My Mom has high-functioning autism. Having her as a Mom is a very different experience than having a neurotypical mother.
My Mom Has Autism
There are a lot of articles about how to take care of autistic children, but autistic people aren't just children. Sometimes they are adults—and sometimes they have children of their own.
My Mom has (high functioning) autism. Having her as a Mom is a very different experience than having a neurotypical mother.
I've found a few places online where people talk about what it was like to have an autistic parent, but there aren't many sites talking about this subject. Because this topic is poorly understood and dealt with, most of the stories I've read involve people who have trouble getting along with their autistic parent or have given up on them entirely as an adult. A lot of autistic parents have a broken relationship with their neurotypical children.
I happen to be an exception to this rule, although that doesn't mean my mother and I get along perfectly.
This topic needs to be talked about more, so neurotypical children can find support in dealing with their autistic parent and autistic parents can learn more about how to handle being a parent with autism.
I also want to say that everyone's experiences are different and other people with autistic parents may have vastly different stories.
What Is High-Functioning Autism?
High-Functioning Autism is different than other types of autism because the people who have it are more likely to be able to function in society on their own.
Because my mother has high-functioning autism and most of the people I've known with autism were also high-functioning, it's the only type I feel comfortable talking about.
People who have it generally have a desire to connect with the rest of the world in some way. A lot of them are social, my Mom is very outgoing (although some high-functioning autistics are shy), but she never truly understands how to form connections.
She's on this island, trying to connect with other people, but not knowing how. It's hard to explain, but there are many subtle ways we communicate with each other every day and these things confuse my mother. They're things like making eye contact when talking, using a sarcastic tone when we are speaking, and crossing our arms when we're nervous. None of those things register in my Mom's brain as anything important.
There's also a lot of social rules we follow. Things like knowing that you can't talk loudly in a library, that you shouldn't spill all your darkest secrets to someone you just met, and that you shouldn't swear in front of a pastor.
My Mom has trouble remembering or understanding a lot of these rules. People who don't follow society's rules are judged.
It's like going to another country and not knowing that pointing in that country is the same as giving someone the middle finger. You point innocently at something and suddenly everyone there is mad at you. You didn't mean to offend them, there was a miscommunication.
My Mom faces situations like this every day. Sometimes it's like she speaks a different language than everyone else.
She also has problems putting herself in other people's shoes. People think sometimes that autistic people lack empathy. This is not the case. When they understand what someone else is experiencing a lot of times they will feel great empathy towards them. Their bluntness might hurt people's feelings, but usually when they find out this happened, they are very remorseful. The problem isn't their capability to feel empathy, but their ability to see outside of themselves and understand how neurotypical people think.
A lot of them feel very lonely. My Mom has spent the majority of her life feeling rejected by society and misunderstood, which makes me sad for her.
Communication effects so much more of society than people would guess. It even affects families.
My Mom Never Understood What Was Wrong With Me
The majority of my childhood and teenage years was my Mom being confused about what was wrong with me. When she talks about me being a baby, she describes a baby who cried all the time, a baby she would try to soothe, but I'd never calm down. She thought for most of my childhood and teenage years that this was because something was wrong with me, but the truth was, she had trouble understanding me and my needs. That's why I was often upset.
Like I said earlier, autistic people have a lot of trouble stepping outside of themselves and understanding facial expressions. So while neurotypical mothers might know that their baby cries a certain way when they are hungry and a different way when they're sick, my Mom just saw all these things as the same type of crying.
She has trouble seeing things from my perspective. For instance, when I was a toddler, I couldn't pronounce the word "thirsty." I said, "Thursday," instead. I'd tell my Mom, "I'm Thursday!" And my Mom would giggle and say, "I'm Friday!" Because her autism makes her childlike and she loves giggling at silly things. But what she would never do is ever give me a drink when I said this. So I'd keep saying, "I'm Thursday! I'm Thursday! I'm Thursday!" And she'd keep responding, "I'm Friday! I'm Friday! I'm Friday!" And after awhile, I'd get so thirsty and frustrated, I'd throw a tantrum because I was a toddler and didn't know how to get a drink for myself.
Instead of getting me a drink at that point, I would be punished because people told my Mom that if your kid throws a fit, you punish them. No one ever taught her that maybe if a kid throws a fit they might need something or how to tell if they needed something. Autistic people take the rules you give them literally, they take pretty much everything literally, so she'd always punish me whenever I threw a tantrum. I'd wind up miserable and without my needs met.
This would be fine if it was once or twice, but things like this happened constantly to me growing up. I was always in trouble for having emotions or needing things because my Mom didn't understand it and thought I was misbehaving.
It bothers me, because of this, that people always talk about spanking kids constantly and punishing them in a variety of ways. Very rarely do people talk about understanding children or the way to tell what they need. You must first understand a child to know whether you need to punish them or provide something for them. You can't make that choice well without having that basic understanding first, so it should be the first thing we all discuss, especially with autistic parents who struggle to understand these things sometimes.
Video on Autism: "What It's Like to Walk Down the Street With Autism"
Childhood Was Too Loud for My Mother
Autistic people have problems with sensory overload. My Mom, in particular, struggles with loud sounds. This is a huge problem because children are very loud.
We didn't understand that my Mom had autism until she was in her sixties. It's a very recent discovery. So none of us knew, not even herself, that she experienced sensory overload. All I knew was that I was in trouble all the time for being loud. I understood when she was mad if I yelled out of angry, but I didn't understand why I was always punished even when my voice was only slightly raised in happy excitement.
She'd say I gave her heart palpitations. (She did have arrhythmia problems when I was younger.) She'd take lorazepam, which she said was her "heart medication", and accuse me of trying to kill her because I was being too loud. A lot of autistic people view the world in black and white. If someone is doing something to upset them, they think it's on purpose just to be cruel. This is because they can't put themselves in someone else's shoes, so she couldn't imagine any other reason that I'd be loud as a child except to purposefully hurt her.
It wasn't until I was an adult that I found out lorazepam is not used for heart palpitations. It's an anti-anxiety medication and used by a lot of people with autism. I don't even know how she got the prescription for it because none of us (not even her doctors) knew she had autism at the time. It was then that I realized that my mother experienced sensory overload (which gave her horrible anxiety) when I was a child and not minor heart attacks.
My Mom, Dad, and brother are all very quiet people and have been their entire lives. They're so quiet that most people who meet them can't understand anything they're saying because they mumble so much and talk in monotones. I can hear them better than most people because I'm used to it.
I'm also technically a quiet person. That's what people tell me all the time, that I seem quiet and shy, but I'm still the loudest in my family. It still bothers my Mom sometimes when I get too excited about a subject and talk in a slightly raised voice. She'll experience sensory overload and plug her ears, shutting me out.
I'm writing about this partly because it's really hard on both parties, the autistic person and the neurotypical child, to go through this. Even as an adult, I get offended, feeling like my Mom is punishing me for caring about something. That she'd rather shut me out than listen to me.
It hurts really bad if you've ever seen an autistic person have mental breakdowns and you're the cause of it. My mother's eyes just grow cold and she'll do anything to get away from me. She doesn't want to be my mother anymore in those moments because I'm too much for her to handle and she has no problem telling me these things.
When she does this, I'll admit that there have been many times where I've begged her to stop, where I've asked her to stop shutting me out and rejecting me. I understand it better than I used to and I get that some autistic people might be offended by what I'm saying now, but you have to understand, when you're a little kid and your Mom looks at you like she can't stand your existence anymore that you will do anything, anything to make it stop. But if I keep speaking, it makes it worse, but I've had trouble not speaking, especially when I was younger because I felt so rejected. She just wants me to be quiet until she can handle noise again.
Most of the time she's upset, she will cover her ears and ignore me, kind of withdraw into herself or tell me I have to get away from her completely before she "loses her mind."
Autistic people can't help their sensory overload and it's something I believe that I should always work on when it comes to relating to my mother better. But because she wasn't diagnosed until she was in her sixties, I spent most of my life thinking that she just couldn't stand me.
The misunderstandings between neurotypical children and their autistic parents often goes both ways. The autistic parent doesn't understand why their neurotypical children acts so different from them and the neurotypical child doesn't understand their autistic parent either. It' can destroy their relationship if they're unable to make sense of each other. That's why diagnosis and understanding of each other's differences is so important in this type of relationship.
Video on Autism: "How Aspies Communicate"
She "Insults" Me All the Time
My Mom "insults" me all the time.
This morning, for instance, my Mom was telling me a story and she said, "I saw a lady this morning at the grocery store and she was fatter than you are!"
I know the difference between when my Mom is actually insulting me and when she's just saying things that sound insulting. I always tease her when she sounds like she's insulting me, but isn't actually insulting me.
So, I said, "Mom, you just said that not only was I fat, but that lady you saw today was even fatter. Thanks!" My Mom knows me really well, so even though she couldn't pick up on other people's sarcasm, she can pick up on mine.
So my Mom went, "What? I don't get it! I said you were skinnier than her."
I laughed, "And you said I was fat, too!"
My Mom looked super confused. "What? I did not!"
She still doesn't get why what she said sounds like an insult.
Basically, my Mom and I have conversations like this every day. Autistic people have no filter, they're like children in this way. They will tell you their honest opinion about anything and sometimes it will sound like an insult. Children also go up to people, like pregnant women, and announce to those people that they look fat. To a child, it's just an observation and the same with an autistic person. I relate to my Mom as if she's a child, in this way. I'd be extremely insulted if other people spoke to me the way my Mom does, but because I know she doesn't mean half the stuff she says the way they sound, I don't take it seriously.
She states things very literally sometimes and doesn't get why people would be upset by them because she doesn't get the implied meaning and only gets the literal one.
So to her, literally, the woman she saw this morning was "fatter" than me, but that didn't mean she was actually calling me "fat." Because calling me "fat" was the implied meaning. A lot of her compliments, for that reason, sound like backhanded compliments. She thought she was complimenting me because to her, she was saying I was skinnier.
But this is a very difficult aspect of autism for a lot of neurotypical kids to accept. I couldn't accept it until I was an adult. Kids form a lot of their self-image based on their parents opinions of them and when your Mom hands out a lot of backhanded "compliments," it can be difficult to feel good about yourself.
Video on Autism: "People With Asperger's Have Feelings"
So Much Talking
People with high-functioning autism can talk a lot about their interests. The problem is, they have trouble engaging other people in their interests. So they'll just start listing things about their interest and expect the other person to listen to every detail.
I've noticed that a lot of people with autistic parents find this super annoying and I get it. I've gotten annoyed at my Mom a lot of times, too.
But in recent years, I've noticed how rarely people listen to any of my Mom's stories. Some autistic people can talk and talk like my Mom, but rarely does anyone pay attention to her.
It's embarrassing sometimes because she frightens people with all her talking. She'll talk over people, keep talking even when people are making facial expressions like they want to run away from her or are bored out of their mind. She'll blurt out her secrets or my secrets and share inappropriate things. People will be shocked sometimes by the things she's talking about or walk away when she's in the middle of talking.
I thought about this a lot as an adult and how lonely that must make my mother feel, so even though she'll come up to me and start telling me every single thing that happened in this one episode of this one anime she liked that I've never even heard of, I'll force myself to listen.
Sometimes I can't because I'm writing or doing something else important and its hard for my mother to understand that because she has trouble putting herself in my shoes in certain situations, but other times I try to listen more than I would normally want to.
A lot of neurotypical children do not do this. They find their parent oppressive because they want to force their child to listen to all this boring stuff. But what neurotypical children often don't understand is that this is the only way sometimes they know how to connect with you.
So even when it's mind numbingly boring what my mother is talking about, I try to listen to her and it makes her very happy because so few people listen to her talk about the things she's interested in.
Video on Autism: "On 'Changing' People With Autism"
We Face the Same Rejection Our Autistic Parent Faces
It's different being a child of an autistic person than being their parent. When you're the parent you can help the autistic child function through life. You can put them in special classes, help them navigate certain situations, make your house safer for them, provide financially for them, etc. When you're the neurotypical child of an autistic parent, you kind of just have to watch things implode and hope for the best because you're too young to know how to fix any of it.
It gave me great anxiety because I could see how my mother's words sometimes were going to lead to both of us being rejected, but I didn't know what to do to prevent it. So I spent the majority of my life watching social situations explode and panicking about the results.
Like, I tried to be in girl scouts and certain other groups as a child, but my mother would say something and then I wasn't allowed to be in that group or do that activity because the person misunderstood my mother and therefore hated her.
A lot of us therefore separate our autistic parents from everyone we know when we become adults. Because we don't want them to destroy our place in society anymore. If we're going to ruin our relationships, we want to make that choice ourselves, not have it forced upon us because of something our mother said that someone didn't like. Like, I have a rule that my mother and I can't see the same doctors/dentists/therapists/etc., ever. This may sound like an extreme or ridiculous rule to you, but it has been necessary.
For instance, I was once seeing a therapist and I let my mother talk to her as well. This ruined my relationship with my therapist rather quickly. You see, my mother and I had a fight and while we were fighting, I stepped on something sharp and it sliced into my toe. So my mother called my therapist and told her,"My daughter and I were fighting and because we were fighting, she decided to cut herself."
She was being literal because I accidentally cut my toe and had no idea that saying "she cut herself" would imply that I was self-harming. She didn't know the implied meaning, she just knew the literal one in her head.
I had no idea that my mother had told my therapist this. I just suddenly got a call from my therapist about how she was seriously considering putting me into a mental hospital because of my behavior (she was very vague.) I had no idea what she was talking about and since I wasn't self-harming or suicidal, I felt this was a wild overreaction, so my relationship with this therapist crumbled into nothing. It wasn't until years later that I put the pieces together of what my mother had told my therapist and asked her about it.
I could never see that therapist again, all because my mother talked to her twice.
And this happens with pretty much any doctor of any kind, so I forbid her from seeing the same people as me to prevent her from getting me kicked out of everywhere. I want to speak for myself as an adult, not have my mothers words forced upon me.
I don't introduce her to most of my friends and when I do, it's only after explaining the situation to them because guaranteed, she's going to offend them by accident eventually.
And now that I am an adult, I sometimes help my mother with her social interactions. Things are reversed. I'll walk her through conversations she wants to have with people when she's upset. She'll tell me what she wants to say and I'll tell her if a neurotypical person would understand what she's trying to say or if they'd be confused by it. I almost always know what my Mom means by things because I've known her for so long and I lived with her for many years, so sometimes I can help her word things in a way where people will understand her.
Not all autistic people are open to these kinds of things, but my Mom is actually really grateful for them. She used to be really stubborn when she was younger, but ever since we figured out she has autism, she's been open to trying to understand neurotypical people better and see if she can find ways for them to understand her better. She sees that I can explain myself better to people than she can and sometimes asks me to speak to people for her, which I don't mind doing.
It's lead to me becoming almost her interpreter as an adult sometimes. One of the things my Mom struggles with most is ordering food at restaurants, so she'll tell me what she wants and I'll order for her. She has trouble meeting the waiter's eyes and trouble describing what she wants. She also mumbles when she talks and most people can't understand her. So she appreciates it when I help her.
Do You Know Someone With Autism?
My Mom Is Extremely Embarrassing
When you have an autistic parent, you either get a thicker skin (and not let what people think hurt you as much) or you let this aspect of your parent destroy you.
A lot of people think their neurotypical parents are embarrassing, but they have no idea what true embarrassment actually is. For instance, my mother has picked her nose the entire time she was sitting in front of a drive thru window on multiple occasions. You can actually see the people wretching and mocking her inside, but she doesn't care. When I bring it up to her, to this day, she says, "Well, what do you expect me to do when I have a bunch of dry boogers in my nose?"
When I try to explain to her that in society, it's rude to pick your nose in front of people and grosses them out, she just doesn't get it and probably never will.
Autistic people have trouble changing their voice to fit different situations, so my Mom doesn't know how to raise her voice so people can hear her or how to whisper. She has three tones of voice only. I think of them as angry screaming (she frightens people when they ask her to raise her voice), mumbling, and stage whisper.
So, once, we were in a doctor's waiting room and my Mom said in a stage whisper (the entire room full of males heard her), "Did you remember to wear a pad for your period? Because sometimes you forget and bleed all over your underwear."
And I murmured, "yes," and died inside as all the men in the waiting room stared at me.
She also has the tendency to look in weird directions when she is talking to people. For example, she'll be talking to me but looking at the guy next to her. The guy will be shocked and confused about why she's talking to him, and I'll always have to explain, "No, she's talking to me. It's okay." At which point he'll slowly back away with a frightened expression about why some lady is having a conversation with him about whether or not they should go to Burger King after this.
Also, my Mom always, always tries to start fights with me when we're in Walmart. I don't know why, but I always get scared we're going to be filmed and wind up on one of those "People of Walmart" websites.
So she humiliates me all the time, but I'm okay with it now. I think it's taught me to care less what other people think. Strangers don't matter and there's always going to be people that misunderstand you even if you're neurotypical.
Video on Autism: "But You Don't Seem Autistic"
My Mom Doesn't Understand Boundaries
My Mom doesn't always get what it means that I'm her daughter. I mean, she does nice things for me like helping me with my housework when I have to get a lot of writing done and she cooked for me all of growing up. I'm not talking about things like that.
I'm talking about the fact that my Mother doesn't get that there are some things that are inappropriate to share with your daughter. Some of them are so bad that it would be too much for me to type them here.
Basically, my Mom has told me about a lot of the fights she's had with my Dad. She told me that my father wanted to get a vasectomy before I was born and never wanted to have children. This I'm not as upset about as some kids might be because I'm pretty sure my Dad likes me now that I'm born, even if he didn't originally think he wanted me around. My Mom has told me things about my parents' secret life in the bedroom in graphic detail. I handle that with a weird mental block I've developed that allows me to pretend she's talking about other people when she speaks of it.
She's always coming to me wanting to talk about her feelings about things or to talk about her autism.
She really likes science fiction—she's obsessed with it. She loves "Star Trek" and decided to give all of my family rankings on our "starship" that she was imagining in her head. She was the Captain, and she made my brother the second-in-command. Originally, I rolled my eyes as she told me this because I expected her to tell me that she had assigned me to some position that I'd find borderline offensive. Instead, she said that I was Troi on her ship, the ship's counselor. Because I talk to her about her problems and help her with her autism.
And I went,"Awwwww," and felt very warm inside for a very long time. It was a huge compliment.
My Mom doesn't have a lot of friends because of her autism, so I've decided long ago that it's okay if my mother talks to me about anything, even if it breaks through neurotypical mother/daughter boundaries. She just needs someone to listen to her, as do I sometimes, so I'm okay with listening to her talk about all this weird stuff.
Video on Autism: "The 'Autistic' Language"
My Mom Is Childlike
This is both a good and a bad thing for me.
On the good side, she's hilarious sometimes. She says the funniest things and makes the best observations about stuff that I'd never think of. You know that old show, "Kids Say The Darndest things"? It's been a family joke almost for years that my Mom is basically the adult version of that.
She doesn't think things I like are stupid or childish She likes fantasy and science fiction like I do. She'll giggle with me when I get my dog to do silly things and loves when we howl together at my dog to make her howl.
Those parts are good, but the parts I don't like are the parts that make me feel like she's my sister.
For instance, she copies me all the time. Especially when something happens, like when I got my dentures recently, and I couldn't talk right. She wanted to say all the words I was saying in the funny ways I was saying them. Which was fine, except for the fact that talking for me was painful at first and very difficult and I'd rather her just listen to me than start giggling and repeating the funny sounds that come out of my mouth.
She mimes the words I am saying when I am talking, while I'm saying the words. It irritates me so much that I'll stop speaking when she does it. She also makes hand puppets when I talk sometimes and gets obsessed with repetition. Today, I was telling her a story and part of the story was me telling her about how I went, "Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad" over and over again in a certain situation. She liked the repetition, so she forgot what we were speaking about entirely and just wanted to chant the word "dad" over and over again.
She tends to have a short attention span like kids do, too. She's very easily distracted and that can make it hard to explain things to her. It's frustrating when I'm talking to her and I can see that none of my words are registering with her.
But overall, these annoying things aren't that big of deal.
Video on Autism: "What Aspies Need From Neurotypicals"
I Can't Trust My Mom's Version of Things
My Mom struggles with facial recognition and reading people's emotions, so when she recounts stories to me, I can't tell if they are true or not. She's an unreliable witness.
She thinks she sees people in stores that she goes to doing weird things that they would never do or making weird faces at her. I've been with her when she thinks she's recognized someone and had to correct her that it wasn't the person she thought it was. She also comes to me sometimes telling me she thinks someone is mad at her and I can never tell if that's true or not because she's terrible at reading people's emotions.
For instance, she'll tell me all the time that she thinks my husband is mad at her. My husband would tell me if he's mad at her, so I say that he's not, but call him just to make sure and he always says that he's not. And yet when he actually is mad, I usually have to tell her this before she understands it.
She can read my facial expressions and social cues better than most people because she's been practicing doing it with me my entire life and because of her autism, I tend to exaggerate my facial expressions automatically. But with everyone else, if I wasn't there, I can never truly tell how any conversation went or if someone is truly mad at her or she just thinks they are.
She also has trouble telling stories without making people look badly on accident or recounting things in a weird way that people will misunderstand, including me, because of her literal speaking.
A lot of times she causes problems between me and my brother for this reason. She'll say, "Your brother thinks your political opinion is stupid and wrong."
And I'll talk to him and say that Mom said that he was saying my opinions were stupid and wrong and he'll say, "No. I was just saying that I disagree with that opinion in certain ways." Which is much less confrontational than the way she says it.
It always stresses me out because if my Mom ever gets accused of a crime or she is my alibi when I'm accused of a crime, I know that the police can convince her to say things or do things that people will misconstrue. It's pretty much everyone's nightmare who has an autistic person as a loved one that the police might question them about anything.
It's like that thing with the therapist. She'll say something and mean it literally, but someone will take the figurative implication and misconstrue it. I'm always afraid of the police doing this with her.
For instance, when my husband and I were first dating, his car got broken into in the middle of the night. My Mom came over to support us (we were super upset) as we waited for the cops to show up. We were sitting on our second floor balcony, looking down at his car in the driveway and watching for the police officer. My Mom shows up and immediately rushes over to the car and starts ruining the evidence by touching it all over the broken window part. I screamed, "Mom! NO!" Because I thought she'd know not to touch a crime scene before the police got there, but my Mom has trouble understanding what future problems some of her actions may cause. She lives a lot in the here and now.
Not only did she ruin some of the evidence possibly, but she got her fingerprints all over the window. I was saying, "We need to wipe her fingerprints off," and the cop chose that moment to show up and starts taking my Mom's fingerprints off of the car before I could wipe them out of the dust.
I said, "Those are my Mom's fingerprints. She didn't break into the car. I literally watched her touch the car less than five minutes ago and leave those. Don't take those fingerprints."
And the police officer said, "I have to. They're evidence!"
And I went, "Evidence for what? My Mom was touching the car five minutes ago, and I told you already that I saw her put the fingerprints on there, and her fingerprints have nothing to do with the person who broke into my boyfriend's (at the time he was just my boyfriend) car."
And he just said, "It doesn't matter."
So I was panicking for weeks thinking they were going to blame my Mom for breaking into the car even though I knew she didn't do it. And that when they were questioning her about whether or not she broke into the car, she'd get confused by their question and do some kind of literal speaking that would sound like a confession. They wouldn't listen to me, so I got scared they wouldn't listen to me if they were going to accuse her of the crime and that she'd be sent to jail.
There's this thing where if you love someone with autism you get super protective of them, which is why even writing this article in the first place is difficult for me in some ways. My Mom won't be embarrassed by it, I told her all about the article and every single thing that I was going to write about, but it will be hard on me if I see people say mean things about her because I love her and don't approve of any of that. Anyway, at the time, I just got this horrified view in my head of my Mom being sent to prison unfairly and people hurting her there and I felt extremely angry. I don't think police officers know how to handle people with autism at all. They're very childlike and they don't belong in jail.
Video on Autism: "Facing Autism Prejudice"
People Sometimes Think I Am a Terrible Daughter
No one who really knows me or my family thinks this, but strangers definitely do sometimes.
When my Mom starts talking or doing something, she is very stubborn and determined to go on that path. If I'm talking and she wants to say something, for example, she will talk over me even if I keep talking until she's done saying whatever she has to say, no matter what. She'll also do something similar when I ask her "What?" Instead of repeating herself, she'll keep speaking about what she was saying until she finishes. It makes her angry if she has to stop, even to repeat herself.
Because she feels like she must say and do certain things and that nothing is allowed to stop her. Which is annoying sometimes, but okay most of the time, and I'm used to it.
On top of all of that, she has trouble reading facial expressions and tones of voices, so when I talk to my mother and I am angry, I talk in a much angrier voice than I talk to anyone else. It's a subconscious thing I do that I've decided is okay. Because I exaggerate all my emotions in front of my mother, she can always tell when I'm happy, sad, angry, etc.
There are times though, like when my Mom is angry, that I can tell something she's about to do is destructive and not okay. Like, she's felt upset for years because when my brother was in boy scouts, there were some fights and things that happened that caused my brother's troop to reject my mom and my brother. They had a lot of trouble in boy scouts and were picked on by other people, so my mom basically associates the organization boy scouts with evil now.
Anyway, we were going into a grocery store and this boy scout approached the two of us and asked my Mom if she wanted to buy something. Autistic people are very angry about social rejection sometimes and will lash out when they're angry enough. My Mom didn't want to support an organization that she felt mistreated her, so instead of saying, "No, thanks," she started yelling at this cute little boy about how she hated Boy Scouts and how he hurt her so badly and how angry she was.
So I had to grab her because she was hurting this innocent little boy who didn't do anything and drag her into the store. I had to scream at her to stop or she was just going to keep ranting.
Then, when we got into the store, I let her talk about how angry she was at the boy scouts organization and I listened to her and then explained to her that she can't yell at boy scouts. Even though they hurt her feelings, that little boy didn't hurt her feelings, he's innocent in this whole thing. And she was making him feel bad and terrifying him and mistreating him like they mistreated her and my brother.
She understood what I was saying after awhile and felt really bad about upsetting that little boy, I explained to her that she didn't have to buy anything from the boy, she could just calmly say, "No." And if she hated the Boy Scouts, she should bring it up with someone more official and not a child who can do nothing.
But I had to yell at her and drag her away in order to help her. She was just going to make that little boy cry otherwise and other people might get involved.
The problem is, like I said before, I talk more harshly with my mother when I am angry with her than other people. It's the only way she understands it. And while I do not interfere with my mother most of the time, there are certain situations like this that I just can't let go. I have to intervene and do something to prevent it from getting really bad.
But people see it as being disrespectful. Because no one else in the world (supposedly) ever raises their voice to their elders that way. So there are a lot of situations where I have to choose between just letting my Mom hurt someone's feelings like that little boys or yelling at her to stop. Because if I don't yell it, if I'm not insistent, she won't even register that I'm speaking and she'll talk over me. But people hear it and label me as bad automatically because my reaction seems too over the top for them.
Video on Autism: "Special Interests Can Be Different for Females"
My Mom Is Not a Stereotype
These stories are just a small sample of what it's like to have a parent with autism. I have many more stories, enough to fill a book. But there's a lot to say on this subject and it's hard to talk about it all.
Like I said earlier, my Mom is not a stereotype. There are all different kinds of autistic people and therefore many different experiences that children of autistic people have had.
For instance, a lot of people describe their autistic parent as hating touch. My Mom loves hugs a lot. They always make her feel so happy. People also seem to think that autistic people don't show emotions or have emotions. My Mom definitely has a lot of them and shows them, but they can be miscontrued as not there because she shows them in different ways than other people. I can always see them, but many neurotypical people that don't know her also do not understand what emotions she's expressing.
I just wanted to share all this because I want autism to be better understood. I want people to understand that autism in females and males are different and that children who have autistic parents have very different experiences than people with neurotypical parents. The research is so limited to children and males that very few other types of autistic people are ever talked about.
So if you were diagnosed with autism as an older person, if you're an autistic female, or know someone with autism, then share your experiences below so we can discuss all the unique aspects of what it is like to have autism or what it is like to love someone with autism.
Other Stories of People With Autistic Parents
- Raised by Aspergers parent | Wrong Planet Autism Community Forum
- People with Autistic parents, what is it like? : AskReddit
reddit: the front page of the internet
- Growing up with Autistic Parents | Children of Autistic and Asperger's Parents tell our stories
Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders / Asperger's Syndrome do grow up And many do become parents So what is it like to have an Autistic Parent?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Susanne C on July 27, 2019:
This is such an objective account. I'm in awe of how much tolerance you have for your mum. Yes, spot on. It is such a different upbringing to be parented like this. It is only now, when I have become a parent myself, that I have put all the pieces together and understand that my mother has Aspergers and that is why we were raised in a no frills, no praise household where any difference of opinion presented by one of us kids would result in mum feeling attacked and unable to cope. I never heard the term 'poor executive function' until this year but it coins her ability perfectly. Mum could work hard around the house all day but have barely a thing to show for it - still endless piles of things needing sorting, that she was unable to make decisions about. We had cereal for dinner, and more raw food to eat than you can poke a stick at - cooking was just too hard. Driving a car was overwhelming - so we walked everywhere or caught the bus. Homeschooled here as well, to end of year 9.
Going to school eventually was such a life saver - I could be my own person, at least from 9am until 3pm. But it also highlighted just how different life was for other kids...a bit of praise here, a bit of negotiation there - that was their normal. They had a sense of self that I could not fathom, and which took many years for me to learn how to get.
The embarrassment of being with a parent like this in public, and without the developed self confidence to shrug it off - is tough, especially in teenage years. Not understanding that it is ok and right to advocate for what you believe has also been tough. It took me years to get out of the habit of apologizing all the time.
Now as a 40 something year old I understand that there have been benefits to how we were raised. We were parented consistently and strictly with some very strong key morals. There was love, even if the understanding was missing. And we were lucky that mum's obsessions were vegetable gardening and childhood education instead of less practical interests - at least there was food on the table, even if it was raw, and I learnt how to garden. I also have gained a bunch of negotiation skills quite useful in people-management roles at work.
I don't feel like I am missing out anymore, as I can have my own friends, and attend as many social occasions as I like. I watch my kids like a hawk, for signs of autistic behaviour. I tell them I'm proud every day, and that I love them . I don't care if they grow up not academic, or beautiful, or rich. But I will do everything in my power to give them a sense of self, to feel listened to and develop confidence, as I know how hard it is to try growing up without those.
Sarah on August 23, 2018:
This was nice too read. I am a mother who was diagnosed shortly after my son was diagnosed. No one would ever think me or my son has autism. As a mom I clash with both my neurotypical child and my autistic child in very different ways. I am very literal, however i am much better at recognizing the situation, i still have to be literal. I have learned slang and figure of speech...my son hasn't yet. The noises that come with kids is the worst, or when they don't listen and do as i tell them. Over the week we had these dang bugs making noises, the kids playing and everything i am thinking in my head....i tweeked and worse ear protection for an hour to reset. My kids are still little, so I don't know what is hard for them about me.
Telyn on June 19, 2018:
I think this is the first personal account I've read of somewhere with a parent with autism. My mum is HFA and it's been really tough, it hasn't been really obvious, just subtle enough that I wonder if I've been gaslighting myself. At the same time, the sense of rejection from the village I grew up in was huge and the growing sense that I couldn't trust her on emotional matters just got bigger. She hated touch as well and that's something I really missed as a kid.
I really understand all your points even if they don't directly affect me and my mum (it's a spectrum after all). I live in hope that my mum might accept her situation so I could talk to her directly about it. She's now read two books by autistic authors and had to stop half-way through both because they were too close to the bone. I think I'm just going to get really blunt and say "mum, I think you're autistic, can we talk about this", see where it gets us. She's now 70-odd and I don't particularly want to blow up her world, but given the way the rest of our family lives she'll have another 20 years and I really don't want to be sanitising my words for her for that long! Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to a stranger.
I realised I was getting stuck in my own life so found a therapist to talk too, it's been essential for recalibrating how most of the rest of the world works and that sense that's it ok to trust people. I still find that hard - I grew up with someone who really couldn't deal with my emotions for so long. It wasn't ok for me to be upset, it would just make her more upset.
I still have an affinity for autistic people and often get on quite well with folks most people can't deal with. Stockholm syndrome...? Ha, a bitter statement but actually quite a useful skill.
Humans have been neurodiverse for a long time and I think it is a huge advantage as a species, even if not as an individual. It is super tough if you are a kid who needs relating to in a normal way to have a parent who doesn't. If that is you then I heartily recommend going to hunt for a therapist. They have the tools they have and you just have to decide for yourself whether those tools are working for you or not. Talk to at least two before you make your mind up. Anyone who has a grounding in attachment theory is probably a reasonable start. In the UK you can look for a body like the BACP who will point you in the direction of someone reasonable.
I utterly second not letting your autistic parent talk to the doctor. I've had some crazy shit done to me as a result of that. I was under 16 and couldn't exclude her, didn't even realise that it might be important that I did. The surgeries weren't entirely unreasonable but a NT parent would probably have chosen a different, less invasive path.
My life with my mum has contained some excellent things but also some genuinely terrible things. Life is such for nearly everyone, but when stuff messes with your ability to relate to other people it is particularly crap. I wish anyone reading this the very best in navigating what comes your way. There’s normally a solution or an improvement out there, even if it takes some serious hunting. x
Michelle Guernsey on November 05, 2017:
I will need to return to this piece to finish reading it. I needed to pause and process. It’s been a fairly recent realization that my mother is on the spectrum, like April of this year. I have been slowly researching, looking for sources of connection and support. Thank you for writing this. I’ll be back. ☺️
ErricaLynn on October 10, 2017:
I had to stop reading this early in. It was too difficult. Your mother psychologically and emotionally abused you, plain and simple. She also wasn't very bright if she couldn't figure out that you were trying to say "thirsty." And where was your father while your mother ravaged you throughout your entire childhood? If he was neurotypical, why didn't he recognize that something was WRONG with your mother and that she was mentally abusing you--never mind that she had not been diagnosed with autism at that point. And there's no proof that her autism was why she was a very inept parent. There are neurotypical parents who'd never figure out that you meant "thirsty" and who'd "constantly" be punishing you and f'ing up your childhood. The autism is just a coincidence, and I'm sure it explains SOME oddball and more benign situations, but no way does it explain or justify your mother's ABUSE towards you. I have Asperger's and though I don't "understand" social rules, I FOLLOW them when I have to. If I pointed in that foreign country and someone explained it was a foul gesture, I'd have the smarts to REMEMBER never to point in public again in that country. The fact that your dad stood by and allowed your mother to mistreat you means that he enabled the abuse. Shame on him.
netherdew on August 13, 2017:
This is the best thing I've read in years. An insightful, funny, honest, helpful, and compassionate post about a subject that is rare to find. As an autistic mother, I thank you so much for writing this!
RM on July 14, 2017:
What an amazing and insightful article. I have tremendous respect for both you and your mother. My husbands father has alienated everyone in his life. Except for his son(my husband). Their way of communicating had always been a mystery to me. Until our daughter got diagnosed with autism(Aspergers in 2008). Now 5 years later, we have pieced together all the puzzles. Your article articulates the struggles of growing up with an autistic parent so well. It also helps me have a different perspective on how my daughter views the world, by describing your mothers struggles. Back when my father-in-law was born and grew up Autism was even more of a mystery. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Just know it has been tremendously inspirational and helpful.
Amy from Darlington, England on July 09, 2017:
My and my partner are both HFA this places our chance of having autistic children at a 90%+ chance and my eldest daughter does show signs that she is HFA also. We are watching our youngest for signs but as she is not yet 2 it is hard to tell just yet. You are right more needs to be done to help family's with autistic parents so that the children learn to understand them and learn how they can help.
As autistic people often find some everyday tasks hard this can make bringing up a child hard. I have managed now of nearly 9 years.
Anne on July 03, 2017:
Thank you for writing this. I strongly suspect my mum has Aspbergers. I haven't read in detail but will do so later x
EB Black (author) from U.S.A. on May 28, 2017:
Marielle: I think the best thing you can do for something like that is go to therapy. I've been to a lot of therapy myself and it helps me deal with a lot of the stuff that makes having a parent with autism hard.
I don't struggle as much with being too literal in society so much. Most of my life, I think I struggled with the opposite, where I wanted to hide and not speak because of the ways my mother embarrassed me. But it makes sense to me that you struggle with being too literal because your parent is the one who taught you how to socialize and your parent has autism...
I was homeschooled as well, but it was only for the last couple of years, so that prevented me from being too literal, like my mother is.
Just know that a lot of therapists aren't really prepared so much to deal with people who have autistic parents. For some reason, the research all goes to what it's like to have an autistic child and no one ever discusses what it's like to have an autistic parent. So finding a really smart and skilled therapist is a must and you might have to go through a couple of them before you find the right one.
Marielle Edscorn on May 27, 2017:
Thank you, I always feel somewhat alone having an autistic parent. My mum has been a terrifying mystery to me especially as a child. You're stories and thoughts have opened many new ways to see for me. Your stories are almost like a mirror. Unintentional insults, ruined social efforts, even the Star Trek and funnily enough my mum also hates the Boy Scouts. You are a very kind person to have chosen the road of patience. I struggle to remain in contact and balance letting her get close. Do you find you struggle with social rules too? I often find my self being too starkly literal (she homeschooled us so I didn't get to socialize in school). I don't always put a lot of thought into how it would make some one feel what I say. Do you have any suggestions on learning sources?
EB Black (author) from U.S.A. on May 07, 2017:
Yes! Definitely write out your feelings about it. It's hard sometimes to have a parent with autism and it can really help you process it and deal with it to write out how you feel about it.
So few people talk about how having an autistic parent affects a child, as if all autistic people are children and none of them are adults, so it takes us longer to process it and think about it because there are so few resources out there.
C B on May 07, 2017:
Thanks for writing this. It's the first thing I've read now that I realise my Mother is autistic. I am keen to find more info on 'not listening', 'not actively listening', 'her misinterpreting things people say', 'just talking and not listening', 'not hearing', 'growing up with a parent who never hears what you are saying'. I think I may need to write my own experience, so thanks for getting me started.
Renni Mars on October 02, 2016:
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article. I am a parent who is in the process of being diagnosed, and am researching as to how this will affect my children. Like yourself, I had trouble finding anything positive written by people with autistic parents. Your article brings me hope.