A Little Something Different

When I started blogging, one of the first topics I wrote about was motherhood.  Before posting, I gave the series to my daughter Jess to read because I wanted her permission before publishing such a detailed account of her childhood. I think she was a little shocked by some of what I wrote,  but she was fine with me publishing it. At the time, we talked about how it would be interesting if she wrote something for the blog from her point of view. She’s all grown up now, a thoughtful, well-adjusted adult with her own take on her childhood.

So, fast forward a year to yesterday morning.  I open my email and find that she’s sent me a post (which is right after this intro).  I was super excited because I’ve been hoping she still wanted to write something but I’m not the kind of mom who nags (much).

Also! Jess says she wasn’t sure what else people might want to know but if anyone has questions for her about being raised by an autistic mom, she’d love to answer them. You can leave comments or questions for her here or on my blog’s Facebook page. Maybe we’ll figure out some fun way to turn this into a mother-daughter conversation.

Okay, enough from me. The rest of this post was written by Jess . . .


As a student in college a few years back, I studied identity, mostly related to race, which led to a lot of writing and talking about myself. Because my father is Korean, a lot of my discussions focused on him. One day, one of my professors asked me, “What’s your mom like?”

“What?” I laughed, surprised at such a vague question.

“What is she like? Does she live with you? You don’t talk about her.” 

What was strange about this is that I always felt like I was closer to my mother than my father. My mother worked at home my whole life, so we fell into routines together. In the inconsistency of childhood, I found comfort in the daily routines of going to the post office, making the same things for dinner, and the never ending cycle of trying to teach the dog complex tricks.

I never thought my mom was anything out of the ordinary. She was younger than most other moms, which was cool, but that was just another thing that made her awesome. She didn’t really have a lot of friends or enjoy going out with other moms, but that just meant that I got to spend more time with my parents. I never really felt like a true “only child” because my friends who were only children seemed so weird, lonely or maladjusted.

But my mom was cool. She listened to Nirvana and REM, she worked at home, and she genuinely liked the same things I did. We drove up to Boston for concerts, had really great family vacations, and watched college basketball games together. My friends were jealous that my mom liked Star Trek and let me write on my bedroom walls.

In my work in education, I’ve worked closely with students of all learning abilities. I was familiar with Aspergers but had never considered how it affects adults. When my mother began to explore the possibility that she might be autistic, I resorted to a defensive, confused reaction. Despite my college education that specifically focused on how to discuss and explore notions of self across different identities, I retreated to a very insensitive reaction. I suppose my inner-child felt threatened and confused, as if I somehow didn’t know my own mother—as if autism masked some authentic mother that I would never know.

As we started to talk more openly, the questions my mom asked herself and the family were reminiscent of what I was asking in college as I explored challenging parts of my own identity. When I was trying to make sense of my identity, my mom asked thoughtful questions and never once invalidated how I felt or what I was trying to understand.

My parents have always been determined to create their own paths in life, and I admire how my mom has taken on these questions with a clear goal of progression, rather than regression. Of course there are challenging points, but of all the challenges a family could face, I’m thankful that we all share similar identity questions.

30 thoughts on “A Little Something Different”

  1. Lovely thoughtful article.

    And this bit is cute (and cartoon-like): “the never ending cycle of trying to teach the dog complex tricks”.

          1. I don’t know what to reply here, just want to let you know I read your response and feel with you on that. And I really like the idea of dog training as a parent-child bonding experience.

    1. Through the diagnosis of my daughters, and the frantic pursuit of any and all information about Asperger’s, my husband recognized himself immediately. I, without hesitation, agreed. However, the realization that my mother was clearly on the spectrum was extremely difficult. I was the one to tell her that not only were her granddaughters on the autism spectrum, but that I believed ASD would explain all the mysteries of her own life. She was (obviously) stunned, but (immediately) curious. She was around
      65 years old, and she could not have been more thrilled to finally have a means to understand herself. As I read your daughter’s description, I was filled with trepidation. What would she say? What was her experience? Would she share the hard parts? Would it trigger a flash back in me? My mother would be hard to describe…perhaps a “paradox squared” would do? So many intense, complicated emotions are tangled up with my memories. I am glad that your relationship with your daughter has a purity to it. It sounds healthy and honest. Frankly, it sounds like a relationship to be envied by plenty of non-ASD families. Your daughter has memories of shared happiness, and that is wonderful.

      1. It’s great to hear that your mom took your suggestion so well. It sounds like you had a complex relationship with her.

        Jess has shared really positive things here and that makes me happy. I think we’ve had our share of difficulties the way that most parents and children do, but we’re also fortunate to have a very open relationship and one that’s based on actually liking each other as people. 🙂

  2. “I admire how my mom has taken on these questions with a clear goal of progression, rather than regression.”

    I see that in your mom’s posts so clearly, and I admire it too. I hope that at some point that will visibly be my goal as well, though I’m not sure I’m there yet. I just love your phrasing though. It articulates so well why I was drawn to this blog in the first place and why I keep coming back.

    Thanks for your post! I don’t have any questions in particular for you, but I’ll say that I would really love to hear more from you if you feel you have anything else to share. 🙂

  3. I can only imagine what that felt like to read. Every now and then I’ll hear my son say something complimentary about things in his childhood, and it’s always nice to hear such things.

  4. I love this, and sincerely hope that my daughters will grow to be equally confident women, and will have such a kind, loving, affectionate outlook towards their (admittedly quirky!) mother.

  5. I loved this. My children are not fully grown yet but they say that I am awesome all the time and that I am a “different, fun teenager mother.” Which is hilarious because I am not close to a teen anymore ( but I guess I was when I started having them:) But they often love my youthful exuberance, my obsession with their music and interests, and my willingness to say “I struggle with that. Mommy’s not too good at that…Can you just forgive me and we try to find another way to make dinner.” or whatever. I think Autistics generally make fun, attentive, compassionate parents that install deep self awareness in their children:) While I think NTs are stable, protective parents (in most good cases) and bring to the table other great gifts that sometimes I don’t give…
    My daughter recently wrote a post about me (she’s ten) and I adored it. I wrote one about parenting her too. I find parenting hard sometimes and am so honoured that she sees the good:)
    This was beautiful. You are very lucky to have her and she you:)

    1. That’s cute that they call you a “teenager mother.” That must mean you’re cool. 🙂 I’d love to read your daughter’s post if you’d like to share a link. it sounds like you’ve hit on a great balance of emphasizing the positives and not making a big deal out of the downsides.

      Youthful exuberance is definitely a thing. At one of Jess’s birthday parties, we nearly got thrown out of the bowling alley for having too much fun.

  6. I never once saw any reference to your mother as seeming strange or different, just mainly being a great person and Mom. While I would never want to detract from the Aspergers part of her identity, some of us who study Aspergers can get so caught up with that part of people’s identities that we forget to get to know the whole identity, including the soul, mind, and personality.

    1. More than once I’ve seen people mention that they didn’t realize certain things that they or family members did were unusual because many people in the family did it. I think family tends to be like that – we simply accept our quirks and oddities for what they are because they’re so familiar.

  7. Beautiful post. Everything I have read in this series has been so life affirming! This helps me feel validated as a parent, and as a person. There are unique and difficult challenges to being an aspie parent (as I’m sure there are to our children). This does not mean that we can’t find creative ways to compensate for what we lack. That seems to be what many of us do best! I see this reflected in your story. Jess, thank you for providing your perspective. I hope this will abate some of my own mother’s anxiety about her parenting and mine.

    1. I’m so glad you found this helpful as a parent. I think we often get such a bad rap in the social relatedness department that it’s easy to question how good we can be as parents. But I see a lot of strengths in the aspie parents I know and many seem to have very good relationships with their children, both those who are still young and those who are all grown up.

  8. Reading Jess’ perspective is brilliant! You sound like a really cool mum. I think in that sense the current age has brought us so much good, far more open relationship between parents and children. I think of my grandmother and her mischievous side even though she always had a public persona around others that was superformal. Her own children described her as “unemotional” and “loveless” after she died. But I remember my weird funny opinionated infuriating gran with love and tenderness. I miss her every day.

    1. I think you’re right about it being easier to have an open relationship with our children it was for our parents or grandparents. Of course, this carries certain dangers too, like blurring the lines between parent and friend.

      Your grandmother sounds lovely. Perhaps you felt a special kinship with her and saw things in her that others didn’t. 🙂

  9. I wasn’t diagnosed as an Aspie until I was 59, at which time everything sort of fell into place.

    I notice quite a few similarites between Jess and my own daughter. She studied identity for her doctorate at university – for much the same reasons as Jess. Her mother is Japanese, while I’m a kiwi. Like you, I was the “invisible” parent, whereas my wife was (and is) most definitely not.

    The relationship between daughter and father was much closer than that between daughter and mother. I was the one she came to with any problem or issues – even extremely personal ones that I would have preferred her discussing with her mother, or at least someone of the same gender. At the time I couldn’t understand why, but, as they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision.

    Like Aspies everywhere, I’ve always had a problem reading other people – especially adults. On the other hand I have no problem reading the emotions of small children and animals. They are extremely transparent. At least until children start to learn social conventions. I think, subconsciously our children realised that I was extremely rational, non-judgemental and absolutely consistent in my dealings with them. Their mother, on the other hand, was emotional, irrational and unpredictable – the very things I find fascinating about her, but difficult for children to cope with. Our daughter in particular really enjoyed discussing anything and everything with me. From the time she first started talking, she realised, that I would not scold her for making the inappropriate comments and questions all small children are guilty of.

    On my part, I think the honesty and openness that children exhibit, was like a breath of fresh air to me. I was able to talk with her without fear of crossing some invisible line that social convention frequently puts in front of me. As she grew, our relationship continued to be open and honest. Forty years on it’s still that way. Although she left home some twenty years ago, there are things we can discuss between us more comfortably than either of us can with our respective spouses.

    Even after nearly 42 years of marriage, I still manage to unwittingly offend my wife on an almost daily basis. And she still gets very frustrated with me when I’m unable to “read between the lines”. But we’re working on it, and hopefully we’ll get it right inside another 40 years. My daughter and I, on the other hand, are almost always on the same wave length. In fact the only time she found me to be a “problem” was in her early teens when she began to test the limits of her independence. Our discussions would at times end with an exasperated comment from her of “Oh Dad, you’re too reasonable!” However, that was preferable (for everyone) than the alternative of having a flaming row with her mother 🙂

    1. What a great story! Your relationship with your daughter sounds like a treasure. I’ve found that although I’m not very verbal, I am nonjudgmental and so Jess has learned she can say just about anything to me and I won’t “freak out” like her dad might. That’s made her very open with me as she’s grown older, which is great. I also think that our NT children learn to translate between autistic and NT communication styles, which makes it easier to communicate with them than it is with a partner who comes into our lives with their communication skills already formed. We essentially (if unwittingly) raise our children to be bi-lingual.

      It’s awesome that you’re still working diligently on improving your marriage after 42 years. I think a lot of people assume that after a few decades everything must be all set in a relationship but it feels like a permanent work in progress from where I’m sitting. 🙂

      1. I like your use of the term “bi-lingual” to describe how she grew up. Yes she has mentioned that the fact she grew up not only with two with two languages and cultures, but with two different ways of viewing the world and expressing that view, has helped her grow in ways which weren’t available to her peers.

        As far as my marriage goes, I guess that because I’ve always had to struggle with relationships of any kind, I didn’t go into it thinking we’d “live happily ever after”. It was the beginning of a new life journey that would have many unexpected twists and turns along the way.

    2. That is such an interesting and heartwarming perspective! I’ve always found my father to be far more reasonable and fair than my mother as well, although it got better when I became more capable of explaining my frustrations verbally (my mother is a highly verbal person). I was wondering, did the fact that you and your wife come from different cultures make you more inclined to accommodate for each other’s differences in your marriage? Because being autistic/Aspie has always felt a bit like being from a different cultural background to me, and I find I do better with partners from other countries who don’t automatically assume I’ll respond or act a certain way.

      1. Yes, I think that because right from the beginning, we knew that we would need to work on accommodating our differences. And although neither of us fully comprehended how much accommodating would be necessary, I think that starting out with the knowledge that the relationship was something that we would need to work at, is the reason we are still together. Even after four decades of marriage, we still manage to surprise each other at times. Sometimes it’s because of cultural differences, sometimes it’s because of our family/domestic backgrounds were so different, sometimes because she’s NT and I’m not, and sometimes it’s just because we’re different. It’s actually exciting to still be learning about each other after all this time 🙂

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