Friday, June 26, 2009

Can Aspies Make Good Parents? - Part 2

Note: I've changed the post titles in this series from a statement to a question because I think it will promote more discussion.

Continuing from the last post debunking some of the myths of bad parenting due to Aspergers.

The Anti-Social Parent
Since the majority of diagnosed aspies tend to be male, this is generally less of an issue because men in general are usually less social than women and because men are less often expected to attend social functions for schools etc.

Furthermore, I personally feel less than qualified to address this question because although I'm often quiet and reserved (and very uncomfortable at social gatherings), my social issues tend to affect me less than many of my fellow aspies.

As such, my comments here relate to "strained" attendance at functions, rather than the non-attendance which often applies.

Children's schools, sports and other activities have a way of gathering parents together in various social ways. When children reach older age groups, the issues are minimal because they don't need their parents present but in the younger years, it creates some difficult situations.

For example; I sent my son to soccer for a season. It was difficult for him and just as difficult for me. I didn't fit in with the soccer mums and dads crowd, I couldn't relax and I hated the social aspect.

Luckily, in my teen years, I'd played a role playing game (by myself on the computer - for two years). The game was called Ultima V and essentially you had to "talk" to everyone in the game (about 500 characters) in order to complete it.

Conversations in the game were done as mostly one word questions; name, job etc. As you'd "talk", a word would highlight eg; "I am the court Jester.", to which you'd reply "jester" and the conversation would continue.

With the soccer parents, I felt like I was playing the game. I'd ask the few main questions and then I'd listen to their answer to find the highlighted word and repeat it back to them. This, I discovered was the bare essence of smalltalk - and I hated it.

Smalltalk in this manner works well in the short term but it isn't sustainable from one week to the next. People grow tired of the same questions each week and eventually the highlighted words run out.

More and more, I'd notice that the parents would huddle together and talk without me. Sometimes I'd hover nearby but never with any real chance of participation.

I'd find myself being the only parent who was actually watching the soccer training but this wasn't by choice (I hated soccer), it was because I was excluded from all other activities. Eventually it became easier to assist in the training than to simply watch.

The sad thing though was that the cliquey group was making plans for parties and get-togethers while I was otherwise occupied. This meant that their kids all got to play together off the field but that mine missed out.

My child was disadvantaged because of my poor social skills.

Eventually we quit soccer for scouts and once again, I've become quite involved (a leader) rather than risk major exposure to the parents.

Scouts is very different to soccer however because the parents don't usually stay for the activities. In fact, often parents don't even attend the group activities such as camps. As a scout leader, I'm involved in organising such outings and I can make sure that my son is included. There seems to be no discrimination.

I guess the point I'm making here is that it's quite likely that the children of parents with aspergers may indeed suffer for their parent's social inabilities but that the degree of impact changes depending upon the types of activities and the age of the children.

The Emotional Child
People with aspergers are often criticized for "not having emotions". I think that is has been pretty well established here on this blog - and in recent research, that this is not the case. People with aspergers most certainly do experience emotions but may display them differently. Aspie empathy doesn't necessarily feel like empathy to a neurotypical.

I guess that the question we're really asking here is whether or not parents with aspergers are harming their child's emotional development, or perhaps introducing depression because they're not proving an empathetic environment.

These are difficult questions and since both of my children have aspergers, I can't answer with any honesty on the subject of neruotypicial children.

I can however say that my children express emotion, support and sympathy, if not necessarily empathy, in the normal way with their peers. I go to a lot of trouble to ask them how they would feel if they were in a given situation (usually while watching a movie). In many ways, I believe that I've exposed them to a wider range of emotive reactions than many children from more sheltered/censored backgrounds would otherwise see.

I don't believe that their emotional development has been hindered in any way - if anything, their ability to understand different points of view should be above the norm.

The question of whether or not my children suffer because I'm less sensitive to their needs is a more difficult one for me. I know that sometimes when they get hurt, I'm not always as good a father as I should be. Sometimes, the cut seems small and I'm concentrating more on making them silent than on giving them any emotional support they might need.

My clinical descriptions of why we're cleaning the wound, to prevent it from becoming infected, often receives panicked looks from them. I'll usually realize at this time that I'm probably giving more information than necessary.

I'm not the sort of parent that chases my children around for hugs but I do respond when they hug me and I feel that genuine hugs are much better than routine ones. I don't feel that my children are suffering but I'm always watching for clues.

In my next post, I'll leave the negatives and look at some of the positives that children can draw from parents with aspergers.


Amber said...

You sound like an amazing parent, Gavin.

jillian said...

I recently started talking to a boy I met who told me he has asperger's. The thing that worries me is that he frequently smokes marijuana and does hallucinogens. I read some things that said this may help with his aspergers.My dad, a therapist, says this is the worst thing a person with aspergers can do. What do you think?

Gavin Bollard said...

Pretty much everyone who takes recreational drugs will try to justify them by saying that they are "good for them".

The fact is that there are no medications which are known to be effective against aspergers.

Stimulants such as Ritalin work only against the ADHD comorbid. Recreational drugs which are stimulants (only some of them) are also effective in this way but it makes no sense to use addictive or performance "reducing" drugs when there are ready made counter drugs which can more safely produce the same effect.

Damo said...

The conversation thing is the chapter that I am up to now. Small talk completely baffles me. Whats it's point?

Still a good read and I gave up at Ultima VIII

Rachel said...

Great post, Gavin.

I really like going to my daughter's outdoor soccer games (though I can't do the indoor ones at all). Part of it is that after many years of being a working mom, I'm enjoying being a soccer mom. And part of it is that she's the goal-keeper for the varsity team, so I want to be there to support her. I really enjoy seeing how she's gone from a scared kid who ran away from the ball to an amazingly focused and fearless goalie.

However, at every match, most of the interaction between the parents consists of conversation that has zero to do with the game, which always mystifies me. I mean, I go to the game to watch the kids play, not to yack with other parents. So, I generally come down off the bleachers and stand at the sideline to cheer the kids on. After all, they're the reason I'm there.

Regarding whether Aspie parents can give NT kids the emotional support and modeling they need: an emphatic YES! My NT teenager is one of the most well-adjusted kids around. In fact, she can verbalize her feelings better than many kids her age because I have always invited her to. After all, I don't much like guessing. And I've always been honest about how I feel, so she's had a role model she can emulate.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I agree with you totally. On another aspect, my take is that asperger's syndrome during the early stages should be attended and no parent should ever forget that.

R said...

it helps if the parent knows they are an aspie ...

Saja said...

My husband does all the school and activity functions: taking, picking up, driving to things, bar duty at the hockey club, everything. I fill in when absolutely necessary (but will never do bar duty...shudder to think about it). He likes the smalltalk in the schoolyard waiting for the kids to come out, whereas it uses up a lot of my energy and I don't enjoy it.

I've been to some of my son's hockey games, and I felt the point was to watch my kid play hockey--it always amazed and irritated me that so many parents were just gabbing with each other instead.

Anonymous said...

I am an nt adult child of an aspie parent and am overwhelmed still by the gaps in the parenting i received. (My other parent did not explain or adequately compensate for the discrepencies at all). I have been very angry for many years. I know now and I better accept that indeed they "did the best they could". But are there others like me out there? My own siblings refuse to discuss.

Anonymous said...

For Anon @ Sep 19--
I am an NT adult of a mother with aspergers. I am really wondering if some of the people who claim to have aspergers actually have it, because people who truly have aspergers do not have empathy. I feel your pain--nothing in this world has hurt me as much as having a mother with aspergers. You know what it is like to have a mother who DOES NOT CARE when you are sick, brokenhearted, lonely or happy. I could go on and on and on. Her mothering is completely abnormal and is nothing like what a normal mother provides. You feel unloved and yes anger is perfectly understandable. If someone has empathy they do not have aspergers.
Sorry if this offends others reading--children need empathy and when it is not there, it is very damaging.

Anonymous said...

People with Asperger's do have empathy. It's just different. Read a bit more about Asperger's and you might lose some of your anger and bad feeling. You never know, you might even gain some empathy for and understanding of your autistic mother in the process.

Anonymous said...

To claim to know that all people with Aspergers feel no empathy at all - that seems to be an incredibly unempathetic statement. You don't have Asperger's, yet you believe that you know how we feel better than we do? I can tell that you are in a great deal of emotional pain and have a lot of anger towards your mother. I don't know what you went through, but I'm sorry you had to go through it. I wish your childhood had been better. But please don't let your perspective on your mother cause you to spread animosity and doubt towards individuals with Asperger's. We are doing our best in this life, just as you are. Discrimination is a real and constant threat, so I do feel afraid when people spread damaging myths such as "Aspies are incapable of empathy." I feel your pain; try to be sensitive of us, too.