HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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The Damage Done: Over-Indulging the Aspergers Child

Question

Our son is a 34-year-old with Asperger's who is living in supported housing. He went into his first apartment 2 years ago. It was very difficult as he was so angry and upset and even took revenge on us by smashing a television. He has had a lot to deal with. He has Crohn's Disease although it is in remission, with two operations at 17 and 19. He is defiant at times, super communicative, although of course it’s very much like verbal diarrhea. We haven't been too effective with parenting him, I think because of feeling sorry for him. This is coming back to bite us.

He sees a psychiatrist through the community mental health services (about once a month) and also a caseworker more frequently. About a month ago, he hit his psychiatrist (glancing blow on the shoulder), however the doctor has now charged him with assault. We are at our wits end. His MD says because it's a first offense, he will not go to jail but probably get a warning, maybe probation. His psychiatrist, a young fellow, told us a couple of years ago that he really doesn't know much about Asperger's as our son is his only AS client.

We know we have to change our communication with him, but my husband is feeling very sorry for him and not drawing a line in the sand very much. Our son is rude often, and often escalates into anger. Other times he is loving and almost normal. Can you offer any immediate suggestion?

Answer

Parents with an Aspergers (high-functioning autism) child often have trouble knowing how much to help out their “suffering” child at certain times in his life. But, is it really bad to “cushion” him or to “feel sorry” for him? Unfortunately, the answer is a profound YES!

Let me be very clear about this: If the Aspergers child hasn’t had to work for most of his materials things and privileges over the years …and if parents have “stepped-in” time and time again to over-protect and over-assist the child …it WILL cause serious problems for that child later in life. Parents are not doing their Aspergers child any favors by over-indulging and over-assisting, in fact, quite the opposite – THEY ARE HURTING THEIR CHILD!

We’re talking about over-indulgent parenting here. Over-indulged children have too much stuff, too much assistance, and soft structure (i.e., lax rules, few chores, aimless). As a result, this child grows up with very little “self-reliance” (a critical skill to have to “make it” in the real world as an adult).

Over-indulgent parents often view themselves as loving their child unconditionally by permitting most requests and offering their child free reign with few restrictions. They also believe that being good parents entails supplying the child with most of his wishes – and assisting at the first sign that the child is struggling.

Being “taken care of” all of your life has grave consequences. Children who are over-indulged have great goals, but because they are so accustomed to being catered to, they do not have the skills or drive for achieving their ambitions. Impulsivity, refusing to take responsibility, abusing drugs, continuing to live at home as an adult-child, spoiled behavior, and so on, all stem from needing control – but having no ability to appropriately exercise it.

The “easier life” makes for children who feel “privileged” and who actually miss out on some important social skills (e.g., how to make friends, work with others, achieve self-sufficiency, etc.). Doing well in college, finding and keeping a job, and raising a family takes individual hard work, but if the child is used to not having to work for his money or interact with people in order to do well, his lack of determination will be the catalyst for his downfall.

Over-indulged children don’t know the difference between “needs and wants.” Ultimately, knowing what you “want” versus what you actually “need” is something that comes with maturity, but when a child is so privileged that he gets most of what he wants, it’s hard to know the difference. In general, children that are used to being the center of attention and not having to work for their share at life are disadvantaged as adults.

Parents are supposed to set a good example and give their child a strong background in the “real world” so that he can succeed on his own someday. If children don’t learn early on that making a living doesn’t come easy, their lives won’t be as fulfilled because they’ll have a strong sense “entitlement” (e.g., “You owe me …I shouldn’t have to work for anything”).

Directives for Over-Indulgent Parents—
  1. Allow your child to experience the negative consequences and painful emotions of poor choices.
  2. Differentiate between your child’s wants and his needs.
  3. Discipline rather than nag.
  4. Discipline without later reducing or negating the discipline.
  5. If you have tried to correct your parent’s mistakes by attempting to be a “better” parent, know that (a) you turned out all right, and (b) you may be erring on the other end of the extreme.
  6. Keep an eye out for your child’s guilt-trips.
  7. Know that your child does not always have to be happy in order to have high self-esteem.
  8. Know when to be your child’s parent and when to be his buddy.
  9. Learn to say, and stick with, “no”.
  10. Make sure you and your child’s other parent are united and bonded on most issues.
  11. Pay attention to your feelings of guilt about how you have parented, and know it is a sign that you are – once again – beating up on yourself.
  12. Think in terms of “everyone has a responsibility to the solution” rather than attributing blame.
  13. When you catch yourself feeling sorry for your child, know it is a sign that you are – once again – taking on too much responsibility.
  14. When your child needs to be comforted/cheered-up, do so with active listening, empathy, paraphrasing, validation, hugs, etc. rather than giving him things (e.g., unearned privileges, food, gifts, fun activities).
  15. Your child is a priority, but allow your marriage to come first (it’s the foundation for the entire family).

In Summary—

Overindulgent parenting (i.e., parenting from parents who fail to enforce age-appropriate limits) is associated with children who:
  • are ill-tempered
  • are manipulative
  • are overly dependent on parents
  • are self-centered
  • are verbally/physically aggressive
  • have less concern for others
  • lack assertive skills
  • lack motivation

The methods of indulgence are:
  • over-nurturing
  • soft structure
  • too much freedom
  • too much stuff

The reasons parents over-indulge their children:
  • correct their own parent’s mistakes/repair their own childhood issues
  • don’t have much money (so give too much freedom)
  • feel guilty
  • feel sorry for the kid
  • parent fears confrontation/lacks assertiveness
  • response to a major life event
  • the parent was overindulged as a child

…as a result, they parent their child based on what THEY want for him rather than on what he actually needs …or they parent their child the way THEY wanted to be parented by their parents.

The results of overindulgence:
  • child believes the rules do not apply to him
  • child depends on the parent to give him what he wants, but at the same time, resents being dependent …and this resentment comes out as anger and ungratefulness and a strong desire for more and more and more
  • child does not get along well with authority figures
  • child feels entitled to privileges but not responsible for his actions
  • child has adjusted so completely to (a) being catered and/or (b) not having to be responsible for anything that he cannot function on his own
  • the child is in charge rather than the parent (tail is wagging the dog)

Parents who overindulge have trouble:
  • believing the fact that they are overindulging their child
  • defining the difference between nurturing behavior and overindulgence
  • enforcing discipline and setting limits
  • knowing when to be the child’s “buddy” and when to be his parent
  • saying -- and sticking with -- “no”

Launching Adult Children With Aspergers: How To Promote Self-Reliance

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have an 18 year old son, soon to be graduating, who has not been formally diagnosed with Aspergers, but who is most definitely on the spectrum, and is high functioning for the most part. He is in mainstream classes, and has had an IEP since kindergarten. He is an extremely easy going person, but lacks socialization skills, and has basically no friends to speak of. He enjoys being by himself, playing video games, of course. He has recently starting participating in on-line gaming, and is socializing with others in this way. Fortunately we own a business, and are able to expose him to the real world, the working world. He does ok, under my supervision. He is not learning disabled in any way. He just is like a square, trying to fit into a circle. He simply doesn't fit in for some reason. He has unique and quirky ways of course. He is extremely organized, and punctual. He is a creature of habit, but can conform to sudden changes. Ok, I must go to work. My sister, who is famous for researching topics, found your website and forwarded it to me. I don't know if you are familiar with the book "One, Two, Three Magic." I used this technique on my son in his earlier years, and it did work like magic. It promotes stopping and starting good and bad behaviors.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark:
Thanks for the reply. I can see that, in many ways, we have made many mistakes. I am going to explore some options, including ordering your reading materials. I read with interest a short message on your website suggesting that we don't get into arguements with our son, etc. and the key is to be loving but firm.
I think what is often going on with him is a power struggle. We "feel sorry" for him because he has disabilities but maintining that attitude is a big mistake, I agree.
Now, a couple of questions.
Do you think at 34 that it's too late to make changes with him? He can be very nice at times but arguementative, rude and insolent at other times. He's also very dependent especially on my husband to take him out for meals, etc. and to pay his bills. (He is in supported housing and on disability and exceeds his income by about two to three hundred dollars a month.
I should mention that he was diagnosed with Asperger's just four years ago after a hospitalization for some delusional thinking. I really don't think he is delusional, however, just fixated on some things such as Sylvester Stallone and conspiracy theories which he picks up from TV.
Should we gradually introduce new rules including making being with us (visiting us etc.) a reward for better behaviour.
Thanks for your help.

Mark said...

Re: Do you think at 34 that it's too late to make changes with him?

Absolutely not. He's not an "old dog" that cannot be taught "new tricks" just yet (if he were 63, if would be a different story).

Re: Should we gradually introduce new rules including making being with us (visiting us etc.) a reward for better behaviour.

Yes. That was my main general point in the previous email.

Mark

Anonymous said...

For my son, it's important to address the feelings and behavior seperately. For example:

I'm sorry you're frustrated. What's a better way to handle things when you're feeling frustrated instead of yelling.

I understand that you're upset. We don't use rude words in this family, so why don't you take a break in your room and when you calm down we can talk.

Anonymous said...

lol okay well then my real question is what can I do to help my husband accept his 14 year old son for who he is he keeps telling me he feels gypped that he does not have a son to do guy stuff with and this hurts me and I can not imagine how my son would feel if he ever hears his dad say this. I love our son just the way he is, He is our child and that is all that matters. And now he has started bring up not knowing if his son will carry on the family name or not. I feel funny sharing this here but I am afraid if I share with others that they will judge to harshly. Are these normal dad feelings?

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,Im in Adelaide Australia and I must say your site is so informative and has the most valuable information that I have come across. ...You are spot on with your advice and comments.. I have a very low functioning ID/Autistic adult child and a HF ASD child and let me tell you its a bloody hard job!!!. so THANKYOU for all your very informative information to us parents.. ASD is a hidden disability because they look normal but their behaviour isnt... I feel that alot of the general community think that these children are just naughty,rude and undiciplined children. I know because Iv been there done that and still doing it!! !lol ... my ASD child was not diagnosed until 9yrs so he missed out on all the very important early intervention which was very disheartening.. Dispite my persistence over years going from one medical specialist to the other ( who just didnt get the disabiiity) with no diagnosis insight other than ADHD or parenting issues. I knew instinctively that my son had something more going on with him..As a young child he didnt have the ability to play with other children, he didnt know how to, he would hit out at them.. It wasnt until last year I had some advice to go to a specific psychiatrist who told me pretty much straight away that he has Asd plus, which means he has several other diagnosis as well... Im so indebted to this psychiatrist "who gets it" through and through.. Theres a Dr. in Canada who has written a book about the Aspergers + child, no other specialist here knew about A+..so thankyou again for your website.

Anonymous said...

That's how I feel i have no answers but I am very torn between the two guys in my life its very stressful I feel like I am always taking up for my son then getting fussed at because I am not on my husbands side

Anonymous said...

he shouldn't have to be told, If he doesn't get the 'situation' at this stage,he probably never will,it's not about him !

Anonymous said...

U definitely have to set expectations and equally enforce them..also if he is rude to others make him apologize immediately to that person, and put enforce another consequence also. Our son had attempted to be rude a few times and the embarassment of apologizing had straightened out the situation...very seldem happens now..i think consistency and accountability are key...let him know that his choices come with both positive/negative consequences and it is his choices that dictate which one he gets

Anonymous said...

Our son went through a stage of being rude, angry and swearing. It can be very frustrating for them. I dont' believe my son has a disability, I see it more as a gift that he is very intelligent. I tell him he's my little Einstein. He has a great self esteem but it has been a lot of time and talking to get him to this point. We tell him it is not okay to swear and we don't not tolerate the talk. We take him to his room and tell him to think about the way he speaks to others and that swearing hurts peoples feelings. He is 10 soon and rarely swears now. He doesn't get as angry as much. I have taught him if his brother or sister make him angry, come and tell mum, if it's a game he's getting frustrated with I ask him to take a break. It's like any child, consistency and persistance.

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for you words I think the fact that my husband is military and gone off and on does not help I think when he leaves he gets the break and maybe lets go of how his son is at home when he does not have to deal with it and then coming home again maybe makes it feel all new like starting over every time.

Florence said...

Very happy the doctor had him charged with assault. It is never OK to hit a health care worker, be they the nursing assistant or the chief physician. It is simply unacceptable, be they a person with autism or a neuro-typical person.

grevyturty said...

34 and he's assaulting health care workers?? Are you sure he's not just a sociopath? Unbelievable. Sorry you were saddled with this cross to bear.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually. Thus, the best treatment for Aspergers children and teens is, without a doubt, “social skills training.”

Click here to read the full article…

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Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

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Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes. The hardest part is you feel like you’ll never actually get to know your child and how he/she views the world.

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