How can I get my spouse more involved with our Aspergers daughter? He is generally supportive, but doesn’t seem willing to learn anything about Aspergers or get involved with our daughter’s treatment. I’m starting to wonder whether he’s ever going to get to know our daughter at all!
Unfortunately, you speak for many mothers in your situation. There is a sense of loneliness that many moms experience after the diagnosis. It seems to come from the general trend that males have a hard time facing things they can’t fix. They feel powerless and inept when they can’t simply work harder to fix their youngster’s “disability.” Your spouse probably feels more powerless than you do.
The dynamic of a family with an Aspergers (high-functioning autistic) youngster tends to follow a pattern where the dad focuses on the long-term problems (e.g., financial burdens), while the mom responds more emotionally as she faces the burdens of the daily care of the Aspie. By being less involved in the daily interaction with their kids, dads tend to have a somewhat longer period of denial about the disorder and its implications. When males do express their feelings, they tend to show anger or frustration.
To make matters worse, many fathers of Aspergers children have undiagnosed Aspergers themselves. And some wives report that such husbands tend to be hard driven, inexpressive, pragmatic individuals, devoid of strong emotions or the capacity to nurture, always more at home with work than with their families.
Recently, a mom of an Aspergers child (who I have been counseling) told her spouse that if he really loved her the way he said, then he would come to a few counseling sessions with her. She needed that from him and insisted. He came and was glad he did. He probably thought about Aspergers as much as she did, but kept it all inside. He was very expressive about what a great job she was doing, but simultaneously very discouraged about his Aspergers child’s progress.
One dad told me he never read anything about Aspergers or went to any appointments until his wife had to go out of town for a weekend for a funeral. Left home with their Aspergers youngster, he came to a realization of what his wife’s daily life was really like, and he began to take a different attitude. He began to learn about Aspergers and get involved in his child’s treatment.
Everyone deals with parenting a child with special needs differently, and this difference may be even more pronounced in a family with an Aspergers youngster. It is very typical for one parent to become immersed in the world of Aspergers after the diagnosis, while the other parent takes a back seat. Your spouse’s supportiveness is a positive step, and not getting as involved at this stage does not necessarily mean an unwillingness to do so. He must come to terms with - and get to know - your daughter in his own way, and at his own pace.
Encouragement and support for your spouse to get more involved in your daughter’s life need not include any accusations at all. Keep your spouse informed about your daughter and what you learn about her and her Aspergers. Leave the information around for your spouse to pick up and take a look at in his own time. Continue to encourage positive family interaction as much as possible.
You may feel somewhat resentful at times that you are the one doing all of the work here. You may be more able than your spouse to deal with your daughter’s diagnosis and all of the planning and involvement that goes along with it. If your spouse has a particularly hard time accepting your daughter’s diagnosis, then some counseling may be helpful. But, first try to gently nudge him along and to talk to him about your feelings and his with regard to your daughter. Perhaps things can begin to move forward from there. You can certainly let your spouse know how his seeming lack of involvement or interest makes you feel (but no accusations).
Fathers tend to be slower in this aspect of parenting an Aspergers youngster, so don’t get discouraged. Let your spouse know that you appreciate him, and let him know what you need.