Parents with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Part 1

Many parents with Asperger's (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) experience significant difficulties in parenting -- especially if one their children is also on the autism spectrum. Even though the challenges experienced by moms and dads on the spectrum are significant, these challenges are not well understood in the child welfare community. This is in part due to the fact that the AS or HFA parent is able to parent adequately on many fronts, yet he or she is invisibly "disabled" (i.e., the disorder is not readily apparent to the observer). 

Many AS and HFA parents are relatively high functioning in the workplace, but struggle raising their children due to social skills deficits. As any mother or father can tell you, parenting involves a great deal of social expertise, conflict-resolution skills, empathy, listening skills, stress-management, and effective disciplinary techniques -- just to name a few.

Proper parenting is a monumental task that involves (a) providing emotional, relational and financial support, (b) guidance, (c) nurturing, (d) teaching, (e) short and long-term planning. It is a challenge even for parents who have not been diagnosed with a disorder.

Problems in parenting are the result of some of the traits associated with AS and HFA (e.g., weak central coherence, poor cognitive shifting, lack of a theory of mind, etc.) -- not the result of poor parenting skills. While these parents do suffer from significant neurological deficits that can be mistaken as poor parenting, these deficits have more to do with how their brain is wired. They must not be viewed as "bad" parents, rather parents who struggle with a disorder that can affect their parenting abilities.

Most moms and dads with AS and HFA work very hard to understand their kids -- and are eager to parent in their kid’s best interests. But, due to the challenges associated with the disorder, they often fall short. This, in turn, can create a lot of guilt and frustration in the parent who may be viewing herself or himself as a "failure." 

Unfortunately, when these parents begin to experience significant parent-child conflict, they rarely seek outside assistance in the form of parent education. Instead, they may continue parenting in a rather immature and haphazard manner, which often results in their children parenting themselves and/or growing up too  quickly (i.e., they become little adults who appear much older than they are). 

Autistic parents who continue making the same parenting mistakes over and over do so because they lack insight into their disorder and how it impacts their role as a parent. To make matters even more difficult, many moms and dads on the spectrum have a youngster with similar profiles to their own and who are a huge challenge to them. 

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