This is the fourth in a series of posts about being a mom with Asperger’s.
If your middle school years were anything like mine, you may find yourself dreading them on behalf of your child. Middle school is an awkward time, at best. For many adult aspies, it was the time when our differences started to become very obvious to ourselves and worse, to our peers.
If your child isn’t an aspie (or even if she is), she might have a much easier time of middle school than you did. Try to be neutral about what she can expect as she prepares to make that transition and don’t be surprised if your neurotypical kid is more successful than you were.
Even if your son or daughter suffers only the usual trials of puberty and adolescence, you should be prepared for how the milestones during these years might affect you. It’s possible that your child’s first day of middle school might go great for him but end up triggering an anxiety-induced meltdown for you. Your daughter’s first school dance, big game or sleepover party may bring up memories of your own early adolescence that you’d rather forget.
When I felt this happening, I tried to remember that my daughter was a very different child than I had been. She had her own adolescent anxieties and the last thing she needed was for me to impose my own issues on her. When a crisis arose, I did my best to listen and try to understand what she was facing. This is a big challenge for aspie moms. First of all, we tend to assume that everyone thinks like we do. Empathy is one of the hardest NT qualities to “fake.” We also have a tendency to want to fix stuff when often what our kids needs in a crisis is compassion, understanding and reassurance. And love.
If you find that empathizing is a challenge, practice listening quietly. Then ask “how can I help?” or “is there something I can do that would make you feel better?”
If you have the benefit of a diagnosis, consider sharing that with your adolescent child. Disclosure is a complicated subject and each family handles it differently.
Most experts agree that a middle school age child is old enough to understand the basics of what AS is and how it makes you different from the average mom. Middle schoolers are also old enough to be asked to make simple accommodations, like telling you as concretely as possible what they need or want from you if you’re having trouble figuring it out. Of course this isn’t ideal–at times your child may protest that you’re the mom and you just know this stuff.
There are nuances to social interaction that are lost on aspies and one of them is the idea that knowing what someone is feeling suggests a higher level of caring than having to be told. This is a good opportunity to remind your child that you do care about him and that’s why you’re asking for some extra help in understanding what he needs or wants from you. Also, try to remember that all parents struggle when it comes to figuring out their adolescent children.
The middle school years also bring intense peer pressure. Being raised by an aspie mom seemed to inoculate my daughter against peer pressure to some degree. I’ve always been obliviously, even proudly, different from my peers. Peer pressure doesn’t have a lot of effect when you’re used to being on the outside looking in at your peer group. While this wasn’t something we ever talked about, I think my attitude rubbed off on Jess in positive ways. She’s always been very individualistic and even today she takes the view that if people don’t like her for who she is then it’s their loss.
Next in the series: Lurching Toward Adulthood