Asperger’s and Motherhood (Part 5)

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

As adolescence drags on–yes, some days it feels like it will never end–you may run into some serious challenges. The child who thought you were the coolest mom on Earth suddenly thinks you’re a moron. She doesn’t miss a chance to remind you that you can’t do anything right. That you know nothing. That you’re uncool and out of touch.

These words–and worse, the way they’re carelessly hurled at you–may hurt, but don’t panic. Teenagers all over town are saying the exact same thing to their NT moms and dads. Congratulate yourself on being a perfectly normal parent.

But the wild mood swings, sarcasm, unpredictability and sometimes downright meanness of teeangers can be especially hard on aspie moms. You may not be the most confident mom. Sarcasm, irony and biting humor might go right over your head, making you feel dumber than a box of rocks as your teen patiently explains the joke. And if you’ve shared your diagnosis, don’t be surprised if your teen decides at some point to use that against you. Teenagers are masters of dirty fighting. If it wasn’t your AS, it would be some other vulnerability, so again, you’re no different from the other moms.

Just like when you had that squalling little newborn, this is the time to call in reinforcements. At times you may need to turn over a challenging aspect of parenting to your child’s father, a grandparent or another safe supportive adult in your child’s life.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel like you’re in over your head. Teenagers can find themselves with adult-sized problems and because of our issues with executive function, we aspies may not always be the best source of guidance when a major crisis occurs. As a parent, you want the best possible outcome for your child, but as an aspie, you may not always be able to work out how to help him get there.

And for everything–big and small–that AS causes you to struggle with as a parent, I guarantee there’s something else that AS will make you amazing at. Your teenager will scoff at your poor fashion sense, but you may be the only one in the family cool-headed enough to teach her to drive without getting into a shouting match at every rolling stop and crooked parking job. And those research skills you’ve developed pursuing your special interests will come handy when it’s time to find the right college (or a good defense attorney).

My daughter’s friends found it amusing that I would spend hours trying to master the Playstation skateboarding tricks that they taught me or that I didn’t care if they wrote all over the wallpaper in her bedroom. More than once I heard the words “your mom is cool” whispered as I left the room.

Still, it wasn’t always easy having kids, and later teenagers, in the house, especially if the visits were unplanned or didn’t have a defined end to them. Even if you’re okay with the noise and mess that teenagers bring into your home, you may find the uncertain nature of their visits hard to handle. I spent a lot of evenings on edge because of the general anxiety caused by having extra people in the house, but I learned to put up with as much as I could, because I knew it was important for Jess to be able to invite friends over and have a relatively normal social life.

If your teen is sympathetic, it may help to sit down with him and discuss why certain ground rules are important to you. For example, if you need a quiet, safe place to escape to, it may be important for you to not have anyone upstairs where you can hear them when you retreat to the sanctuary of your bedroom. Perhaps you need the kids to clean up their messes or not cook foods with strong smells. Visits may be more tolerable if your teen limits her guests to just a couple and respects your need for the visit to end by a specified time.

As the parent, you still have a lot of control over what happens in your own house, even as your children approach adulthood. While asking your teen to make accommodations for your AS might mean that the rules at your house are stricter or stranger than those at her friends’ houses, those rules might be the difference between you being able to enjoy having your teen’s friends in the house or dreading it.

Next in the series: Am I contagious?

27 thoughts on “Asperger’s and Motherhood (Part 5)”

  1. Still, it wasn’t always easy having kids, and later teenagers, in the house, especially if the visits were unplanned or didn’t have a defined end to them. Even if you’re okay with the noise and mess that teenagers bring into your home, you may find the uncertain nature of their visits hard to handle.

    Invasion by teenage friends is an aspects of having kids I would find quite challenging. I have never understood teenagers, not even when I was one – my own adolescence was a confusing and distressing time. I would feel uneasy with hordes of them under my roof at unpredictable times and with unpredictable visit lengths:-)

    It sounds like you had a very balanced attitude to your daughter’s teenagehood, understanding that her needs are different from, and sometimes incompatible to, yours (just like in the other stages you wrote about). I admire your balanced, co-operative approach and that’s certainly what I would aspire to if/when having kids.

    Thanks again for writing this great series!

    1. Thank you! There were some long evenings but at least we had a fairly big house so I could go hide out in my basement office or upstairs bedroom while they were in the family room on the first floor. Of course, there had to be occasional supervision but I managed to do that in a drive-by fashion most of the time because they were good kids.

  2. I am sure I was every bit as mean as a teenager, as the teenage characteristics you describe!

    Sarcasm, irony and biting humor might go right over your head, making you feel dumber than a box of rocks as your teen patiently explains the joke.

    This make me think, because I am on the other side of the fence here. I love irony, especially subtle ironic multi-layered internal references with someone I know well (such as husband, siblings). Irony is like creating/having a secret code language together!
    Example: my husband and I often use movie quotes to convey chunks of meaning in just a few words. E.g. if I say ‘Okey Dokey’ in a conversation, it refers to a scene in ‘Secret Windows’, and means approx..: ‘I don’t believe what you are saying one bit and think you are trying to hide [embarrassment or lack of knowledge], but let’s just leave it like that and pretend that I believe you’… (plus brings up a quick flashback of the scene, of course). So movie quotes is a form of irony that can be used for secret playful teasing.

    Back to teenagehood: my mother does not understand irony, sarcasm and jokes. She looks very insecure whenever some joking is going on, as she never seems to know when to take it serious. Her own jokes are not funny, as it seems like their primary aim is to say something that others think is funny, intoned in such as way that it is 100% obvious to people that it is a joke, and that they should laugh now. It seems fake and we kids never bought into it, so she never tells us any jokes…

    She has never mentioned that she has any problems with anything and sure wouldn’t want to acknowledge any ‘abnormality’. I’m also sure she doesn’t understand what it is she doesn’t get… but I can see that not getting jokes/subtle references is really a socially damaging handicap that has kept her out of tune with my brother and I’s communication when we kids and, especially, teenagers. We tend to talk together as ‘in a secret language’ by being ironic, and she just looks totally confused as what we are saying sounds like complete nonsense to her.

    (for context: this is mainly from long term memory as contact has been very sporadic during my adulthood. I also live in a faraway country from where I grew up, and am not really interested in contact).

    1. I love irony and often use it, but catching it in other people’s words is sometimes hard for me. It’s interesting that your mom didn’t get humor and was so bad at it. I wonder if she’s on the spectrum too. It’s also really enlightening to read about how different everyone’s experiences are with all the difference aspects of ASD. Thank you for sharing yours!

      1. It’s interesting that your mom didn’t get humor and was so bad at it. I wonder if she’s on the spectrum too.

        I suspect both of my parents are. My parents are very different from each other … My dad is a solitaire man who doesn’t have any friends (and says he doesn’t need any). He is passionate about topics like history, prehistory, family history, Space, natural sciences (mainly pop science), and loves to work outdoor, plan and construct buildings / house extensions and shape the landscape (he has got about 40 ha to play with). He reads a lot and loves to categorise and organise knowledge – all of his interests are solitaire. This also includes his job. He seems bothered by noise and people activity around him (e.g. music, kids chatting and joking – too much going on at once), and his contact with the family throughout the day is sporadic. He comes in for the meals, but mostly spend that time reading newspapers and magazines, and rushes out again when he has ‘done his family duty’ of eating with the family. I can relate to him quite well, but I can also easily understand the family’s frustration (he is remarried, and have 2 kids in the second marriage – my youngest brothers). He tends to feel superior to other people, and seems to think that if everybody just tried to behave more like him they would be much better off. So he sees himself as the normal one, with the rest of the world being on an abnormality-spectrum of some sort!

      2. It’s interesting that your mom didn’t get humor and was so bad at it. I wonder if she’s on the spectrum too.

        Reply to above, part 2;-) The reply got very long, so I broke it into 2…)

        So as I said, I suspect both of my parents are on the spectrum, but they are very different from each other. While my dad is solitaire, my mother likes to see herself as a socially active, competent and open minded person. Having a vivid social life with many friends is one of the core values in my maternal family, which is one of the reasons I’ve had sporadic contact with most of them in my adult life (their expectations and probing about my social life makes me feel bad about myself!)

        She is a teacher (and an excellent one – I have that from several independent sources), and great at dealing with strangers. She loves to interact with people from foreign cultures, and speaks several languages fluently*. Her long term friends are all foreigners, and mainly her former students, as far as I know. She is friendly, helpful, tolerant to all kinds of people – never judges others and doesn’t seem to pick up if a person is behaving inappropriately and shunned by others (unless it is extreme, or others say so) so she is a very non-judgemental person.

        But I think people of her own culture tend to assign low social status to her when they know her beyond acquaintanceship when they begin to notice that she always repeat the same well rehearsed (superficial) stories from her life leading to her current (well rehearsed) points of view, that she never listens genuinely to anyone, but use whatever a conversation partner says to jump back into her rehearsed, repetitive conversation loops. That she never genuinely changes her opinions regardless what anyone says.That she is socially insensitive, but tries hard to say things that sound socially sensitive/compassionate (with bad timing, which is confusing and makes people/or at least me, feel bad). So she is great with strangers and acquaintances, but ‘looses’ in close relationships like kids, husband, family. She is accepted in the family, but there is always ‘something’, an invisible distance – a lack of social status and authority, something like that.

        I’m her daughter, and although I know all her conversation loops and how to activate them (I try to avoid doing that), I don’t understand who she is as a person. Such as: what she likes and why, her values and what drives her interests, which actions hurt her and why, how to relate to her. She has never communicated that to me… All there is, is all these pre-fixed communication loops and automatic (tiring) reactions. I’ve never really bonded with her despite having her around when I grew up (she was studying, at home), I found her confusing and being a very self-entertaining kid, I didn’t have a strong motivation to seek out contact, so I just ignored her.

        Today, she would really like to have contact with me, but I would really prefer to not have contact. I don’t really understand how she sees me and what she wants. She seems to make idealistic assumptions about me, such as that I have a successful working life and lots of friends (or at least some). I have tried to correct her unrealistic assumptions many times (which is quite uncomfortable – like negative self-marketing), but she just looks confused and shortly after seems to have defaulted to her initial assumptions, which I don’t even have a clear picture of… I them intercept indirectly through she questions she asks and the comments she makes, which otherwise make no logical sense. Face expressions: always smiling and expressive / dramatic in an annoying, exaggerated way – I don’t get the point of it, but I think it is some sort of theatre. Body language: doesn’t make sense. So yes… I suspect that my mother is on the spectrum, and deeply entrenched in a life-long desperate battle to hide and overcome social deficiencies (in me too… I think that’s why she can never give up on probing & hoping for me being a socially outgoing person, and clings onto any ‘evidence’ and memories that support that paradigm. Not being social is too ‘wrong’).

        I don’t know if I am on the spectrum. While I’ve had my fair share of trouble with social development and am a quite solitaire person (a bit like my dad), and have sensory issues, my communication is for real, whether in writing or face to face. I am genuinely capable of elaborate self-expression and social development, and have developed tremendously over the course of my life, and still develop from communication with other people. So I truly take other’s point of view on board and integrate it into my own perception of the world and myself. I don’t think my mother can. My relationship tensions are due to being overly solitaire and topic-focussed compared the majority, but my relationships are for real. My husband knows how I am as a person, what I like and dislike et.c. My mother’s partners didn’t get her. I interact well with animals and kids (requires non-verbal communication) – my mother can’t do it, and animals tend to confuse / unsettle her because their behaviour seems totally unpredictable to her. So, actually this outlines really well why I don’t say ‘I think I have Asperger’s Syndrome’ despite having lots of traits. I am comparing with my parents, and concluding that I am socially capable, after all:-)

        Disclaimer: my descriptions are of course subjective, and others may perceive my mother totally differently. Also, I haven’t seen her much as an adult, and she might have changed (it didn’t seem like it last time I checked, but again, I’m biased…).

        1. Your summary of the different way you see your parents as being the spectrum is fascinating because I think it really points out the different ways that men and women manifest spectrum traits. (Also, thank you for clarifying that you don’t identify as having AS – I had wrongly assumed that you did.) I think it would make a fascinating blog post, if you felt comfortable sharing this on your blog, to contrast the different ways you experienced your parents AS traits and how that seems to have affected both of their lives.

      3. Thank you for your reply… Yes I think you are right. I’m a bit shy of making it into a blog post right now, but maybe a bit later. Great idea! and thanks for the encouragement.

        Your summary of the different way you see your parents as being the spectrum is fascinating because I think it really points out the different ways that men and women manifest spectrum traits.

        I’m of course not competent to diagnose people. My perception is based on having read a lot about Asperger’s Syndrome (especially the female version), and also having worked with LF autistic teenagers.

        I recognised a certain pro-forma conversation style from the institution: repetitive loops that seems like a conversation but isn’t – and suddenly understood why I find conversation with my mother so frustrating and ‘fake’… Much higher level of sophistication and much much bigger repetoir, but similar pattern… like empty loops with no real interaction, and the conversation doesn’t even make sense when paying attention to it.

        or worse: things I say will be misunderstood and used inappropriately in attempts to live up to perceived social expectations. So I don’t actually feel comfortable with my mother snapping up any bit of information about me that is in any way sensitive/important, as it may be used inappropriately e.g. to entertain others and create a drama in some way. I just don’t like that. E.g., if I was pregnant I would probably not tell her until the kid was already born and things were on track, I always make sure to keep her out of the loop. Not because I think she is vicious in any way, but because she doesn’t know what she is doing… socially.

        In contrast, I don’t mind keeping my dad in the loop at all… He does have a healthy sense of boundaries and also, since he is not particularly social, things stay with him. The irony is that, because of his solitaire personality type, social inexperience (he does say some pretty outrageous things that get things boiling around him), his interests, sensitivity and so on, I’m pretty sure he would score very high on an online ‘Aspie Quiz’ if he did one. My mother would not, because of her self-image as a social person. But I wouldn’t consider my dad ‘severely socially impaired’, because he is not motivated to be that social anyway. He is thriving with his life; his problem is mainly others’ social needs and expectations. I consider my mom ‘severely socially impaired’ because not being able to express yourself so others’ understand you and feel they know you, your kids not being able to bond with you (again… I’m subjective here), when that is what you want, not succeeding socially when social life is a core value, that is severe…

        Also, thank you for clarifying that you don’t identify as having AS – I had wrongly assumed that you did

        I understand your assumption, and you are not the first. I’m a bit awkward about it because I can’t give a clear answer. I don’t identify as having AS, neither as not being on the spectrum at all, I remain indecisive on where I fit in (but maybe that has to do with being a solitaire person! ~ not belonging in any group). I scored above the threshold on ‘Aspie Quiz’ type of questionnaires I did long ago, for the same reasons as I the ones I described about my dad above I think. I have also done a more official one with my psychologist and scored well above the threshold… which was sort of just another indication that it is something to consider, but it didn’t kill my uncertainty or make me identify as being on the spectrum (now also, I’m not good at questionnaires and therefore don’t trust their results… never sure how to understand the questions, more precisely). I have heard it suggested from some other sides as well. The psychologist I see specialises in ASDs, so officially on the spectrum or not, I am working with the spectrum-like traits that are causing me problems anyway.

        ORW! What a long comment again! I guess I should write my own posts about these topics instead of filling your blog with post-sized comments!

  3. I have to admit that I have some pretty great teenagers. With one on the spectrum, I don’t have a lot of other kids visiting my house. However, when the weather gets cold, that’s when the kids tend to hover inside for longer periods and I have to force myself to not get overly agitated with the situation. I have a difficult time with the mess and extra noise in the house; especially after I’ve just spent all day cleaning. My 20 year old daughter knows the signs of my agitation and will prompt my kids to calm down or clean up their mess so as to avoid a meltdown from me. However, she and her fiancee will be getting their own place in April and I’m dreading that day! She’s been the mediator in our household for many years. I’m not sure how I am going to handle things without her.

    1. It’s great that your adult daughter is able to run interference for you and is so sensitive to your state of mind. Fingers crossed for you that you find a new coping strategy when she moves out. Perhaps she can help you devise something that will work? She seems very wise for her age. 🙂

    2. Oh, how I relate to this! My adult daughter ( not on the spectrum) is so in tune with these very same things. She lives in the mother in law apt above our garage with her partner of 4 yrs. I have 2 Aspie boys at home ages 15 and 6, one NT adult boy at home and a teen girl with significant SPD. I’m a mom with Aspergers diagnosed as an adult. My daughter is such a huge help!

  4. Ok, I can’t find the comment I wanted to reply to, but here is what I want to say: if I want to quote you in one of my planned comments-converted-to-posts’ (or inspired by other posts, as discussed recently): what is your first name or pen name? ‘Musings of an aspie’ is a bit long, and it also isn’t an author name, but a blog name.

    1. Found it:

      I love your reasoning behind the win-win idea. I’ve had a few posts on other blogs that have made me want to write something in response or tangential to the writer’s idea and I’m going to start acting on that too, with a link to the inspirational post that got me started.

      I have been a bit shy of blogging lately, but that’s the strategy I am pondering on, in various versions.

      1. Quick note: the topic we discussed (about parents) won’t be common soon. I’m still having privacy concerns about writing about my parents although I write anonymously and no one in my family knows about my blog. (and I’m not going to write something bad anyway)

  5. I love how you write. you say so much that is familiar to me. It’s very reassuring and also quite wonderful to have all my vague and wordless understandings given such a lovely concrete form. Thank you xx

    1. This is actually something I don’t have any experience with and there are lots of parents who do and who write about it regularly so it isn’t something I’ve felt the need to write about thus far.

  6. I am the daughter of a mother with Asperger’s. I only recently found out and I realize now that my behavior towards her was rather insensitive, specifically within the past. I have very dry sarcastic humor, and I weld it at almost everyone, she does realize that given that she warns people of my humor (the warning is more endearing than anything, she says she is proud of me and thinks I am funny and clever). However, thinking back I find that I was overly insensitive towards her and I feel guilty. I want to tell her I am sorry, but I don’t want to stop being myself. I won’t be mega insensitive towards her and just because I found out about her syndrome doesn’t mean I want to treat her any differently. I want to apologize in a way that makes her assured that I see her no different and I love her so much. Maybe I shouldn’t apologize? Perhaps I should just love her and say nothing but treat her the same in a less insensitive way?

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