Childing a Mother with Aspergers: The Most Real Thing

“The major source of stress in life for the person with Asperger’s Syndrome is social contact, and increased stress generally leads to anxiety disorders and depression.”

– Dr. Tony Attwood [1]

My mother is an optimist. Although her days are punctuated by battles with corrosive stress, the struggle for control over her fears has not made her bitter. She is generally happy and readily turns for comfort to her reliable and simple sources of pleasure. She is not a critic, an exhibitionist or a snob. When she buys things, it is never to please or impress other people; her purchases are things that bring her comfort, protection or joy. She is content with a good meal, a lovely view and her thoughts.

At 83, she has outlived her youthful passion for romance and the perfect family. Today, she would just as soon be left alone with her memory bank but for the many services she wants. Even the most compliant workers at her assisted living facility bring a serving of stress and mystery along with the breakfast tray. If silent elves could bring her meals and wash her hair and rub her feet, she would be relieved to be free of so much interaction with other people and the endless puzzles they bear.

I understand that it is remarkable that my mother can remain cheerful and pleased with life when she is so occupied with fear and anxiety. I have come to think of her emotional situation as being forced to defend herself every day from a volatile and ravenous mountain lion, fending this fearsome creature off while she tries to conduct the rest of her life without taking her eyes off the lion. No wonder she needs so much from everyone else. No wonder she can’t spare her thoughts for how other people feel and what they need. That threatening lion is always paramount, and the rest of us should appreciate that she is courageously carrying the burden of the front line all by herself.

As long as that ruthless lion stalks her, it demands the devotion of her emotional center, her executive functions and her creativity. She can’t help it if the people around her don’t understand the power of the lion or if they resent always living on war-time rations of her attention and love and effort. If I look at her this way, we are the selfish and needy ones and she is the heroine.

But we can’t see that lion, and I guess you could say we struggle to empathize with her preoccupation with it. We her four children have been hungry all our lives while she struggles with it and while she demands that we act as her supply line for what to us is an unnecessary and pointless battle. And that’s the crux of it: to her the lion is the most real thing in the world, and to us it is imaginary, and fearing it is a waste of life and feeling and purpose.

Even now that we know about her personal lion, and now that we no longer wonder why she is always so absorbed with it and unable to connect with anyone else, we are still isolated from her by her tenacious faith and the way her struggle reduces us to little more than the channels that provide her needs.


[1] Attwood, Tony. Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, 1998, p. 148.

Copyright 2014 Sarah Meyer Noel. All rights reserved.


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