunicative when there are children in the room who need you to be present. The house cannot be all about your mood, or even primarily about your mood. You will harm at least one other person badly, for life, if you go around forgetting those things.

Children are also expensive. The needs go on and on. Do you have a secure source of income for the next 20 years? If not, are you prepared to work and make decent money while raising a child?

If you love children but are erratic, or have trouble responding to others' emotional needs, or need lots of time to yourself without demands, please consider other ways to help kids.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm a neurotypical child of Aspie parents with an Aspi brother. From my experience my Aspie parents were quite incapable of understanding my brother because they did to understand themselves! The concept that my brothers odd behaviours was because he is an Aspie was something neither of them could conceive of. Sadly a whole raft of problems developed because they could not meet his needs. To this day they all remain in denial despite all the tests showing they are Aspies. My father explodes with rage at the mere suggestion there is mental illness in the family. It's a no go area. So my brother suffered terribly as a result and lives today as a recluse with no support, incapable of living a productive life.

Karen k said...

Aspies don't make good parents
Their narcissism and lake of empathy
Leaves one with low self esteem and self doubt.
Their social ineptitude leads to social isolation

Anonymous said...

My father has Asperger's and it was no picnic being parented by him. He is overbearing and controlling. When he melted down he would slap me in the face. His inability to read emotions made communicating very difficult. If I tried to have a normal back and forth conversation, he would simply continue to talk louder to drown me out.

Pre-verbal children NEED parents who can read their expressions.

Routine might be good to some degree but Aspie routine is often there to make the Aspie person feel right, not to create a safe stable environment for the child.

My older sister also has Asperger's. She used to physically abuse and harass me and my younger sister and giggle while she did it. No one protected me. I feel bad saying this out loud because I know she didn't mean any harm but the emotional scars are still there for me years later.

My father and my sister aren't bad people, they just didn't have any clue.


Anonymous said...

I am a recovering Heroin addict prostitute NT adult child of an Aspie Mom. Enough said!

Anonymous said...

I am the adult child of a father with severe aspergers and the manipulative sociopath who latched on to him. Most normal women want a man that they can have an emotional connection with. She wanted a clueless toolbag that she could control--and that's what she got in my aspie father. The thing that always amazed me was he had no clue he was being manipulated. Most men of that generation would not have tolerated that bullshit from their wife.

So, on to my childhood. My father was a totally self absorbed, pedantic, rigid, controlling,selfish, cold bitch with weird ticks who would make snide little insults with a smile. Insulting people was his crude, clumsy attempt at humor. As for aspies being incapable of meanspiritedness---that's bullshit. He could be downright cruel. Everything revolved around him and his needs. He was annoyed by normal child behavior--emotions, play, and noise bothered him. He never had a friend and was the most asocial person I've ever known. And he didn't want me to have friends either. It was like having a irritable robot for a parent.

In many ways, he was actually worse than my manipulative sociopath of mother.

I left at 18 and never looked back. I am permanently damaged from the abnormal socialization I had as a child.

I've known other people who claim to be diagnosed with aspergers and my heart breaks for their children. The main problem I see with asperger parents is that they are simply incapable of stepping outside of themselves to see what they do to their kids.

Someone said it earlier. I'll say it again. Look at normal mother boards and how their talk and concerns are so, so focused on their kids. Then look at asperger parent boards and see how self-focused their concerns are---the kids are like an afterthought.

Sarah said...

My mother has Aspergers. She has always been self-absorbed with her stresses and fears and needs. My siblings and I are in our 50s, and our relationship with our mother is always all about her. As my sister says, everything is too much trouble for her and nothing is too much trouble for you.

I am writing a book about our relationship. It's called Laundry on My Wedding Day. Yes, she insisted I do her laundry on my wedding day. This is just one example of how she thinks of her children as little more than agents to serve her needs.

She is usually good-natured and manages to get people to do things for her by acting helpless and sweet. So most people think she is pleasant and harmless. We wanted to believe she was a normal mother, that she must love us, that she cared about our needs and feelings. But if she does love us, it is impossible to tell.

She was in love with the idea of children and became fixated on having 4 when she was a child (because the family in her favorite book series had 4). So like many of the commenters here who have AS and want children, she must have believed she would be a loving mother. But I never do and still don't feel love. I just feel useful. And I spent my teenage years self-medicating and self-destructing. I had to get away to heal at all.

Here's a link to my blog if you want to read more:
http://mymotherhasaspergers.wordpress.com/

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I'm an aspie woman in her twenties, and I was so nervous about becoming a parent. I feel being an aspie mom definitely makes for a different parenting experience. Because other aspie women here have expressed concerns about starting a family, I'll share my experience:

Firstly, I didn't feel that 'rush' people talk about when discussing their first moments with their infants. Right after giving birth I asked for a shower and a nap and was perfectly happy for my husband to do the first cuddles. I don't feel like I formed an immediate connection, but that didn't bother me. Instead I just focused on doing my best to meet my son's needs, which in the early months are simple (although incredibly draining, physically and mentally). As mentioned in the article, establishing a routine was easy for me and enormously beneficial to my son. Also, I never minded singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" for an hour and half (not exaggerating) when my son asked for it, or reading the same book over and over and over again. As he has gotten older and started wanting to play more (something I am not great at), I have been fine just following his lead. Toddlers find the weirdest things amusing. We run around the dining table, stack cushions (then unstack them), put all the clothes in the house in the laundry basket (then take them out again), etc.

Socialisation is an issue. I went to one mom/baby group and couldn't stand it. Instead, I take him out daily to parks or the library, where we can have fun and my interactions with other mothers can be brief and painless.

Communication with my husband has been essential. We no longer have the time for emotional guesswork; Whatever we need, we ask for nicely, and that has made a huge difference. We also divy up childcare based on what we are both good at. I feel that between us, we have all his physical and emotional needs met.

Finally, I felt like I was much less susceptible to 'losing it' as an aspie mom. We might not be as emotional as NT moms, but that's not all bad. I've never yelled at my son, and I'm capable of soldiering through and meeting all his needs patiently even on 45 minutes of sleep with both of us flu stricken.

My son is now an extremely secure toddler who forms attachments easily and also enjoys sitting and playing by himself. I can say for sure now that I enjoy being a mom, and I like it more and more as my son gets older. I love watching him learn new things and witnessing those little moments when things 'click' in his brain. Last week, for the first time, he came up to me while I was sat on the floor, wrapped his chubby arms around my neck, and just stood there hugging me close and smiling. It made me so happy I actually started crying! Motherhood will bring out all sorts of reactions that you never knew you could experience.

Anonymous said...

One more thing I forgot to add, but feel is really important: "Faking it". Before we decided to have a baby I read everything I could about children raised by an aspie parent, and saw a lot of people mentioning they never felt loved or approved of, or that their parent was 'cold' and unfeeling.

To prevent this from happening, I have established the habit of faking it. When my son slips and bumps his head or gets a small cut on his finger, my first instinct is to brush it off and get impatient with him for crying over something I KNOW is not hurting him very much. But while I think that, I pick him up and give him a cuddle and some gentle words. Recently he's developed the habit of taking my hand and leading me to look at something he's built. Of course it's usually a pile of blocks/cars/kitchen pans or something equally underwhelming (he's only 1, after all), but I make sure he doesn't know I'm thinking that. I watch my NT husband's reaction to these things and copy them.

I smile and laugh when I don't necessarily feel like it and pick him up and give him hugs and kisses regularly, even when I feel 'out touched' and the thought of any more contact makes me inwardly wince. Even though he doesn't talk much yet, I'm already in the habit of praising his efforts and complimenting his 'projects.'

After a year all these things pretty much come naturally to me now. It's habit. Even my husband is convinced that my reactions are authentic, so hopefully my son will think so too. I do love him, but I also want to make absolutely sure he feels that as he grows older.

Reading some of these comments from adults raised by aspie parents, however, makes me concerned that my efforts won't be enough. :-/

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I appreciate your honesty. My parent with Aspergers was never willing/able to even fake the emotions, interest, and empathy that children need.....much less admit a fundamental inability to experience those feelings. At least you understand what your son needs and you try.

That said, I wonder why you had children to begin with,knowing full well that you "inwardly wince" at the level of touch and physical interaction that kids need??

I also wonder if you will have more children. "Faking it" must get exhausting. Would you be able to keep up the charade with another child? Given my experience with AS parents, my gut tells me no.

Anonymous said...

So, let me get this straight... This is an article about how awesome Aspie parents are... And it's written by an Aspie? Oh, the irony. But seriously, I was married to one and am attempting "shared parenting" with him for the past 12 years. My life and especially the life of my child--is a total nightmare. All centered around Aspie obsessions, schedules, moods and tantrums. He is an extremely spiteful person who has no problem hurting our child verbally, mentally, emotionally and even physically sometimes. Thanks to this ongoing torture, my child has been on a psych's couch for most of a lifetime. Of course, he blames his inability to bond to our child on me, because it's not possible that our child is yet another person he can't form a relationship with. It's all about him being perfect in every way. He is cold as ice and couldn't care less if our child is bawling in front of him. No affect whatsoever... except anger. Anger seems to be the only emotion he possesses. I would urge anyone who has AS to PLEASE not have kids! It's such an unfair life sentence for them... and for you, since you must fake feelings for the next 18 years. How utterly selfish and unfair. My child has wished her youth away wanting desperately to escape his coldness. We will both probably legally change our names when adulthood comes just to get away from him and his obsessive stalking and abuse. You really want to force someone into that? Our prison with this man has been a joyless hell from which there's been no escape!

Gavin Bollard said...

Anonymous, I've heard of some neurotypical parents victimizing their kids (in fact, I can relate many recently reported stories of neurotypical parents who kill their children).

Using your logic, I could suggest that nobody has kids but I'm aware that people are individuals.

You may have had a bad experience in your particular case but I can point to many children with parents who have Aspergers who feel that they have great parents and a great upbringing.

My article as CAN Aspies make good parents, not DO Aspies make good parents. I'm simply saying that yes they can.

All parents have freedom of choice and it's really the choices they make which determine their quality as parents, not their label.