a parliament of owls

life with asperger's

Category: Advice

Advice: A Teen Asks Why Asperger’s Isn’t an Excuse

This teen’s question on a public Asperger’s forum touches on one of my anxieties about upcoming generations who have had the benefit of early diagnosis. Those of us who grew up without one had the difficulty of learning to compensate because we had challenges that were not made sense of by a diagnosis and usually received no support for these issues. In some ways, this made us strong. We pushed through, when we did, and made it work. So, too, do many younger Aspies who have been diagnosed and received supports. But then there are others who take the diagnosis as an excuse not to force themselves to do difficult or uncomfortable things or to practice self-control. As parents, teachers, mentors, and friends, we must ask that Aspies who receive early diagnosis continue to push themselves so that they can, as much as possible, become independent and contributing adults. Temple Grandin often talks practically and compassionately to Aspies and their parents about the importance of this.

Question:

“My parents tell me not to use Asperger’s an excuse to misbehave. I don’t understand that. I am not a neurotypical. I feel that my Asperger’s defines who I am. How come it’s not an excuse for misbehavior at home?” [In a follow-up discussion to a different reply, the writer added that the misbehavior at home was refusing to do last-minute chores and being disrespectful to his parents in the way he declined.]

My Reply:

I agree with your parents to some extent. I am autistic and so is my son. If you are high-functioning, then you can be expected to take care of your hygiene, eat properly, pick up around the house (to contribute your share of the work in living there), perform in school, and, as you age, support yourself with a job. The world, even your parents, do not owe you a free pass / a living. You can learn to compensate for aspects of your diagnosis that make some of these things more challenging.

In turn, your parents should help you learn to compensate, such as by explaining ways of managing a schedule or doing tasks without getting sensory triggered (I provide my son with kitchen gloves for tasks like taking out the garbage and allow him to put away clean dishes since he hates touching dirty ones — I do that part instead). They should learn the importance of providing you with advance notice of having to do things (like do a chore or go on an outing to the store or a relative’s). If they forget, do as they ask but also request (politely) advance notice in the future to help manage your stress. Keep in mind that when you enter work life you will get last minute requests, too — you need to train yourself to tolerate this as much as possible. I know it is stressful — I have the same issue.

I’m not sure in what other ways your parents might think you are misbehaving. If it’s something like focusing on your interests (what some people call “indulging”), I would say that is self-care and not misbehavior. You need to do this to stay well emotionally. In that case, stand up for it. Your parents may become more accepting of this if your other behaviors fall into line with what should be expected of all capable adults or forming adults. If it’s for being irritable or rude, then apologize (even if, yes, this is attributable to your diagnosis), and try to do better. It’s not fun to live with someone who hurts your feelings, even if there’s an explanation for it.

TLDR: A high-functioning autism diagnosis does not excuse any of us from being responsible for ourselves or contributing to the world, even if some of that is more difficult for us.

[Question edited for consistency of spelling and concision.]

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8 Thoughts that Can Help with Accepting Your Asperger’s Diagnosis

1) You are still the same person you were before the diagnosis. The diagnosis is just a label.

2) The diagnosis only gathers together and describes some things about you. It isn’t the whole of you.

3) You can use this new self-knowledge to improve your life. For example, realizing that my autism caused sensory issues, and associated stress, I began to take them more seriously and to improve my environment to reduce stress. That’s made me a happier person.

4) You now belong to a community of other people on the spectrum. You’ll find that we have many shared experiences and that you’re not as alone or as different as you might have felt before.

5) No one else has to know. It’s your right to tell or not tell anyone about your diagnosis.

6) Depending on your challenges, being diagnosed with high functioning autism / Asperger’s doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish whatever your goals might be. I’ve been married 30 years, have a doctorate, a great kid, etc. You might need to strategize how to accomplish your goals so that you can succeed given your challenges, but you can do it.

7)  This developmental difference brings gifts as well as challenges. Many of us have a range of better-than-average abilities as a result, such as fluid / abstract thinking; creative problem-solving; the ability to observe and remember detail; the ability to find and follow patterns; intensity of interests and concentration on them; the ability to think in systems and/or visually; extra spatial, mathematical, technical, or verbal capacity, and so on.

8) Everyone has challenges. This one just happens to be yours. You may not know what other people are dealing with (diabetes, an alcoholic parent, problems covering the rent, a broken heart), but everyone is dealing with something. It’s not what we’re challenged with but how we face those challenges on a daily basis that matters.