Asperger’s and Motherhood (Part 3)

This is the third in a series of posts about being a mom with Asperger’s.

As difficult as I found being the mom of a newborn, I really enjoyed being the mom of a toddler. Suddenly this demanding little creature was starting to walk and talk and explore the world around her. She was still demanding and unpredictable and messy, but she was also lots of fun.

Aspies are blessed with a childlike sense of wonder and innocence that never really goes away. Discovering the world all over again alongside your child is an incredible experience. And when your little boy or girl develops a fascination with butterflies or dump trucks, you can put your aspie tendencies to work: visits to the library, field trips to construction sites, collecting things!

As an aspie, you’ve already mastered one of the keys to parenting a toddler: routine. I’m betting you’ll find nothing wrong with reading Goodnight Moon every night before bed, six weeks running. If your toddler insists on watching the same episode of Blue’s Clues three times in a row, you’re not gonna be the mom who tells him how great it would be to watch something new once in awhile. Your son has to have one special toy with him everywhere he goes or your daughter wants to wear the same sundress every day of the summer? Makes perfect sense to me.

Jess at 17 months

When your two year old starts asking “why?” in response to everything, your natural aspie response will be to explain why the wind blows or why dogs bark. Your toddler will not only end up with vast amounts of esoteric knowledge, but she’ll learn that asking “why?” is a good thing.

Socializing Your Toddler (and maybe yourself)

On the downside, much of your toddler’s social life may depend on your own ability to socialize. Toddlers meet and play with other toddlers at playgroups, the park, and other “mom & me”  events. If your inclination is to avoid social situations, you may find the neighborhood “mom & me” playgroup unappealing. I certainly did. But I also knew that my daughter needed to play with other toddlers. She wasn’t in daycare, so until she was old enough for preschool, it was up to me to make that happen.

So off we went to learn how to finger paint and make macaroni necklaces.

The funny thing about these playgroups is that the moms are there as much to make friends for themselves as they are to socialize their children. This can be a great way for you to make friends around a shared interest (your toddlers!) but it’s not required. If the idea of spending a few hours at someone’s house while your kids play makes you uncomfortable, it’s fine to say thank you but you’re rather busy outside of playgroup.

I accepted exactly one play date invitation from another mom. It wasn’t a disaster, exactly, but it was a classic case of ‘wrong planet’ syndrome. The other mom and I had little in common and I didn’t have the social skills to bridge the gap. Looking back, I realize that we could have spent the hour talking about our toddlers. Faced with this situation now, I would have used the drive to her house thinking up suitable small talk questions. I also know now that “yes” and “no” are conversation killers, even when they’re accurate answers. When she asked me if I liked the playgroup, she didn’t want a literal answer, she was trying to elicit information to continue the conversation. A more suitable answer would have been something like, “Jess really enjoys storytime. Which activities does Peter like best?”

Jess had a great time playing with her new friend and I toughed it out for her, but that was the first and last playdate that required my attendance. Because I wasn’t armed with even the rudimentary social skills that I’ve since developed, I struggled to connect with someone who was reaching out to me and missed the chance at making a friend. Instead I came away thinking that there was something wrong with me and decided that it would be safer to decline future playdates rather than suffer through the kind of self-doubt I felt for days afterward.

Looking back on times like this, it’s easy to regret not knowing about my AS. It’s easy to say that it would all have been different if only I’d known this or done that. But I’m not sure it would have been that different. Today, if I was the mom of a toddler and another mom asked us on a playdate, I might be more likely to accept than I was twenty years ago, but I don’t think I’d necessarily enjoy it the same way a typical mom would. And I’m okay with that now.

Out Into the World 

As your child enters the preschool and early elementary school years, she’ll be old enough to go on playdates by herself. You may find this to be a great relief. I certainly did. Jess was good at making friends. Seeing her develop her own social network was exciting.

I’d never been good at making friends, but she seemed to have some sort of magic natural instinct for socializing. Maybe that’s just her personality or maybe she was compensating for my deficits. While the other kindergartners’ moms were arranging playdates for their kids, Jess was pretty much on her own. If she didn’t go out and find some kids to invite over after school, she wasn’t going to have much of a social life. But she quickly made friends and that paved the way for the years ahead.

And with friends came all sorts of new questions. There’s a lot of unfiltered knowledge floating around out there on school buses and playgrounds. As an aspie, you may be less shocked than the average mom by some of the questions your youngster comes home with. You also may be able to answer a lot of them without having to use your Google-fu.

As a result, your child will not only feel comfortable coming to you with questions, but you may find that your natural tendency toward bluntness combined with a higher than average level of emotional detachment actually creates a very open relationship. This tends to result in your child being willing to ask you anything or tell you everything. By the time she gets to high school, you’ll realize that in some cases, 90% of everything is more than enough.

Next in the series: How am I supposed to get this kid through middle school when I barely survived it myself?

16 thoughts on “Asperger’s and Motherhood (Part 3)”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post and it started a lot of thoughts which I may write about later when they fall into place, but for now I’ll just say that your daughter looks so incredible cute in the photo!

  2. Everything you are writing about makes so much sense.My son is 3 and he is my best friend! The infant stage you wrote about is what I am going through again, with his sister. She is a lot more needy than my son was so I have noticed I have had more meltdowns with her than I did with my son (who is recently diagnosed with ASD). I am being evaluated right now and the Psychiatrist says she has no doubt I have Aspergers. People see me with my children when I take them out for a mommy day and they often come up to me and compliment on how wonderfully behaved my children are. They ask me whats my secret. I told them its not a secret. “Routine, structure and communication.” Then they say they seem like happy children. They ask me what I mean by communication and I say “I give them a chance to speak. I answer their questions and I am honest with them about everything.” I get upset when my Mom and Dad say things like “Because I said so” or ” NO” with nothing to back it up. They dont understand how empty their words are and how meaningless they are to me and my son. It just leaves more questions and more misunderstandings. Before I learned about Autism I had my family tell me I cater to my son too much. I didnt think I was because he still got disciplined and he still had to eat at the table and he did not get away with other things that most kids I see do. I realize now that what is normal for me and my son, is not to most people. My mom often comments on how much my son reminds her of me because I was such a particular child. I always had to have things just right. So for them, when I go out and buy him the same book after something bad happened to it, they think I am spoiling him. But what they do not understand is that his life is very much meaningful because of that book, at least to him at this age. I regret now, but realize I could not help, the meltdowns during potty training. I just didnt understand how he could not get to the bathroom after being dry and in underware for two months and then back to three months not going right. Oh the meltdowns I had because it made no sense. It was not because I was mad at him, but because it “should not have happened”.Now I know he will continue to go back and fourth with it even if he seems to be professional. Now I just walk away and rock, yes i love the rocking chair to calm myself! Well, I am rambling, but maybe its because I have no one who understands our odd ways. Thanks to you I understand so much of what I do now. Thank you thank you!

    1. I’ve never understood why people think “because I said so” works. If anything it probably makes the parent look like an irrational dictator to the child. 🙂 It certainly doesn’t teach the child anything useful. I was always really honest and forthright with my daughter too and she recently thanked her dad and I for how we raised her (explaining things but allowing her to make her own mistakes as she got older). She said it was harder but she learned a lot more about life and being an adult than her friends who had really strict authoritarian parents.

      It sounds like you really “get” your son and are able to meet his needs because you have such similar experiences. That’s awesome and he’s lucky to have a mom who is so thoughtful and understanding. In the end, the only thing that matters is how your kids think you parented them when they’re grown. The opinions of all those other people are pointless.

      1. Reading about how your daughter feels and felt about you as a mom puts a good feeling with me about my children. Thank you so much for your kind words.

        I do “get” my son. My mom was over the other day and commented on how he leaves his toys everywhere and I should tell him to clean up after he is done. (Now my mom does not know much about the ASD with him or me because I am waiting to be able to tell them all about both of us at the same time) I wanted to tell her that he is not leaving a mess, he is planning out his day. My son has to run. He gets these urges to just run back and fourth through the house, and we go outside everyday do its not about energy, so one day I watched him. He takes his toys, usually blocks or stuffed animals and places them randomly throughout the house. Then, when he feels the urge to run he runs in the path of where he put the toys. He uses the toys to JUMP over during his runs! I thought this was amazing and very well planned out ahead of time but I could not explain that to my mom,not yet. And this leads me to asking this… How to tell my family? Do you have any advice? I have so much information that I wouldnt know where to start or how to explain it so they at least understand a little bit about it. If you have any advice to give on this subject I would love to hear it.

        “(explaining things but allowing her to make her own mistakes as she got older)” Yes, this is what I do and I will continue to do as well. I love your blog and I look forward to learning and reading more!

  3. Thank you very much for sharing. I think I have Aspergers or something like it– at the very least, I experience a similar combination of anxiety, social confusion, sensory problems, and high IQ. Its been almost crippling for me. I love my kids (I have 4 of them!) so much but have much lower threshold for noise and tactile input than most other mothers. I dread passing on my poor social skills to my children, all of whom love to be around other people very much. Your series on motherhood, including your testimonial of having a grown child, gives me lots of hope. So, thank you.

    1. Wow, 4 sounds like a lot to manage when it comes to the sensory input that kids can create! I hope it’s some comfort for you to know that my daughter is incredibly socially adept and currently has a job that requires some pretty nuanced social skills. She’s really excelled at it and is often the person in her office who gets the “challenging” people to deal work with. So it’s not a given that our social challenges will be picked up by our children. I know that she learned some less than ideal habits from me, but because she doesn’t have my brain wiring, she’s been able to unlearn most of them in early adulthood.

  4. Thanks for your very eloquant writings, that perfectly sum up a lot of what I am currently experiencing.

    I have a little boy, nearly 3 & a 3 week old premature baby. I was diagnosed with ASC, Aspergers while I was pregnant. I have so much to learn still in the years to come, I have made headway with my sensory issues. I have ear defenders and noise cancelling ear plugs, a glide chair and soft textures about the place. these all help. I have had two meltdowns in the last three days though, so still a lot to learn.

    I am interested in the section socialising your toddler. I also find trying to interact with other mums combined with a crying baby too much to process & exhausting. I put in emense effort & tried really hard to go to baby groups with my first. Baby massage classes, baby swim classes, rhyme time, nct group. Undiagnosed at the time, I had a total lack of understanding of my own abilitys/needs & I wanted to make friends and get much needed support and stimulating experiences for my baby, but after a year of trying and failing to bond or get or give any support! I am tried of trying to fit in and pretend I enjoy them.

    My little boy seams to be really quite socable however and seams to of really enjoyed them. I don’t want him to miss out. He goes to a childminder and is quite popular apparently, he wants his friends there to come to his house and has no problem going up to groups of children he doesn’t know and trying to play alongside them/with them. He has his 3rd birthday coming up and I am stuck. Can I ask what you did to celebrate your childrens birthdays? Does anyone have any ideas? We have had small close family affairs for his 1st & 2nd birthday, but he’s getting invites for more elaborate partys at soft play and themed party’s. (Thankfully my NT husband is going to take him to these) He’s starting to ask when his birthday is and who he wants to come to his party. but the thought of hosting a party makes me feel sick, especially as the mums will probably come as well as the children. I have a new baby to deal with too. but I don’t want my little boy to miss out, he deserves to be made a fuss off. He puts up with a meltdown mummy at the moment, who cant give him as much of her attention as he’s had before. Any suggestions most welcome!! thank you.

  5. I’m a 21 year old, who is probably on the spectrum, and in a long term relationship. Although I’m not quite ready to have children I often ponder the idea. I’m not afraid of pregnancy itself, but the medical/clinical aspects that come along with it. I’m extremely private and fairly touch and light (bright hospital rooms) sensitive. I’ve never even had a yearly screening yet and am scared to do so.
    What are some suggestions you have? And would it be possible for you to briefly share your pregnancy and birthing experience? I understand the need for privacy and the desire to maintain a G-rated blog so I don’t expect anything graphic.
    P.S. I have recently become an avid reader of your musings. You’re very honest and insightful. Thank you.

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