Parenting Aspergers: When Your Spouse Doesn't Agree with the Diagnosis: One Woman's Story
The other day I was speaking with Jan, the mother of a 14 year-old boy who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome (AS). She explained to me how the diagnosis finally made sense of her son's sometimes quirky behavior. For years, she had looked into different things: dyslexia, written expression disorder, ADHD and anxiety, but none of these really fit. After learning about AS, she finally had her "ah-ha" moment; it all made sense.
Her son had many of the classic symptoms of AS: he had a couple good friends but always had trouble initiating conversations or joining other children when they were playing, he didn't understand jokes, humor or sarcasm, he had extreme sensory processing issues, he was content spending large amounts of time by himself, he had a hard time with play that required imagination, he became frustrated easily when things didn't go according to plan, he thought in extremely linear, logical ways that she was always interpreting situations for him. His father and siblings didn't understand the way he thought and he didn't understand how they thought, making communication difficult. Although he didn't have one intense interest, there were often times he became obsessed with a certain topic; Matchbox cars, Lego or Pokeman or other toys would become a singular interest and it was the only thing he would "play" with for a period of time.
But while Jan agreed with the diagnosis, her husband did not. He resented her wanting to "label" their son and felt she was looking for excuses for his stubbornness and shyness. The more she tried to explain what AS was, the angrier he got. He wouldn't even consider that there was "something wrong" with his son and felt they just needed to push him a little harder to make friends and give him time. "Some kids need more time than others, when he is interested in a girl it will all change," her husband said. As far as the stubbornness, he was sure it was due, at least in part, to being spoiled.
At first Jan was angry at her husband, she tried to get him to read about AS but he wasn't interested. She tried to convince him that her son had AS but it always ended up in an argument. But Jan wasn't willing to give up or allow her son to struggle because his father couldn't accept the diagnosis. Jan knew that her husband loved his son and wanted what was best. He wanted to see his son succeed, he wanted all "the good things in life" for all his children. She decided to use his love and his desire for to see his son succeed as a place to start.
While Jan accepts that her way of dealing with the "non-belief" of her son's AS diagnosis worked for her, she knows it isn't right for everyone but hopes that by sharing, some other families may be helped.
- Because Jan had been the parent most involved in her children's education, not because her husband didn't care but his work hours usually excluded him from conferences, working with teachers and the school district wasn't impacted by her husband's lack of acceptance of the diagnosis. She continued to work with the school, talking with teachers individually about her son's diagnosis and what it meant for him in the classroom. He was bright and didn't ever have academic problems. He usually was on the honor role but because he did also have signs of written expression disorder, she worked with teachers to help him overcome some of the struggles that came from that.
- Jan focused on finding "structured" activities for her son to be involved in. He actually was pretty social, as long as he didn't need to initiate conversations or social interactions. She worked with both her husband and her son to find activities he would enjoy and would get him out of the house. They signed him up for swimming, track and martial arts classes, focusing on individual sports rather than team sports. They looked for community clubs, classes and events that would give her son something to do after school and on the weekends, in other words "ready-made" activities rather than those her son would need to coordinate. Her husband ended up getting involved in her son's teams and classes so these became ways for them to bond together and have shared interests.
- At home, Jan, without mentioning AS, talked about her son's different perspective on life. Instead of focusing on the diagnosis, she focused on how different everyone is and helped to bridge the gap between her husband's outgoing personality and abstract thought process and her son's rigid thought process. She talked about how everyone is different and unique and helped both understand one another. Once she dropped the "label" of AS at home, her husband became more accepting of personality differences and was more willing to set up household rules according to how her son thought.
Jan knows that her situation is different than other families. She knows that taking on most of the burden of coordinating educational needs and being the peace maker at home isn't the most ideal situation for many. But for her, it is working. Her home life is more peaceful, her and her husband work together to help her son overcome difficulties, just without using the term "AS." And most importantly, her son is more content and more connected with his father than in the past. In the future, she intends to take one day at a time, working hard to help her son improve his social skills, watching for other problems that may come up and dealing with each, one at a time.