Saturday, June 20, 2009

Can Aspies Make Good Parents? - Part 1

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.

Multi-Tasking Issues
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.

No Censorship/Appropriateness
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;
  1. Foul Language is used appropriately (South Park is ok, Pulp Fiction is not)
  2. Sex is a minute or so of low-visual stuff (Total Recall is ok, Basic Instinct is not)
  3. Monsters are obviously not real (Terminator is ok, Jaws/Halloween is not)
  4. The Settings aren't familiar (Resident Evil: Apocolypse is ok, Poltergeist is not because of the clown under the bed and the tree outside).
  5. Reality concepts are used carefully (Neverending Story is ok, Elm Street is not)
  6. "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.

Wrap up
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.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I loved the part about non-aspies (even if thye never had babies themselves) just having the natural knack for their care and needs. Maybe that is part of what is missing in our brains? You may be on to something there. You sound like a great dad. Always learning, thinking through everything.

aspmom said...

Good stuff. Looking forward to your next posts!

Rachel said...

What a great post! It's so interesting to hear these things from an Aspie dad perspective.

This Aspie mom never had a moment of being carefree about danger. To the contrary. I boiled every plastic object that wouldn't melt (and some that did). I held onto my baby so firmly that you could barely pry her out of my arms. I had to work very hard not to gasp when my toddler tried to do new things that would probably end up with a fall and a loud shout. As long as the fall was on something soft, I survived it, although my daughter bounced back better than I did.

Maybe it's just maternal instinct to be so careful? I'm not sure. But we made it. My teenager is now half a foot taller than I am and calls me her "little mom." At 5' 7" (and still growing), she's now one of the tallest people ever to be born on nearly every side of my family. ;-)

Marita said...

It is interesting reading what you said about the movies. My husband is a film buff and was always adamant that his children would watch anything, no censorship, so long as he was with them.

Then one day he put on 'Monster House' for our then 3yo and 5yo. The 5yo enjoyed it but our 3yo who is HFA was terrified. We had weeks afterwards of nightmares, fear that her home was going to eat her etc.

Since then we've censored her viewing to a greater extent. Still not sure how we could have worked through that one better with her.

Gavin Bollard said...


Monster house is probably not the best film to begin on and even my kids were a little scared in it.

The problem with this film is that it breaks one of my big rules - it's in a recognizable home setting. If it wasn't a "kids film", it would fall into the same category as Poltergeist and be "censored".

You need to build up a little "immunity first".

You'd be best off starting with things which are scary but still accessible to kids for example; "Doctor Who" and the "Sarah Jane Adventures"

Then, move in the direction that your kids interests lie - eg: if Robots; Terminator. If space; Armageddon/Star Wars etc...

Rachel said...

I want to point out that we Aspies can also have a natural knack for the care and needs of children. I certainly do, as do lots of other Aspie moms and dads.

Some NTs have the knack, and some don't. Some Aspies have the knack, and some don't. It's very individual.

And in my opinion, we autistic folks aren't missing anything in our brains. Our brains work just fine. At least, mine does, and I've been autistic for 51 years. My brain works differently from a typical brain, but it's neither better nor worse. It's just different. That's all.

Gavin Bollard said...


As always, my own experiences are the individual experiences of an aspie and there are huge variations from one person to another. Sometimes I'm better at certain things than the aspie median, sometimes I'm worse.

Everyone starts off with a certain degree of "knack" and some individuals have much more than others. I guess that what I'm saying about aspies is that because their learning curves are quite different from NTs, they seem to learn more slowly but continue learning for much longer.

In learning to bathe the baby, my wife was ready to jump right in and give it a go but I needed to be shown step by step several times - and ask for corrections from the nurses.

They seemed to think that I was doing fine but unless it was exactly identical to their method it was, in my opinion, wrong.

Ultimately, I probably ended up bathing baby more "correctly" than my wife but I wasn't in a position to accept any variations to the routine.

I'm sure that some aspies at least, are a lot less "mechanical" than that.

Damo said...

Loving it. I like the breakdown into rules, sequencing and procedures.

I also like the star wars reference appearing.

farnel said...

Great post!

Shrugged said...

Great post! I'm an aspie and my first child is due in October. I'm incredibly worried about the issues that might come up, mainly related to my dietary problems, but in general too. I worry that somehow I'm going to be a bad parent. It's reassuring to hear that I can do this!

M said...

the big question is: did you let your kids watch 'the mist'?

i've never read the story, but i have seen the movie. you're right, perfect ending. pitch black ending, did not shy away from it. hoo.

i did like the allegorical qualities of it, the microcosm the store became...that's what king does best. puts people in a confined them act out our worst qualities, become reflections of the world around us.

his next book tops out at over a thousand pages. should be fun.

hope you're well, take care.

Gavin Bollard said...

Although I'd really like to discuss the concepts in "the mist" with the kids, I feel that the setting is too familiar and that the concept (that even the best person can and will do bad things if they feel the situation demands it), is too scary.

I don't want my kids to feel too comfortable around strangers but I don't want them to assume that everyone is evil either.

I'll save the film until they're a bit older.

aiken said...

I just discovered your blog and find it very enlightening. I live in the southern United States. My husband and son are both Aspies; I am not. Sometimes I have difficulty understanding their logic and fail at communication with them. Just reading this post has helped me to better understand the both of them. I have Tony Attwood's book, and I am gaining insight daily. I will continue to read your blog and thank you for posting.

amhealy said...

Good point about not being sensitive to danger. I am that way.

Yesterday, I took my 12-year old son to the gym for the first time. I told him that the mens' showers didn't have curtains but that no one looked at each other, and that he might as well get used to it because when he starts high school, he'll have to take showers around guys.

Then I heard my ex-husband saying, in my head, "Are you nuts? What if there's a pedophile in the shower room?"

So we found showers out at the pool area and I had him shower there, with me present, with his bathing suit on.

Gavin Bollard said...

At 12, I was showering with a group of men (I was the only boy) - because my father was obsessed with competitive sailing and thought I should be too.

I'm not saying that showers are safe but that it's possibly safer with large groups of known people - provided that your son knows what is right and what is wrong.

My son knows that if any adult starts to express interest in "rude bits" he can use the word "Paedophile" to make them go away. He doesn't know what it means but it should be enough to give them pause. (I hope).

Saja said...

Thanks for this series of posts, Gavin.

Like Rachel, I'm an overattentive-to-danger aspie mom. To the point of ridiculosity. I've never been able to watch my kids walk along walls; I just close my eyes and let my husband do that with them, because my stomach falls out if I watch them do it.

I am always constantly aware of what might be dangerous, beyond the point of reason, and honestly, it's a problem for me. It's also what makes having young kids (say, under the age of five) so taxing on me. When they get older, the fear largely recedes, because they are aware of many dangers themselves.

On a related note, I am a terrible car passenger (don't drive anymore myself). I gasp at everything. Somehow I am hyperaware of possible danger that other people don't see as danger. My mind spins out things like, "If that car were to slam on brakes now, we'd hit them, so we need to slow down." The relative likelihood of that car slamming on brakes on an uncrowded highway doesn't factor in for me.

On movies: a lot of what our kids may watch depends on that kid. Our eldest had read Lord of the Rings at ten, and we took her to see the movies when they came out (she was twelve). She could handle it. Our son, however, is very sensitive, and he won't be seeing LOTR until he's in his twenties, I imagine. :-) He won't even go near the later Harry Potter movies, because he read the books and thought that was frightening enough.

amhealy said...

Thanks, Gavin. I didn't think about it from that perspective.

Lioness said...

Hi Gavin. I hope you are still blogging to this site.

I am an aspie parent too, and it is refreshing to find others out there who deal with this. My main strategy is routine, routine, routine. It's the only way I can accomplish everything and not lose things constantly. I get vey upset, for instance, if I can't find the comb to fix my daughter's hair in the morning.

But all and all it's wonderful, once I get past the noise and earplugs, as my kids are still toddlers and scream constantly. Good times! Lioness

Azurialyn said...

I'm really enjoying your blog! Especially these posts about Aspie parents.

I am a single mom, to a 9 yr old aspie son, diagnosed only about 2 years ago due to the lack of good drs and therapists here in San Jose, Costa Rica. Asperger's is virtually unknown in these parts! I hate how ignorant and backwards they are here.

So, thanks to him being diagnosed as Aspie, I began researching and realized one day...holy crap! I'VE GOT ASPERGER'S!! It explained all the special kind of weird, eccentric things I have done and still do, the antisocial behaviour and also the depressions I've suffered. The bad part is, Asperger's in women is even less studied than Asperger's in men, because it's supposedly more 'uncommon'. I just think it's more undiagnosed since we express our Aspie traits differently and can hide them very well too.

I have not found many resources for Aspie parents who have Aspie kids, yours is the first and I really relate to so much of what you say here.
For example, the whole lack of censorship w/the media, that's SOO me and I thought I was the only one doing this.
My reasons for exposing my son at early ages to more graphic or harsh tv/media is because of my own experiences as a child. I remember watching seriously scary movies as a kid, world news, reading adult books, mostly because my parents didn't monitor what we watched or read back in the 80's. And I believe it's due to my exposure to ALL sorts of movies, books, shows etc, that I was more mature, more open minded and understanding of what was real and what was not.
I wanted my son to NOT be one of those sheltered, naive, ignorant kids, and I deliberately have sat him down to watch things ,(w/my supervision of course), that most parents wouldn't allow. One of the favorite shows that we watch together is CSI, we both enjoy the mystery and the methodology of crime scene research, the science behind it and trying to figure out who did it. The gore doesn't really bother him-he now knows that's all paint and movie effects. That's just one of many examples.

In regards to swearing and saying inappropo things, OMG, i'm so bad at that. I swear and say whatever is on my mind in front of my kid and other people's kids too. It's funny because my son tells me, OHHH MOMMY YOU SAID A BAD WORD AGAIN! Haha...and the great part is he NEVER swears!
I guess it's very Aspie of me cuz It's something I can't control and to be honest, i don't really get bothered if others get shocked or try to preach 'politically correctness' HAHA...Damn, i'm doing a typical Aspie ramble I'm going to stop NOW.

Anyways, GREAT JOB w/the blog, thank you soo much for helping us w/your personal stories and please continue to post! I really enjoy it.


Anonymous said...

I totally have the same movie policy! But, as an undiagnosed aspie mom, I have to say I think the first time dad stuff is just that, first time dad stuff, not aspie dad stuff!

Anonymous said...

As the mom of seven, three with diagnosed aspergers and one (older) that is diagnosed, I KNOW that aspie's can make excellent parents. My husband, an aspie, and I married late. I was the only girl he ever asked out or dated. I couldn't ask for a better spouse and dad to the children. The first years were difficult due to his inability to pick up on social cues but I finally figured out it wasn't that he didn't want to help/address matters... he wasn't aware of them going on. Simply making him aware and working on a plan together resolved most situations. I love his integretiy, creativity, ability to sick-with-it, and yes... even his ability to not pick up on things ... so what might annoy others he can be oblivious to.... Would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY. I see our other children with aspergers as gifted ... like all children we need to work on communication and social skills...just more with these kiddos. They know they are different and for the most part accept their uniqueness and what they bring to the family, school, etc.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I'm an Aspie mom too, and I had almost painfully heightened mothering instincts, in some ways. I had to sleep in a different room from my children when they were newborns, since every little sound they made would wake me up instantly and, if I didnt leave, I would go days without any sleep. Bottles had to be boiled, hands constantly sanitized, and carcinogenic chemicals (BPA, phthalates, off gassing dioxins, brominated flame retardants) were banished from the house. Yet if someone talks to me at a playground, I will lose track of my children. If my son calls to me in a crowd, I'm unable to pick his voice out from among the others. It's so frustrating! I'm harsher than I want to be with my children because if I think that they have broken a rule on purpose, I don't know how to censor my observations about their behavior. Yet I also cannot/do not censor my praise, either. My children know how much they mean to me and, when they do something remarkable, I let them know. NT moms often seem so caught up in "grown up" things that they don't notice or seem to care if their child just ran especially quickly, jumped especially high, wrote a perfect letter "S," or graciously shared a toy. I notice and show my honest joy and appreciation for my children's small achievements. I'm not a great parent, but I'm not terrible either. It was such a relief to find this honest article in a sea of NT articles about the "neglectful" Asperger's parent.

Anonymous said...

Family Court of Australia, Aspergers father loses most of his contact rights

When i read this article in the SMH, my initial reaction was that the Family Court was being very unfair towards the aspie father, i.e. taking the Family law principle of always acting "in the best interests of the child" way too far.

My view has changed a little. I think my father was an aspie (I am sure I am also) my parents divorced when I was about 8, I think I would have been better off having had less contact with him, it was the usual every second weekend.

One of the court's criticisms of the aspie father in that case was that he read Richard Dawkins book, The Magic of Reality, to his children.

Another criticism was that he took his children out of scripture/religious classes.

The Family Court judge in that case is obviously a religious zealot.

I wonder if that father read the bible to his children, especially the old testament with all its brutality, would the judge have criticized the father? I doubt it.