Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Get Away from Me with Your "Perfect Kids" - Part 3: Family

In part 3 of this series about when our support networks go wrong, we look at family.
If you haven't already read them, you might want to read Part 1: Introduction and Part 2: Mother's Groups.

If there's one group of people who you can always rely on for support and acceptance, it's family - right?
Right... Except when they don't.

One nice thing about family is that they'll usually stick up for you in battles against non-family, like school. They generally won't come out and support you but they'll at least make the appropriate empathetic "umms" and "aahhs" when you talk about the problems.

The problem is that families generally aren't shy about coming forward with ideas of their own. If those ideas lead to conflict with other family members then the old "favourites" games come into play and the rest of them take sides. You could find yourself on the receiving end of abuse and even "excommunication".

The Genetic Link
Families vehemently deny genetic links because it implies that there is something "wrong" with them or worse, with their bloodline. Where there is clear published research available for the genetic side of things, they'll usually try to blame a specific individual who has married in. Finally, when all else fails, they'll simply deny that your child has the condition that they have been diagnosed with, citing all manner of sterotypes and anecdotal evidence to support this.

Even worse, the negative behaviours that you'd normally put down to your child's condition get blamed on your own parenting abilities. There's nothing that destroys a parent's faith in themselves quite as well as criticism from their own immediate families. Your child's hyperactivity could be blamed on their eating habits, their "low muscle tone" is blamed on computer gaming or television and their anxiety is blamed on the excess of shelter you provide.

It doesn't stop there either; a lack of reaction to a gift is your fault for "spoiling them" or for not teaching them proper manners. Meltdowns are your fault for giving into them in the past and many of their other behaviours, such as lack of eye contact are your fault for not exercising appropriate discipline.

The problem is that some of these criticisms ring true. Perhaps you do feel guilty about some of these things. All parents have nagging doubts. Does my child really have this condition? Am I just "doing it wrong"? Rather than being a bad thing, it's a sign of a good parent to question their own judgement from time to time. Perhaps there are ways that you can reduce some of the issues with changes to your parenting style.

Reduction is one thing. Elimination is another thing entirely. Your children have been diagnosed. They have a condition and it's nothing to do with your parenting abilities. Having family attack these "weak points" just isn't fair. All it does is strain family relations. No good can come of it.

Corrective Parenting
As new parents, we all need a little advice from the older generation at times and when we want it, don't worry, we'll ask for it.

Sometimes though, we want to do things our own way. Sure, the response of the older generation to childhood behavioural problems was to spank all of children in the room rather than find out how a fight started but that was then - this is now. That world and those days are gone.

It's hard enough to do the shopping with a meltdown-prone child while there are other people about giving you disapproving stares. It's another thing entirely when you're trying to soothe an overwhelmed child while your mother or your mother-in-law is telling you loudly that all the child needs is a good whipping.

No Sympathy
Then there's the lack of sympathy. Sometimes as parents, that's all we want. A little empathy, a little sympathy. Someone to say, "You're doing a good job". Instead, we get,
"You're not the only one who has had to raise kids. We've all done it - so get over it!"

There are a few problems with this statement. First of all, I seem to remember that when I was young, the grandparents took a much more active role in the family. The baby boomer generation seems to love spending their retirement years travelling overseas, on bus trips and generally having a good time without their children.

Couple time is a thing of the past. I can remember my parents leaving us at home while they went out. That sort of thing would be unthinkable today. Parents who do that could have their children taken off them. I can also remember the older generation coming over to mind us while my parents got their much-needed couple/recharge time.

The parents of today are working increasingly longer hours. It's also much less common for mothers to be able to stay at home. Today's society depends on a double income. Then of course, there's the high divorce rate. Many of today's families are single parent.

Sure, I know we're not the only generation to have to raise kids but the conditions have changed and we need support - not criticism.

Unsupportive Partners
I could write reams about this, not that it's a problem in my family. My partner is the best and most supportive person I could wish for. It's just that this is a problem I hear about time and time again. "Despite the diagnosis, my partner doesn't accept that our children have .....".

It's difficult enough when you're facing opposition from the grandparents but when it comes from your immediate family, it makes life almost impossible. How can you effectively treat a condition that one parent doesn't believe exists? There are so many ways in which the disbelieving parent can block the treatment and support that your child so desperately needs.

If this is an issue in your family, then it needs to be sorted. You might be able to fight for your child now but eventually you'll be worn down. Instead of fighting, compromises are needed. For example, regardless of whether or not your child has aspergers, it's a given that speech and/or occupational therapy can help. Instead of concentrating on the diagnosis, concentrate on the possible treatment. Any help for your child is better than none at all.


Anonymous said...

I always inspired by you, your views and way of thinking, again, thanks for this nice post.

- Thomas

Sam and Boo Book Reviews said...

Luckily for me, my family isn't in denial on the whole genetic link. Boo's diagnosis has in fact lead to a diagnosis of Asperger's for his 40-year-old uncle, and is making my husband's cousin evaluate her daughter's sometimes strange-seeming behaviour in a new light.

Not that we've escaped the older generations' judgement entirely (my mom's advice was that Boo's overabundance of toys was leading to his 'issues'), but I know we've been relatively unscathed in comparison to many families.

This is a great series. Thank you.

Stephanie said...

I'm definitely forwarding this post to a friend with a newly diagnosed Aspie. She's having a lot of these problems with her in-laws.

eaucoin said...

Gavin, blogs like yours have been a lifeline for me, and have restored my confidence as a parent to the extent that it is much easier to tolerate general ignorance about ASD issues. Recently I was at dinner with my sisters and listening to one of them talk about how school is so hard on children because "you're surrounded by losers." There was a time when I would have shuddered at the label, always having felt more like "one of them" than "one of us." Instead, I found myself identifying the cognitive distortion involved--black and white thinking--and realizing that my sister has always been way too hard on herself. As a result, instead of feeling insulted and under attack, I began to think of ways to reassure her that she is a good parent. Realizing how far I had come was such a relief that I had no problem steering the conversation in a different (and more positive direction). I came away from the event with the certainty that my siblings are not so different from me after all. Thanks for informing my empathy, I'm relieved to find it exists (and is still intact).

Karla said...

My husband is adopted so fortunately his family has no vested interest in denying the genetic link to my son's Aspergers. And it's a very obvious link! lol Even his mother now looking back on his childhood can point out many Aspie traits.

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only parent that has doubts about "Does my child really have this condition? Am I just "doing it wrong"?" That's comforting to me.

Thanks for the article!

Just another Mom said...

Well done, you hit on every single hot spot that many families go through in the first few years of trying to get their loved ones acceptance and understanding. Those days are far behind us now thank goodness, but I still remember how lost I felt and how hopeless everything seemed. So glad that you are doing this series, you are going to bring much needed inspiration and comfort to many.

Lehann said...

Thank you! When I finish reading something and have nodded my head through the whole thing I understand that it's not just me and it's not just my family.
Thank you again for expressing so well "my" thoughts :)

Anonymous said...

WRT families denying the genetic link, I wonder what will happen if some autism turns out not to be passed genetically, but by a virus that passes from parent to child. Would families be more "ashamed", or more willing to accept that an external virus was involved, rather than their own genes?

Kmarie said...

My son was two points under the official diagnosis for AS- so he did not qualify. The psychologist says he will re test him in a year because everything else fits. He scores high for sensory overload, extremely high for anxiety, extremely low for adaptability, and highly autistic in social skills...But yet he is not highly autistic. I've read about both at home and all the books from Tony Attwood make so much sense. Are you sure that there is no such thing as borderline or mild? The psychologist keeps saying "mild ASpergers"
I am finding the books "I am utterly Unique", the anxious child, the highly sensitive child, Asperger's syndrome, and the feelings book are helping immensely but your blog also describes him. Our extended family says we are digging too much and he is just super smart. ( He also tested at a 12 yr old level for memory and puzzles when he is only five) I am tired of searching but the Aspergers completely makes sense.
So there really isn't mild A.S?

Kmarie said...

Never mind. I misunderstood - they will re test his amazing memory skills in a year. I received the report this afternoon. He has A. S...
Should I rely on that? Sometimes I feel like I am making a big deal out of nothing but then other days the A.S rings so true!

Anonymous said...

for Kmarie, i am going through that too. my daughter was diagnosed with mild autism, which is generally asperger's the dsmv has clear "point values" so to speak, for each one. my daughter is also very bright/smart but has bigtime social and behavioral/aggressive tendencies. i keep thinking, "maybe it is me" too. but i'm going to fight for her. i have to. no one else will.
i am so thankful i came upon this blog! i agree with karla and lehann on the fact that you seem to be inside our brains, writing what we think. keep it up!!

Anonymous said...

I love my parents but throughout my childhood and especially my teenage years I felt like they treated me like I was a broken cookie because of my Aspergers. They acted as if I would amount to nothing while they treasured my younger sister. There was an instance where we were at a party and while I was standing no more than 2 feet away from my mother, she was lauding my sister for being the beautiful cheerleader while I was merely "the special ed one." My stepmother would often blame my sister's disciplinary issues on my diagnosis and go into this "your poor poor sister, how could you??" tirade. Neither one of them was happy with anything I did. They barely acknowledged my accomplishments. My father felt as if he were obligated to make the rules about everything. Discipline of a child, I understand, but the fact that he felt to baby and control all aspects of my life to suit his standards, because in his view, I was inept at many apsects, whether it was my friends, my clothes, my extra curricular activities(he hated the fact that I was in theatre and music..heaven forbid if he found out I was in the chess and wargames club with all the "geeks"(which I a a proud geek btw :) , my classes(AP classes were out of the question, wtf??) even my college major. Of course he had, I mean has a drinking problem which caused a lot of tension within our family and cost him his marriages to my mother and my stepmother after her. It was no wonder I was the victim of sexual battery and trickery at the hands of a horrible boy, but the only reason I facilitated that behavior was the fact I wanted the love, laud, and attention I was not receiving at home. I had a few failed "puppy loves" in high school as well as failed relationships from when I entered my twenties to now. Now I am a 24 year old college graduate who is in a stable relationship with a wonderful man. Things have been relatively great for me. I got a part time after school job as well as two internships in a precarious economy, my school and my books have been entirely paid for by the California Dept of Rehabilitation, yes that includes parking passes because they are so bloody expensive. I am also getting back into music, this time studying vocal ranges(I studied both piano and guitar with some choir experience prior to that). I am also planning my graduate and post baccalaureate careers. Whichever comes first, I will be doing something great with my schooling, despite the fact that skilled work is so scarce in Southern California where I reside. I still deal with the same demons, but I am in therapy and getting support from other family members as well as friends and my boyfriend. I can ask for help without feeling like I am asking too much. I feel like my voice matters too, because for years at home it felt like it did not. Support systems do wonders, even if your parents were not always there for one dealing with the implications of being diagnosed with Aspies, as I like to call it :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's not just at my house! It seems that everyone is sympathetic and underestanding until you're involved in a relationship, whether friendship or other intimate family relationship. When I remarried in 2007, I was very up front about my son's ASD. My new husband to be even took me to the State Capitol to hear a lecture on Autism. Shortly after we were married, he began to be bothered by my son's inabilities to find things or remember things or rules. Suggesting that if I would only punish him he would be able to remember things and would be able to find what he couldn't see. It helps me to know that I am not alone, and will continue to do what is right for my son. Thank you.

Miguel Palacio said...

Until recently, my family would deny the lineage thing, but I guess my perseverational nature finally got to them and they admitted it was true. 😜