Autism In the Family: From Child to Adult
When there is autism in the family, parenting is challenging.
“My son/daughter is unmotivated, sloppy, but such a great person. S/he sits in her room all day and plays video games. S/he was set up by someone who pretended they wanted to go out with him/her. You’re an adult: so I’m asking you: what do I do?”
A parent sent me this question. I’m using different genders above to protect his/her anonymity.
Across the world, parents of children with Aspergers (soon to be included under the broader term autism), watch their children with mixed emotions as they children become adolescents and soon-to-be adults.
I’m writing this article to help you become the best parent you could ever become as you guide your child to adulthood. It’s a slight twist on the headline, right?
Here are some parenting tips:
There’s No Easy Formula
Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories. ~John Wilmot
Someone once explained to me that parenting a child with Aspergers is like running a marathon. It’s not a sprint: because if you run too fast, you’ll burn out quickly. But you do have to train, eat right, and keep moving.
Parents of young adults with Aspergers are in many different phases of this race. For example, a child who was diagnosed early on has probably received a lot more help than someone who was just diagnosed in high school.
I’m having a hard time addressing all parents, so in this article, I’m writing for parents who have found out about the diagnosis in the last four years.
When you and your teenager first find out about this diagnosis, you and s/he may a) deny that this diagnosis is accurate, or b) frantically try to sprint to find every possible resource to ‘make things better.’
The middle ground is best. Recognize that there is time to find the support; learn new skills; and build on your son or daughter’s strengths.
Seek Out Support for Your Young Adult
If you’ve never jumped out of an airplane before, you’d be amazed at the level of training required before you jump. You’ll spend several hours reading about the terms and techniques for jumping. Then you’ll receive instruction. Then you’ll be hooked up to an instructor who will actually jump with you. You’ll be connected to her as you make your first jump. Eventually, you’ll be skilled enough to jump without any assistance.
If you daughter or son is willing, have her or him check out Wrong Planet for online support.
Brian King is an adult with Aspergers who coaches parents and young adults about relationships and career.
Read my article about Aspergers support groups.
Recognize the Strengths and Limitations of Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s Syndrome is part of the autism spectrum.
It’s a spectrum because there are so many degrees of functioning.
But also realize that autism in the family, apart from intervention, can create challenges in almost every area of life.
Aspies are very intelligent, but they can struggle with social communication (understanding social nuances); inflexible thinking, sensory integration problems, or poor motor skills).
Mark Hutten, at My Asperger’s Child blog, points out that
Psychological, neurological, and medical treatments are very useful for all Aspergers adults. These professionals can test for underlying problems and treat them in addition to the Aspergers disorder itself. Common treatment plans include:
• Social skills training to help create and sustain relationships
• Sensory integration therapy to lessen the effects of hyper or hypo-sensitivities
• Self-care skills to learn the importance of regular medical check-ups and personal hygiene
• Medication for seizure activity, anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity
• Daily living skills to learn how to live independently with success
• Cognitive behavioral therapy to deal with emotions, feelings, and behavior
Where can you find the above treatments?
This varies from state to state. Start out by calling the mental health/behavioral health 800 number on the back of your insurance card. Ask your healthcare insurance representative to give you a list of in-network psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists who specialize in treating autism spectrum conditions.
You can also go to Asperger’s OASIS website. Look at the left hand side of the page for hyperlinks to local help and services (in the US); National Help and Services, and International Help and Services.
Get connected with Aspergers support groups, whose members can point you to other great resources in your community.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Your Own Help/Coaching
Parents often feel they must have all the answers and go the parenting journey alone.
Even instructors have been students at some time.
If you have stressful events going on in your life (ill family members, possibly a troubled marriage, job stress), you need to get your own counseling support. Seek out a psychologist, counselor, or coach who can guide you as your parent your child to take on more responsibility.
This is a challenging question. Are you expecting too much or too little of your son or daughter?
Based on his or her progress in life to date, strengths, and limitations, what are the best outcomes for adulthood you can expect? Sometimes we parents aim too high. Other times we expect too little.
It will help to get input from trusted friends, our own son or daughter, and professionals as we seek to help our young adults find their way.
As parents, we can be overprotective. In such cases, we may need to let our young adult try and fail on his own.
Or we may be denying that our young adult has any problems at all. We may ignore Aspergers even exists. That certainly won’t help either.
Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke have written this social thinking guidebook for bright teens and young adults. I’d recommend both you and your daughter or son to read this book. It’s written specifically to the teen and young adults with Aspies.
The authors cover what social thinking is all about, and specifically address texting, dating, the different levels of friendship, and the many and varied emotions we experience as we relate to others.
There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings. ~Hodding Carter, Jr.
There is no one else like you in your young adult’s life. You’ve known your child her/his whole life.
As s/he grows older, you’ll become more of a consultant. At times, you’ll have to have the courage to set firm limits. Other times, you’ll need to listen with respect and empathy.
If you’ll pace yourself; seek out support for your child and yourself; read and learn about Aspergers; and take time to just enjoy life while doing all of this, you’ll be on tract to become the best parent ever to your Aspergers child as s/he grows into adulthood.
photo credit: DVIDSHUB