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Fighting Less:  Asperger’s/NLD “Children” and Parents

Parents and children (of all ages) often live together. This is especially challenging for families of AS/NLD “kids.” For example, parents of a girl I’m working with had a laundry list of complaints of how she didn’t “act her age;” she felt constantly criticized. A solution is working over time. The girl’s parents had to understand and accept her as who she was, so there wasn’t the constant undercurrent of criticism and disappointment. They needed to narrow down the laundry list to a few reasonable goals. The girl needed to recognize a few requests that made sense, and “buy into” making them work for her. Life was more tolerable for everyone when expectations were realistic.

There are ways to get along and reduce conflict. Here’s some ideas to foster mutual understanding (and a little more peace)  between parents and children.

  1. It’s important for individuals with AS/NLD and their parents to know that no one reads minds. When children (“children” means adult children as well) get upset or oppositional, parents don’t necessarily understand why. The child may not understand the motivation of the parent. Everyone needs to explain in a way that isn’t an attack. I had a young man with AS complain that his parents were mean because they always asked him to repeat himself. He tended to speak under his breath, so it was hard to hear him – and he’d never thought about that. His parents needed to explain that they wanted to listen but just weren’t able to hear him.
  2. Parents are tasked with raising their kids to be healthy and safe, and this role often lasts into adulthood. “Healthy and safe”  involves fundamentals of self care such as eating, sleeping and hygiene as well as safeguards for physical safety. Individuals with AS/NLD may not agree with parents about specifics, but it’s important they respect that safety and health are necessary. Why are certain tasks resisted? I had a teen who avoided showering and brushing her teeth. It turned out sensory issues were the problem. It was helpful to find a different flavor toothpaste, shampoo without fragrance, consult with the dentist for a different toothbrush and for her to have a haircut.
  3. Often the same problems happen repeatedly. Parents may feel that they have to tiptoe around home to avoid upsets, and children may feel constantly provoked. It helps to make clear what exactly the trigger is. A different strategy for one side, or both, might be effective. A young man would explode if his mother tried to tell him how to do a task her way; it reminded him of every time he’d ever been criticized before. She needed to be clear about her concern, and her son needed to make it clear if he had his own way of doing that task that worked (which she needed to respect). It also helped that he meditated to self-calm. Most of the change was in him. He was able to hold off reacting emotionally by breathing, so he could take a break to think. We talked about his mother, and the fact that she was an anxious person. He was taking everything  personally when in fact it was usually her general anxiety.
  4. People with AS/NLD reject rules that don’t make sense. Yet, it  may play against their goals (avoiding punishment in school, keeping a job) to outright reject what is expected. Parents are often given or take on the task of getting children to conform. First, the  change needs to make sense with the child’s personal goals. With “buy in,” children can learn strategies for adapting that work for them. Adult children have to understand the consequences of behavior and make choices. I know a young man with NLD who absolutely refused to wear suits. His parents pointed out that his jeans would be considered disrespectful by family at a wedding. He did care about not hurting the feelings of the bride, and decided he could wear something comfortable that was “dress casual,” pants that were navy or gray, a navy jacket and a comfortable turtleneck. Compromise can work.
  5. Parents get criticsim from family members and schools to “fix” the “attitude” or expected behavior of their children with AS or NLD.  I can’t tell you how often parents hear, “Two weeks in my house (strict consequences) and he’d straighten up” from family, with the expectation that strict consequences would make a difference. Their children are who they are, and parenting children with AS/NLD is a unique skillset.  Support from other parents with similar challenges can help.

In general, parents want their offspring to have successful, happy lives, and worry if “different” behavior might get in the way. They feel responsible to have their children ready to navigate the neurotypical world, whether the children are 12 or 32. “Children” need to see the consequences of behavior, whether it is “logical” or well informed or not. However, those with AS especially still need to be themselves. They do best in an environment that’s educated. Compromises require understanding and finding goals and solutions that genuinely work; criticism, nagging and blowups definitely don’t work. These positive strategies will defuse a lot of tension and create the potential for more peaceful relationships.

Photo by normalityrelief

Fighting Less:  Asperger’s/NLD “Children” and Parents

Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D.

Psychologist since 1985, serving on CT ASD Advisory Council, Professional Board SmartkidswithLD

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APA Reference
Eckerd, M. (2017). Fighting Less:  Asperger’s/NLD “Children” and Parents. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 11, 2018, from


Last updated: 23 Feb 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Feb 2017
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