This is the first in a series about being a mom with Asperger’s Syndrome–a combination of reflections on how Asperger’s affected my parenting experience and advice that I wish someone has given me as I was struggled to make sense of being an unconventional mom. Hopefully some of what I learned along the way will be useful to other moms (or dads) with Asperger’s.
If you’re the mother of a child with Asperger’s syndrome, you can find parenting advice to help you navigate every stage of your child’s life.
If you’re a mother with Asperger’s syndrome? Well, good luck with that.
By the time I discovered that I have Asperger’s, I was already the mother of an adult daughter–a fairly well-adjusted, successful adult daughter. Ha! I thought smugly. I might be defective but I’d raised a perfectly normal child.*
When I told my daughter Jess that I have Asperger’s, she laughed it off at first, like maybe I just needed to be talked out of this crazy idea that there was something wrong with me. I’d always been different from other moms. We both knew that. But the idea that I might be autistic was, understandably, a lot to process.
As I explained more about what AS is and described some of the common aspie traits, she started coming up with specific examples of times when I’d done something particularly autistic. Some were funny, others less so.
The more we talked about it, the more relieved she sounded. An AS diagnosis can explain a lot of puzzling behavior, for both the aspie and the people closest to her.
As one point in the conversation, she said, “But you’re so smart!”
Armed with the reading I’d done, I explained the gap between intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence that a lot of us with AS experience.
She was quiet for a moment. I’m sure that among other things she was puzzled over why I was so excited to be telling her that I have a developmental disorder. It doesn’t sound like a cause for celebration, but I was still in the early flush of discovery. Suddenly so much of my life made sense. I felt like someone had finally given me the user’s manual to my brain.
I hadn’t yet realized how little I knew about AS or myself. I hadn’t yet realized that the owner’s manual was missing a few key pages.
The next question Jess asked made that clear. “So, wait, does that mean you don’t have feelings?”
When a stranger or acquaintance asks this, it’s easy to attribute it to ignorance. One of the most common misconceptions about people with AS is that they’re cold and emotionless. But when your own child asks you if you have feelings, well, that’s one of those times when the reality of AS hits and hits hard.
That’s when twenty-four years of not saying “I love you”–twenty-four years of struggling to express my feelings to my own child–crystallized into one perfect moment of regret, of wishing I’d known all along that there was a reason for how difficult I find it to express what I’m feeling. Because the feelings are there. They may not be quite what the typical mom feels, but I’m absolutely certain that I love my daughter. And I want her to be absolutely certain too.
*While I would phrase this differently now (substituting different words for “normal” and “defective”) I chose not to revise my original thoughts because they reflect how I honestly felt in those early moments, when I was still learning about Asperger’s Syndrome.