She’s never been diagnosed with Aspergers but when I’m with friends who have been professionally diagnosed with Aspergers, the similarities are blindingly obvious.
My mom is an Aspie. A good mother, but also an Aspie. Looking back at it now, the disconnect, the confusion, the misunderstandings I had with her while I was growing up can be linked directly to being a neurotypical kid being raised by a well-meaning Aspie. (I use the abbreviation ‘Aspie’ throughout this article with affection, not disrespect.)
Without a personal experience of the vast, rich and intense emotional life of a neurotypical, an Aspie parent may inadvertently invalidate their NT child’s emotions.
They see their NT child in emotional distress and want to ease their suffering using their greatest strength: their mind. They marshall their forces of logic and reasoning but all we NT’s hear is invalidation. Why our emotions are wrong, stupid, illogical.
Lesson #1: It’s okay to tell an Aspie, ‘Thank you but that advice will not work for me as a neurotypical. I need to work through these emotions in my way. Your way does not work for me. But thank you for trying.’
The Never-ending Lectures
We may push back against our Aspie parent’s well-meant but emotionally clueless advice. Or sit in silent misery, waiting for their monologue to cease.
Either scenario conveys to our Aspie parent that they are failing to get their point across. That successful communication is not happening. So they go on. And on and on and on and on in a lecture that seems both endless and clueless. Kind hearted, but clueless.
Lesson #2: If you don’t want your Aspie to continue talking, give them feedback. Waiting them out doesn’t work. Your silence only fuels their passion to be understood.
Good Listener, Bad Body Language
I’ve discovered that those with Aspergers can be wonderful listeners. They hear and retain what we say, but you would never know it from their body language.
Their lack of eye contact and fidgety movements scream, ‘I don’t care! Now shut up and let me talk.’ But that’s not what they’re actually thinking. They may actually be interested in what we’re saying and are merely fidgeting because they’ve thought of something apropos to add to the discussion and are afraid they’ll forget it before we get to the end of our verbal paragraph.
Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid to talk to an Aspie, even if they appear to be disinterested or not listening. Their body language belies their actual interest in you.
Fascination with Phobias
Without the nerotypical experience of emotions, Aspies may seem almost fascinated with things that inspire fear, terror and horror within us. Nuclear war. Famine. Attacks. Kidnapping. Conspiracies. Dangers of all kinds.
The thought of these scenarios happening in real life is enough to cause great anxiety in NTs but Aspies seem to almost delight in discussing fearful scenarios in great detail. While talking about it may cause anxiety in us, talking about it decreases their anxiety. Aspie’s hate being blind-sided. Their anxiety decreases if they’ve thought of and prepared for every eventuality.
As a child raised by an Aspie who enjoys talking and warning us about danger, this can result in becoming a very fearful adult. Our Aspie may not have intended to scare us, but they did anyways.
Lesson #4: Don’t take Aspie’s fascination with danger too seriously. Ignore it whenever possible. Step away from the conversation if it’s filling you with anxiety.
I Don’t Miss You
While my mother rued her children leaving the nest, my siblings and I were struck by how much Mam didn’t seem to miss us. We discussed it amongst ourselves privately.
It was surprising how quickly she got on with her life. I mean, overnight quickly.
In fact, we didn’t really feel welcome at her home anymore. There were no pictures of my brother, sister and I displayed anywhere in her home. She quickly converted our vacated bedrooms into a sewing room and exercise room and didn’t even sound happy when we phoned her.
Finally, I mentioned it to her. ‘I love you so much’, she said, ‘I can’t bear to have you kids’ pictures always around, making me miss you more’.
It isn’t that Aspies don’t love or don’t have emotions. Their emotions are incredibly deep and incredibly strong. So strong, it brings them pain. So they protect themselves by hiding our pictures and staying so busy, they can’t miss us.
Lesson #5: Just be glad your Aspie parent is busy and happy. Do you really want them pining, rattling aimlessly around an empty house, staring at your childhood pictures, calling you ten times a day, begging you to visit constantly? No. Of course you don’t.
Being a neurotypical child raised by a parent with Aspergers is a challenge for both parent and child. A little education can go a long way to mediating the confusion, frustration, anger and hurt on both sides. My mother was a good mother. I just wish I’d known she was an Aspie.
Photo by springleaves