Asperger’s and Motherhood (Part 4)

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

11 thoughts on “Asperger’s and Motherhood (Part 4)”

  1. You know, it’s funny – My middle school experience was by far my best, socially, growing up. I got adopted by a group of friends*, went to their birthday parties, did activities with them, and generally learned what friendship was. Sadly, we drifted apart in high school because it was a huge school and we were all in different classes/activities, etc. But for me, middle school wasn’t all that horrific. Elementary and high school, on the other hand, sucked.

    *This group of friends, perhaps ironically, included two deaf girls (twins), a girl with cerebral palsy, several kids with severe learning disabilities that put them in separate classrooms for at least one period per day, two kids with special needs siblings (downs syndrome and autism), and a couple of kids who would later come out as gay. To say we were a bunch of misfits is kind of an understatement. But we were good friends.

    1. Your group of friends sounds like a cool bunch. I tended to gravitate toward the “misfits” too. My best friend in fourth grade was a girl with albinism and in high school it was a girl with epilepsy who was prone to having seizures in class. Funny how we instinctively found the kids who were different, isn’t it?

  2. 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.

    I wished every parent on Earth had that attitude. (Rephrased:): ‘I know my child is very different from me and face her own unique issues’; ‘the last thing my child needs is me projecting my issues onto her’; ‘when a crisis arise, I do my best to listen with an open mind and try to understand my child’s unique situation and perspective’.

      1. I totally agree… I think that’s one of the most important aspects of parenting, apart from loving the kids: to actually try to see the kid where she/he is, and not only project assumptions based on personal experience/family members et.c. Yes I can imagine that is very hard… it is much easier to assume similarity than difference. I think that the fact that you had the difference in mind and tried to meet your daughter where she was, is what matters even if there’s been lots of ‘misses’.

  3. Hi, I’m about to embark on a complicated disclosure process – disclosing my own self diagnosis, moving from implicit to explicit discussion of autistic traits and accommodations with my 12 year old (NT) and 8 year old (undiagnosed aspie) daughters, and encouraging the little one to begin to identify as aspie herself. Strangely, my biggest concern in all this is how the big one will react – at present she has a very close relationship with both me and her little sister and I am terrified of damaging that.

    I am really struggling to find anything online to help me prepare for this process, beyond the standard disclosure advice for adult aspies, or advice for parents explaining a diagnosis of Asperger’s to their child. This blog entry makes passing reference to your disclosure to your own NT child – would you be willing to expand on that at all? Or could you or any of your readers point me in the direction of resources or discussions that cover the business of disclosing to teenage NTs?

    I should add, big girl already proudly identifies as ‘geek’, ‘weird’ and ‘not a girly girl’… we are not dealing with polar opposites here 😀

    1. It sounds like your older daughter is already open to the idea of neurodiversity and being different. My daughter was as well, though she was quite a bit older when I shared my diagnosis with her.

      If I were you, I’d keep it pretty simple and be honest. I started off with “lately I’ve been thinking that I might have Asperger’s” because the conversation was prediagnosis, very early in my exploration. Since my daughter was older, I wanted to get her input on the possibility. Since you’re already certain of your diagnosis, maybe you could open with something like “I found out something about myself recently that’s really exciting (interesting?) and I want to share it with you.” Or something that you think will positively frame the conversation. She’ll probably have lots of questions for you, but maybe not right away. Don’t be surprised if all you get initially is an “oh” and she changes the subject. And then a week later you’re driving her somewhere and she springs a big interesting question on you.

      As a parent, I think I’d also not mention anything right away about her sister being an aspie too. That might make her feel left out or defensive, even if she doesn’t say so.

      It’s a big adjustment to start thinking of a parent in terms of a new identity, so it likely won’t be a “one and done” kind of thing. Even years later my daughter and I are still processing what my autism means to our relationship. She knows that she can ask or tell me anything. It’s been a good, honest, sometimes painful conversation.

      Your daughter may wonder if your diagnosis changes anything or something along those lines, so it would be good to offer assurances in whatever area you can and then be specific about what you might want to change in your household in light of this new information. For example, if there will be new family rules or you’ll be asking her to do certain things differently. The more specifics you can give her (without being overwhelming) the less likely she’ll freak out about how much is changing so suddenly. (Because it might seem that way to her, even though it doesn’t feel like it to you.)

      That’s about all that comes to mind at the moment. I hope some of it is helpful. Good luck with telling her and moving forward. I hope she takes it well!

      1. Many thanks for your thoughts and advice – the suggestion about being specific about things we might change is particularly helpful, she is very practically minded and will no doubt want to know what to DO about it all.

        Will let you know how we get on…

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