Asperger’s and Independence
Written by Laura Prather on August 18, 2018
I have loved every part of parenting. My son never screamed in a grocery store or defiantly told me, “No!”. I was lucky in that way. He made mommihood easy…until now.
I have to admit that I thought I had won the Motherhood lottery with my son. Even with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, everything was so easy. Maybe TOO easy. And you know the saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
With my son entering his final year of high school and being 18 already, I figured that I made it through parenting unscathed. Meaning, I honestly believed the role of parenting was winding down and now I was taking up the position of Advisor.
To be fair, because my son has Asperger’s, I knew there was a little more parenting ahead and he most-likely would be living with us for a few more years. But I figured it would be in an oversight capacity.
Here’s the thing about people with Asperger’s…
They tend to progress and mature slower than an average person. So despite having a son that is 18, and technically an adult, I have a son who is anywhere between 13–15 years-old emotionally and mentally.
How does that translate to real life?
- I have an 18-year-old who looks and acts like he might be 12 and still gets offered the kiddie menu when we go out.
- He is book smart. Sheldon Cooper smart if he wanted to be, but he doesn’t want to be. He wants to play.
- He still likes the type of games, videos, and jokes that a pre-teen would find entertaining. This means kids his age find him boring and juvenile. Which equates to no friends.
- Classmates tolerate his presence, but he doesn’t pick up the social cues to alert him that they find him a bore. As a result, he tags along like a puppy or a little brother, giving them no space.
- As an 18-year-old, he has his own car but doesn’t have a license. He has been on a permit for a year, yet still does not understand certain aspects of driving (like the safe way to turn or cross traffic). Making him very dangerous on the road without constant direction and supervision.
- He has 18-year-old expenses, but 13-year-old motivation. Some say this is typical teen behavior. Perhaps. But my once eager-to-work-hard-to-earn-what-he-wants child is now a C’est La Vie adult who prefers computers and video games to finding a job.
- Graphic Design is his preferred profession but good design to him looks like a 5th-grade art project.
- Understanding sarcasm and bullying is still way over his head.
- Being an “adult”, he doesn’t want parenting, but his pre-teen mentality needs it.
- The instruction, “clean your room”, elicits no action because his mind doesn’t know what to do with that order. Instead, he has to hear, “Make your bed”. Then, you can give him the next step. One instruction at a time. Makes it rather hard to get a job when you need that much detail and supervision.
- He’s very literal. To a fault. While driving the other day, he didn’t stop when we approached a busy road from a driveway out of our condo complex. We screamed as we saw the oncoming Toyota 4Runner. Our screams caused him to panic. Later I asked why he didn’t stop. His answer, “there wasn’t a stop sign”.
When he was a child, everything was easier to manage. His mistakes were not life-threatening. Now that he is an adult and wants to be independent (and I want him to be independent as well), it is a little more challenging deciding how to help him get there.
In one way he is a child. In another way, he is an adult. And the two intertwine often.
While I’m still teaching him how to drive, we’re also looking at colleges, and he had to register for Selective Service. But, I also still have to remind him to brush his teeth, take a shower, eat, and even put on proper clothes.
It’s a collision of two worlds — childhood and adulthood.
The two worlds have existed for a long time, the difference is that, before, he WAS a child but had adult tendencies due to his intelligence, logic, and vocabulary. Now it’s reversed. He is an adult, but still with quite a few childish habits and thinking.
This is why I now find myself challenged by parenting. When he was younger I admired and felt proud about the way he excelled intellectually – even relating to adults better than other kids. It was a bit charming as well. He was a little adult, but it alienated him from kids as they didn’t relate.
Now, I have this young adult who wants to fly free, but he can’t put on his pants without instruction on most days. Kids can get away with that. Adults, not so much. And his young adult friends don’t relate to his childish ways.
I can’t be angry because he’s not defiant — he’s immature.
I suppose he hasn’t changed much. Actually, he’s very much the same. Our expectations have changed. And rightfully so.
With Asperger’s, age increases, expectations increase, but their ability either stays the same or progresses much slower.
This is why parenting has become difficult. I’m not parenting a child anymore, I have an adult who still needs the oversight and instruction that someone much younger would need.
Even so, I’m grateful for a few things: I have my son at home a few extra years, I know he will one day be successfully independent, and I’ve had 18 smooth years so far. A little challenge now isn’t anything to complain about.
A SIDE NOTE:
I would never change my son. He isn’t broken or needs fixing in any way. In fact, I believe he is better off than the rest of us. He loves easily, trusts, never holds a grudge and approaches life simply. Unfortunately, his many wonderful traits make him an easy target for bad people. He doesn’t understand cruel words and bullies. When something does stress him out, he doesn’t have the capacity to manage it. Happy is his default switch and when something happens that isn’t happy – he has a hard time.
This little boy and now young man, has taught me about the character of Jesus and the Father heart of God more than any preacher, teacher, or my own understanding of the Word. While not perfect, he’s pretty darn close and I couldn’t be more proud of him (except maybe when he’s driving!).