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The Pain of Parenting Adults with Asperger's: A Moms Birthday Shifts from Glad to Sad

Woman sitting at a table staring ahead while male stands behind her
Mom wishing he'd given her a card for her birthday

A mom recently asked me "Why is my son so cold?"


She had spent a happy birthday with her husband, but all the while she'd been waiting and hoping for a card from her Aspie son. When evening came, the pain of parenting her adult Aspie son set in. She realized that the card wasn't coming. The next day her pain rose to the surface, the tears unavoidable. She felt sad and resentful. "I'm always there offering support when he needs me, but when I need him, he's just missing in action."


That next day, she made a call. "I told him that all I wanted was a little card, just something to show he cares. That I feel he completely ignores what I need. But when he needs something, it's the end of the world. I have to be there or he has a meltdown."


Why is parenting an adult with Asperger's so painful and stressful? Is her son really a cold-hearted user who just couldn't care less about his mom?


The answer is "No".  Asperger's doesn't make people cold-hearted or even uncaring. But they DO have a HARD TIME seeing the world from another's perspective. WHY?  


Because people with Asperger’s see the world from their own, mostly different, mostly logical and detailed point of view. The Aspie mindset is called neurodivergent because it doesn't necessarily follow social norms.


Here are some of the ways Aspies can see things differently,


Neurotypical Versus Neurodivergent Response to a Meeting


A Neurotypical person walks in a meeting room and scans the people sitting around the table, maybe checking for whose the most attractive, or the most important, or the best dressed. They are using the moment to get a layout of what is going on in that moment. They are picking up on social cues. Stuff you might take for granted, like whose smiling, frowning, showing interest... they are using these cues to guide their actions.


An Aspie walks into the same meeting room and sees the details --  the bright lights above him, the sound of a pen tapping on the table, the air shift when a person suddenly sneezes... he looks down and sees trip hazards from computer cords crisscrossing the floor, and asks himself, Why are we still meeting in a room with no masks when we could just Zoom this from home?


Neurotypical Versus Neurodivergent Response in a Social Setting


A Neurotypical person meets a new contact and looks her in the eye. It comes naturally to reach out his hand and say, "Hi. Nice to meet you."          


An  Aspie meets a new contact and does not look her in the eye because it feels too intense or even painful. He doesn't reach out a hand, but instead look down at her handbag and mumbles a quick, "Hi."


Don't ask the Aspie what that person looked like five minutes after its over. Most of the time, they will have trouble giving you a useful description because they haven't connected in the neurotypical way with people's faces and expressions.

 

So now that we know there's a difference. What about this Aspie son's seeming indifference to his mom's birthday? What about her own emotional pain as she parents an adult with Asperger's?


People with Asperger's typically care about how others feel, especially people they are connected to like a mother or father or a close friend, but they are more likely to consider their own way of perceiving things first and they can get stuck there. So, in this case of mom wanting a birthday card from her son, he might think, "Mom told me she wants a card for her birthday. I have to go out and pick something out. Then I have to get myself to  a post office... I hate going to places with long lines...


Before he knows it, the task has morphed from a ten minute no-big-deal into a horror show with strangers, crowds, and too many unknowns. He tells himself, "I'll do it later."

 

PROCRASTINATION can be a major pitfall for people with Asperger's.  


So now, his mother's birthday comes around and her son has failed to honor his mother's "simple" request for a card because it's not really that simple given his anxiety. Also, because he has difficulty taking on his mother's point of view, he wonder's, "Why is a card such a big deal anyway? They're expensive and just plain corny."


If you ask him, "How would you feel if someone you loved didn't acknowledge your birthday?" He'd probably say, "Fine with me. I don't like a lot of attention on my birthday."


My advice to mom: The absence of a birthday card has very little to do with your son's love for you, and EVERYTHING to do with how he sees the world. If you ask him, "Do you love your mom?" He'd probably say some version of "Yes." And if you could get inside his head, you would see that he counts on his mom, even leans on her during hard times. It's a real connection for him, one that he does not grant easily to anyone else because he loves and trusts her. Bottomline: the difference between what he feels and what he THINKS and DOES can be complete opposites. For Aspies, relationships can feel like waves in a turbulent ocean - they are unpredictable, hard to fathom, and carry the potential to take you down out of nowhere. For this reason, it's seems safer to retreat and only surface when necessary.


Instead of surrendering to the points of pain as a parent of an Aspie, Mom should tell her son how she feels and also be ready to listen to his explanation, non-judgmentally This will require her to take her son's perspective while leaving herself out of it. That's a hard challenge for anyone, but if she is able to listen, he'll slowly reveal his thoughts like a cautious turtle exposing its head but ready to submerge at any second. Submerging can look like anger, rage, silence, or complete withdrawal. With small steps, good relationship modeling, and lots of patience, mom's efforts could reap big rewards over time - like finally seeing the tender heart that lies beneath the protective shell. Like hearing that you make the difference between pushing forward in the neurotypical world and giving up all together.


If you're parenting an Aspie, or If you think you might have Asperger's and that it was missed when you were a child, I can help. Call me for consultation. Also, I will read every comment here.


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