Childing a Mother with Aspergers: Assuming Normal

The main features of Aspergers Syndrome, according to Dr. Hans Asperger, who is credited as the first to document this condition, are:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Little ability to form friendships
  • One-sided conversations
  • Intense absorption in a special interest
  • Clumsy movements

When we’re little, I think all children assume their parents are normal. The only real hint I got growing up that my mother was not typical was when I was a pre-teen. I was at my best friend’s house when for some forgotten reason my mother rang the doorbell. My friend Nancy answered the door; not knowing who was there, I stayed in the living room, where her parents were sitting nearby. When we heard my mother’s voice from the front porch, I saw Nancy’s parents exchange looks and a smirky laugh. I realized to my astonishment that they were laughing at my mother, but I had no idea why they considered her to be an object of their derision. I didn’t like Nancy’s parents as much after that.

Once we grew up, my siblings and I become more aware – without understanding why – that Mother was eccentric and unusually needy. After my father died and Mother moved to Atlanta near my sister, Anne would sometimes call when she’d get really frustrated by our mother’s inactivity, by her lack of interest in her family, by her poverty of feeling about anyone but herself. And by her willingness to ask anything of Anne and give as little as possible. Anne was surprised and hurt by Mother’s behavior, though the rest of us kids had seen more of it earlier. We had no idea then that there was a specific condition behind it, but we knew she was self-absorbed and passive and always ready to turn to her children to meet her needs, even as she ignored ours. Anne wondered if Mother was depressed. Maybe that explained why she would do so little and feared so much. I told her that I didn’t think her behavior matched the description of chronic depression, but I had no better theory.

That’s the thing about being close to someone with Aspergers when you don’t know what it is. It presents like a puzzle with critical pieces missing from the box or with a confusing combination of missing pieces plus extra pieces from some other puzzle, so that when you try to put it together, you create a surrealistic portrait with so many impenetrable sections that you just cannot definitively tell what it illustrates. So you decide you can see some familiar shape in the picture, and you stick with that image and repress the uncertainty. So with Mother, we assumed we saw a portrait of an average good mother, an anxious, fearful, languid mother, but still we believed she must be a good mother, right? We filled in the parts we couldn’t understand with our hopes and expectations, even as she consistently did not meet most of them.

Copyright 2014 Sarah Meyer Noel. All rights reserved.


One thought on “Childing a Mother with Aspergers: Assuming Normal

  1. Debra Prudhomme

    Wow!!! I read this with intense interest trying to understand what it was like growing up in that type of an environment. I cannot wait to read more!
    Deb Prudhomme



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