Childing a Mother with Aspergers: In the Interest of her Children

Several years ago, before we knew about Aspergers, I remember coming to a cold realization: I never once asked my parents for advice. It never occurred to me. I knew I was on my own. I hope my kids don’t feel that way about me. I’d rather they wish I’d stop advising them so much than think I don’t care that much about what happens to them. When one of her adult children has faced a setback – lost a job, had a medical emergency or gotten divorced – all my mother can think of is how to be sure we don’t ask her for any piece of her fortress of inherited money.

Well, wait. I did ask my mother for advice once, when my first-born was an infant. She laughed and said she didn’t remember much about infants. This from a woman who had four of them and who can remember what she was wearing and whether it was sunny and how the air smelled and what everyone said on March 23, 1937 and October 10, 1942 and May 4, 1946…

From Dr. Tony Attwood’s book The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome[1]

   “What are the reactions of the typical children in the family to having a parent with Asperger’s syndrome? Each child will have his or her own way of coping. The typical child can sometimes feel that he or she is ‘invisible’ or a nuisance to the parent with Asperger’s syndrome, and may feel deprived of the acceptance, reassurance, encouragement and love that he or she expects and needs.

    A daughter said she never felt loved by her father with Asperger’s syndrome…. Conversations with the parent with Asperger’s syndrome can be a prolonged monologue of the adult’s own problems, with only a brief and superficial interest in the child’s problems. The child learns not to express emotions such as distress or to expect compassion…”

I vacillate in finding my mother responsible for being such a disengaged parent. A lot but surely not all is the Aspergers. She is, after all, a person and not just a diagnosis. Some of her behavior must spring from other aspects that form her personality and experience independent of the syndrome, and maybe there are other causes too complex for me to identify. But is it unreasonable to believe she could have pushed herself to do better, to try harder to set herself aside and act in the interest of her children?

I know my mother wanted her children to be happy, dreamed of us being the loving set of siblings she’d loved reading about. She didn’t understand that this wish couldn’t come true unless she put her heart into nurturing us. Maybe she thought she did. But instead of empathizing with us, she used her energy and her emotional stores to calm herself against the world. She had so little to give her children that instead of being close to each other we competed hungrily for what small scraps she could spare.


[1] Attwood, Tony. The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2007.

Copyright 2014 Sarah Meyer Noel. All rights reserved.


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