There are many blog posts, books, and articles written about parenting a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. There isn’t much written, however, about parenting a child while HAVING Asperger’s. Children can be a challenge all by themselves. When you add in a parent who gets overstimulated, fixated on things, and thinks literally, the challenges are vastly multiplied.
One of the things that a parent of a child with Asperger’s will quickly notice is that their child can focus in on the way they think things should be. The other day, while dropping NHL off in Hebrew School, he walked over to another child’s desk. He wouldn’t listen to me to stay away. The reason for this? All of the chairs were turned upside down on the desks in a certain way (backs of the chairs pointing down on the side kids normally sit on). All of the desks, that is, except for this one desk. This desk had its chair’s back pointed down on the opposite side. NHL had immediately spotted the problem and sought to fix it.
Similarly, a parent with Asperger’s might fixate on the way things should be. This can lead to stress when the fixation involves the child and the child doesn’t immediately conform. All too often, I fixate on one thing and NHL fixates on a different thing. Our fixations clash which leads to a battle of wills with B caught in the middle trying to calm us down and resolve the situation.
Just like NHL fixated on the one desk being out of order, my fixation-of-choice seems to be order. I need things done a certain way and I expect my kids to act a certain way. Some of these things are understandable restrictions, such as when I tell NHL not to put his arms to his side and spin around uncontrollably in the frozen aisle of the supermarket. Some, however, are less understandable and more the product of my own past.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to "fit in" in social situations even if I’m unsure of how to act. Typically, my strategy is to blend in and not call attention to myself. This means not answering questions (even if I know the answers), not volunteering, and not taking the lead.
NHL, meanwhile, takes a different tact. He tries to answer all the questions, volunteer for all of the jobs, and take the lead in everything. This can be very good (as he is very bright and is likely capable of much of this), but this can also put him in situations where his "differentness" has a spotlight shone on it.
As someone who was bullied quite a bit, this spotlight produces a feeling of sheer anxiety in me. I begin to fear that kids will make fun of him and I try to protect him the only way I know how: Trying to force him to follow my "blend in" strategy. Now, I know that this is wrong – I should let him shine and not try to force my ways on him. However, in the heat of the moment, I fixate on how things "should be" (NHL staying quiet and not doing things that might get him picked on) to the exclusion of all else. (Including ways of explaining this to NHL in words other than "do this because I told you to.")
This is going to be a constant challenge with me. I need to keep in mind that my own actions, no matter how right I might think they are, could be causing more harm than good. I need to avoid fixating on one path, no matter how much that fixation is a part of me. In short, I have to parent while taking into account both my son’s Asperger’s as well as my own.
This is going to be tough, but I’m going to do my best. After all, this is for my son and he deserves nothing less.
NOTE: The Autism Awareness ribbon icon above was created by Melesse and comes from Wikimedia Commons.