Let me start by saying Autism Spectrum Disorder including Asperger’s (also known as ASD) is NOT a genetic disorder! Yes, it is genetic, but NO its not a disorder. ASD occurs in people who’s brains are wired to be SMARTER and MORE ANALYTICAL than the rest of main stream bell-curve-normal folks. Babies are not born with the symptoms that make ASD kids most difficult to parent because it is POOR PARENTING practices that cause those disruptive symptoms.
When I say these kids are smarter, I mean smarter like a supercomputer, not smarter like ‘fills in the blanks on worksheets well’. And therein lies much of the problem. Supersmart kids do not follow foolish rules even if everyone else is following them. Supersmart kids do not obey because you “said so”. They don’t obey because you threaten to spank or punish them. They have already thought it through and they will do the thing that makes logical sense to them, even if your rules, or all the social pressure in the world say to do different.
Now, if you are a flexible parent who can actually LEARN FROM YOUR KIDS, your ASD child will not develop the most difficult traits on the “symptoms” list. But if you think parenting means molding your kids into the kind of people you think they should be, you’re in for a bad time. These are children who, even as toddlers, are well aware that your ways are illogical, inefficient, or wrong and they don’t mind setting you straight.
If the thought of a kid correcting an adult makes you want to punish the child YOU need to reevaluate your values and goals. That is the kind of attitude that contributes to the “dumbing down” of each successive generation. You cannot expect generational improvements if you devote yourself to keeping the kids dumber than the adults. Moreover PUNISHMENT DOESNT WORK for anyone. In particular, it doesn’t work for ASD kids. Any form of punishment, but especially SPANKINGS and physical punishment will BREAK these children. Think of them as supercomputers with fine delicate wiring. If you beat on it or pound on the computer in frustration it will NOT work better. It will, in fact, develop permanent processing problems.
When you beat, spank, punish or force your little supercomputer kid they will begin to regress. They may stop talking, they may stop reading or writing, they may begin to lash out in violent fits. After all that is EXACTLY what you just taught them to do! Oh, they learn well, very well. They simply resist learning nonsense for as long as they can…you know, until you force them to.
So what can a parent do?
Be real. Resist the urge to pretend a hubristic infallibility as our parents’ generation did. If you make a mistake, admit it. Apologize. Find a better way. Once, when my little ASD daughter was about six years old, I tried to introduce her to the delicious taste of rhubarb that I enjoyed as a child. But, for whatever reason, she didn’t want to taste it. I cajoled, then I teased, then I insisted. Then I broke into a mischievous game and chased her through the house with a spoonful of rhubarb pie and forced the spoon in her mouth in a fit of laughter. My daughter wasn’t laughing though. She began to cry. Then I began to cry. Then we laid back holding one another’s hand while I observed, “No one likes to be forced, do they? Even when its a good thing being forced is bad.” She tearfully agreed. I vowed never to force her to do things again. She agreed never to do that to someone else. And we never have.
She got over that episode of bad parenting because I got over it. Kids, even ASD kids, are very flexible and forgiving as long as we learn with them. I have had the good fortune to teach many ASD kids and I have found this to be consistently true. Teach and parent using logic and mutual learning and they respond by being bright, well behaved, brilliant thinkers. You WILL need to get books on parenting without punishment because all kids WILL push your buttons, ALL of your buttons at once. This is pretty much their job. So figure out what you will do when your kid is pushing all your buttons at once and still looking for one more, and make sure its a strategy that doesn’t involve punishment, physical or emotional violence. Otherwise, you will simply revert to just what your parents did to you and it won’t work.
I have also had the good fortune to heal ASD kids in my practice. They respond very well. The problem is usually that I can’t fix their parents. So the kids just get broken again and again until the damage becomes permanent. If I can’t get the parents to grow up and stop hitting and forcing and punishing their kids and START using their WORDS and their BRAINS like big Mommies and Daddies, the kids may well end up demonstrating all the increasingly negative traits on the ASD symptom lists.
A word about Social Norms
Most adults and bell-curvers think that social norms are easy and intuitive. To ASD people they are quite difficult. That is because they are almost all culturally based and completely divorced from reason or logic. In some cultures it is good manners to look people right in the eye when they are talking to us. In others that would be very aggressive or insubordinate behavior. So the poor supercomputer kid or adult may do most social behaviors “wrong”.
Thus, most ASD folks eventually come to prefer the company of books or computers or pets and to suffer some form of “social anxiety”. This also accounts for why girls with ASD are under-diagnosed. Girls have multitrack minds and so can better observe subtle differences in social behavior. Many even develop strategies, rules, and coping mechanisms to comply with the unreasonable social expectations and thus to blend in. Others learn to ask or to be very transparent with their communication. The bottom line? You won’t be able to “cure” your ASD child of their awkward social behavior. But if you can explain the expectations or rules in concrete terms, you can help them adapt and blend. Example, “Its considered rude by adults to avoid eye contact when we speak to you.” works much better than, “Look at me when I’m talking!!”
I am eager to hear from ASD kids and adults about their thoughts on my observations. Do you agree? Can you add to my pointers or correct me? I’m also happy to hear from parents of ASD kids.