The Damage Done: Over-Indulging the Aspergers Child


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?


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


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.


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.

Anonymous 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.

Unknown said...

What a disgusting comment. Poor impulse control and anger are part of this man's disability. I am in no way surprised that he hit on the shoulder a psychiatrist who, having admitted himself that he had no experience of asd, had absolutely no business treating this man. And a disabled child is not a "cross to bear". I think the fact that this parent's account gives that impression has far more to do with the issues they've experienced than "overindulgence".

gld123 said...

Thank you, Kendra. It is not always the parents' fault, and as you say, the provider should not be treating someone with a disorder he has no experience with. There is no information about what led up to the incident and whether this person is receiving appropriate treatment from this and other providers. Of course hitting someone is unacceptable and I'm sure the patient and parents know that. Sadly, even if you devote a great deal of energy to discipline and limit-setting, some individuals with ASD will still have trouble expressing frustration/anger appropriately. It sounds like this family needs support to help their son with self regulation and mental health rather than judgment (which may be somewhat or highly inaccurate) about what they may or may not have done in the past.

Denys Picard said...

Could it be that your child was misdiagnosed. When youngsters, mostly adolescent or children demonstrate certaim marginal behaviors, they are now classified excessively quickly in cliché categories of mental illness...it appears to be very bureaucratically appealing and easy as a solution. I would have been interested to have the exams he went through to determine he was Aspergers. Because, nowadays, as soon as someone demonstrates little social skills and apparent low Emotional Empathy, he is quickly classified as Aspergers.
Was he tested for Alexthymia?
Was he tested for Cognitive Ampathy.
Was he tested for dyslexia and/or dyscalculia?
Was he tested for IQ.
Did he get an EEG. (It has been determined, against scientific belief and popular fashion, that Autistic Spectrum Disorder patients suffered from to low synaptic connectivity in the hemispheres. It has now been determinied thatASD people have a greater quantity of connection between both hemisphere. And for low functioning autistic patients (Autistic disorder) it has been establish that the problem lies with the volatility of use of these connections. A normal person will activate these connections in a moderate range, while the autistic will use them excessively or very little...as if there were no discernment mechanism, simply an on and off switch. Now Aspergers are high functioning, and no parameters have been scoientificly published yet as to the use of these excessive connection.
Does your child continuously engage, long hours every day, in a narrow focus task?
Denys Picard (not a medical professional)

Anon said...

I know a friend of mine who is actually about twenty four years old with autism, I've had to temporarily live with her family due to lack of a home for a while. Dear, god, was it the absolute most hectic mess I have ever experienced. For the longest time I could never tell if this girl was just unable to understand due to autism, or if she was just never told what to do and what not to do as a child. Now, what makes me a bit worried however is that coming with her autism she has a mental disability that forces her to have the mental capacity of a very young child. So she absolutely loves getting things. This is obviously something that has created chaos in the house multiple times, because there have been so many times where she had wanted to receive something and her mother was too broke to get it, and she'd go into a terrifying meltdown to a point where she'd slam doors in people's faces, scream and throw things at the dog, and she'd just overall make the absolute worst out of everything, crying her eyes out as if someone was trying to kill her. She would always speak absolutely horrible to her mother (She'd always tell her mom to shut up when her mom tries to remind her about something, and she's had scream fests at the poor lady for not being able to afford anything because her nine hour job hardly pays her), and her birthday party was the worst this year... Her mother couldn't afford a cake. Instead she got her a Monster cupcake. And for the entirity of the day, not only did she not like the taste of the cupcake, but she cried and yelled at everyone on social media practically telling them to go away when they wished her a happy birthday. She even got a laptop for her birthday, but apparently that didn't count because she didn't get it exactly on her birthday. At one point, she used the sympathy of her own father's death years ago, and tried forcing tears out of her eyes (when she openly admitted she didn't cry about her father's death, as I was on the phone literally with her as she got the news) just so that she could beg for an early Christmas present. And don't get me started on how she literally refused for me to associate with any friends because "she felt left out". And she refused to lose any attention off of me. She has to be one of the most absolutely spoiled human beings I have seen in my entire life but I physically cannot handle the living situation, because I have autism myself, but this is just scary... Does these same rules apply to those who have the mental capacity of a child...? She has a bit more on her plate, but... This poor girl even said herself she's terrified of being on her own. She can't imagine being out without her mom, and I honestly can't imagine it either...

Unknown said...

You are happy? Wow the self righteousness of some people. While yes I agree that it is not acceptable to hit anyone unless in self defense it is ridiculous that a medical worker could not tell the difference between reactions from a meltdown and an assault. Especially seeing that this pro is unfamiliar with autism disorder. A child with autism does not need to be charged with assault he needs to be taught what he did was unacceptable and find a way to work around it. Just like any regular Neuro typical child. You are a disgrace

Unknown said...

Absolutely that is normal. Your husbands feelings are normal. As long as he isn't saying those things to your son he is doing just fine.

Anonymous said...

From working with autistic Children and adults, I found this article very helpful. The behavior problems I see with several students of mine stem from zero discipline by the Parents. Watching a 35 year old have a tantrum and mistreat people without any consequences surprises me.
It’s as though the Parents have no moral compass. He’s placated never held a job and quite frankly the Parents are delusional to even suggest he will have a career. He cannot clean up for himself and spends most of his time on the computer in his messy room. Any time anyone makes an attempt to discipline him, they are thwarted by the parents. The program they have paid by Medicaid is a huge joke.
He can be physically and verbally abusive.
I believe this adult will eventually wind up in a mental institution and I can honestly state the parents are responsible.

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