Adult Children With Aspergers: Tips For Parents

Does your “adult-child” with Aspergers (high functioning autism) often resist your guidance?

As the parent of an adult child with Aspergers, you may have discovered that as he gets older and feels the need to assert his independence, it may be harder and harder to take advice from you. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s important for our older children to learn to solve their own problems. Especially as they become our adult children. Still, it’s tough to see the effectiveness of, “Because I said so,” recede into the distance.

If you see a continuing need to be involved in your child’s life as he grows into an adult, you may need to acknowledge that he is becoming his own person, and find appropriate ways to influence his decisions. This can be a real challenge.

Individuals with Aspergers often have trouble with subtle distinctions. They may think, “Adults are independent. Being independent means making my own decisions. If I take my mother’s advice, I’m not acting like an adult.” So, what do we do when we want to respect our adult child’s quest for independence and still help them over or around the obstacles he will likely face?

My 23-year-old grandson, Kyle, was diagnosed with Aspergers when he was 12. He has a B.A. in music, but has gone back to school to complete a two-year college program in business. He hopes what he learns about business will help him land a full-time job. He’s living at home and working part-time at our local YMCA.

While he’s done well in his business classes, Kyle recently had difficulties with some long-term assignments for a complicated accounting class. He was frustrated and his mother was concerned. Kyle made it clear that he wanted to prove he could handle this without our help.

The solution involved my daughter engaging the assistance of Kyle’s “job coach.” The coach met with Kyle to work out a new plan, including studying in the library away from distractions. They came up with a schedule for completing parts of the assignments. This schedule included, if necessary, approaching his professor before the projects were due, to request additional time.

On his own, Kyle enlisted a “study buddy” to explain some of the difficult concepts involved and started breaking down the obstacles that had caused his frustration. His mother was greatly relieved. We were also impressed with Kyle’s initiative in seeking help.

As a parent of a child with Aspergers, you may have gotten used to constantly having your hands on the safety net. You may have spent a lot of time wondering when to deploy it and when to whip it behind your back and say, “What safety net!?” But if you can gradually forgo the direct approach and guide your adult child to find the help he needs, even if it’s not from you, you may just reach the Holy Grail point for parents. That’s the point where your "grown-up" is competent and confident enough to ask for your advice because he values it -- not because he’s afraid he can’t succeed without it.

Click here for more information on how you, the parent, can foster the development of high self-esteem and confidence in your older Aspergers child.

Best Comment:

I have a very smart son with Aspergers. I did not realize this until he was a Senior in high school. Many of his teachers thought he had ADHD but in some classes he got As, in other classes he barely passed. Meaning he only worked on the classes that interested him.

This is what he does when we (my husband and I) are trying to talk to him about his life. He is mute. He will not speak, He is expressionless. Sometimes I see a pained look on his face but he will not articulate his thoughts.

He refuses to tell us what he is thinking.

When he was in a big mess academically at school, high school or community college, he would never tell us what was going on. He would never explain nor would he tell us what he needed to succeed. He has never tried to negotiate, tell us he will try harder, or even, I hate this subject it is dead boring to me, would have been a relief to hear.

He barely managed to finish High School. We had to place him in the alternative High School his senior year because he was failing most of his classes. at the comprehensive HS. The alternative HS was a place that offered a bare bones curriculum and students did their homework at the school. It was not a college bound curriculum. We hated to do it but we wanted him to graduate and get a HS diploma.

He went to one semester of community college, he failed to register early, so he was not able to get the classes he wanted or needed for a 4 year transfer. He failed everything except Astronomy. We pressed him hard to enroll for a second semester, which he did and then he quit after two days of classes.

He did tell me after he quit the second semester: "Nobody talks to me there" and he was in tears about, about 'all my failures'. That is about the first and last time he has ever expressed himself to me about how he feels about school. He spent about six months at home, doing nothing, laying in bed a lot. I begged him to get on an anti-depressant. He finally did. By last July he had gotten himself a job as a dishwasher at a high end restaurant in the next town over. He refused to try and get a job at the shopping mall near us because he was afraid of seeing someone from his old comprehensive HS. Evidently he had run into someone at the Mall who was snotty to him and bragged about the great college they were going to go to....and scorned him because he ended up at Village HS and was going to go the community college route. We live in a town of High Achievers and helicopter parents super sized.

We thought he was doing great at this restaurant, they asked him to buy kitchen knives and they were starting to train him to do kitchen prep work and pantry work. I was proud of him for keeping a tough job that many kids would have said, this is beneath me, this is too hard, I quit. He also seemed to have friends at this restaurant, and we ate there once and the manager told us 'he is a good man', all great.

However, he quit the job two weeks ago. And he did not tell us. We figured it out for ourselves when he did not go into work two days in a row. He had also barricaded himself in his room and was avoiding us and refusing to speak to us.

I finally got into his room last Sunday at 4:30 in the morning when I was awake, worrying about him, heard him stirring about, I heard him open the door and decided, I am going to walk into his room and I did.

Predictably enough he did not want to talk to us. Finally he said, "I wasn't fired, I quit." His Dad immediately asked did you give two week’s notice? And he said, ten days. We said you can have two weeks off then you need to find a job, or take classes at a trade school, a college, a cooking school, to get some skills, and get a job. I asked him if there was a new hire at the restaurant that was bullying him, he said no. He took a ton of bullying in public school, that was nightmare.

I am not looking forward to talking to him about what his plans are now. Because he will not tell us. He will give us the silent treatment.

What is he doing with himself right now? He sleeps all day and is up all night on his computer. He has also been teaching himself to read and write Japanese very diligently. Classic aspergers right? We told him he gets two weeks off to do as he likes, then he needs to start job hunting, and get a job, or go back to school or a combination of both.

I know he is brilliant but he does not accept the diagnosis of Aspergers. I went to a two day conference with Michelle Winner Garcia, if you do not know who she is, find out, she is brilliant at teaching people on the Asperger spectrum social skills, she works with kids, she works with adults with doctorates from Harvard. My son refuses to meet with her. His response to anything I say about Aspergers is "I DON"T CARE". Her take on my son is, well at his age he is going to have to bump around for a few more years on his own before he will be willing to seek help.

How do we deal with his mute behavior? I know it is intentional, I know it is his way of refusing to interact but it is maddening to deal with. We want to give him a few options, such as you can go to a local trade school and learn to code for computers, you can take a Japanese language program at USF as a visiting student, you do not need to enroll in their degree program, you will get a Certificate. I could see him becoming a 'document translator' for Japanese.

I fear he will always be under employed or unemployed if he does not work on his social issues and get the education he needs to have a career worthy of his brain power.

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