As you may know, stepping outside of oneself and thinking of others doesn’t come naturally – or easily – to our kids. It’s just a part of AS.
And it’s a part that can be helped. A skill that can be improved upon. Ask any intelligent, caring AS adult.
For the rest of us, placing ourselves in another’s shoes is relatively easy. We’re not inherently “better” or anything, it’s just the way we’re wired. Just as people with Asperger’s Syndrome are gifted with that attention to detail and incredible memory.
But what if the parent – or parents – of an AS child also has Asperger’s Syndrome?
It’s not uncommon. Just as you see siblings, cousins and other family members with AS, you also see parent and child. There seems to be a genetic link – at times, with specific instances – with Asperger’s Syndrome.
So how do you teach a child something like social skills if that area is already a challenge for you?
It’s really hard. As I know from a friend of mine, who has been going through this for the past several years. Call her Mary.
Mary does what she can for her daughter. However, she gets a little bitter – understandably so – when teachers and other parents criticize her for not noticing how (and when) her daughter has been shunned by her peers. Or her odd behavior. Or monotone voice, ritualized behavior, and general lack of any social skills whatsoever.
But how could she notice these things when she suffers from them herself? When she struggles to understand why the people around her think and react the way they do every day?
She does, however, have a unique way of helping her daughter, even if it’s difficult to show her the social niceties. She can share her own experiences. She can understand what her daughter is going through in a way that nobody else can.
For instance, she remembers suddenly losing all of her friends in high school. She remembers going from friend to outcast in a matter of hours. To this day, she still doesn’t know why it happened, or what she did or didn’t do. Or what they did or didn’t do.
This is a typical story for someone with AS. It’s very hard to learn to find those nuances that connect action and reaction between people. Especially when it could have been something as simple as not saying or doing the expected thing at a crucial moment.
But knowing that others have been through this, that one is not alone and a freak (not my wording), can be tremendously helpful.
She can also share her learning process with her daughter. My husband, for instance, shares his way of understanding other people, and it’s enlightening in a special way for our son. Enlightening and helpful in a way I could never be; simply because he’s been there. He’s felt the pain, the confusion, the frustration.
And sharing those experiences helps both of them.
For the rest, Mary depends heavily on the people around her. She relies on teacher and guidance counselor communications (which is great, but how I wish they would set aside liability concerns and be more open with her!). She listens to other mothers when they talk about social concerns. She’s attended seminars at our local CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), and we’ve enrolled our children in the same social skills classes in the past. She runs a girl scout troop and enforces fair behavior. She and I have passed books and helpful advice back and forth over the years.
Having this support network – friends, family, teachers, etc – has been tremendous for helping her to cope, and for her daughter to learn skills she wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to.
But is it enough? Her daughter still struggles with bullying, meltdowns, awkward behavior, and being shunned.
Having a loving, caring family, though… that can’t be replaced. They bend over backwards trying to help ensure a good life for her. They attend meetings, are active with her school, and do what they can to help her. And while, at the moment, she’s busy blaming her mother for anything and everything (like a typical teen), she knows she’s cared about.
So yes. In my books, that’s enough. That’s more than enough. We should all be so lucky.
Note: Happy Mother’s Day to all you amazing mothers out there, Asperger’s Syndrome or not; your care and efforts have helped shape us into who we are today. And for all you younger mothers: keep up the good work!