In the 1960s, some â€˜expertsâ€™ blamed mothers of autistic children for causing their childâ€™s autism. These experts accused mothers of being cold, distant, and unloving of their children and that their detachment lead to their childrens’ withdrawl. Fortunately, I know of no one that is currently advocating the unloving mother theory as the cause of autism.
Recent writings have commented that fathers of children with autism often have a set of personality characteristics that can be classified as â€˜geekyâ€™. This was articulated particularly well by Steve Silberman in an article published in Wired Magazine a few years ago. My wife and I first recognized that our middle child had Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome after reading this article.
Citing the personality characteristics of parents of autistic children is not new. Leo Kannerâ€™s first article on autism cites personality characteristics in some of the fathers that sound geeky to me. Itâ€™s is generally accepted that family genetics play a role in neurological characteristics. Itâ€™s also generally accepted that children learn many behaviors from their parents.
Does this mean that parents are the cause of autism in their children after all? Certainly not! However, it seems to me that we parents may have a unique advantage in helping our children learn how to deal with some of the characteristics of autism. We may have some of the same genetic characteristics, to a greater or lesser degree, as our autistic children. We also may demonstrate behaviors that are similar, in either appearance or function, to those of our children.
Shortly after my son was formally diagnosed with Aspergerâ€™s Syndrome, I told him that I â€œhave a little bit of Aspergerâ€™sâ€ myself. It was my way of letting him know that he wasnâ€™t alone and that I deal with some of the same issues. I continue to use my “little bit of Aspergerâ€™sâ€ as a starting point in helping him whenever I can.
Here are some things that I think we parents can do to identify and take advantage of similarities we may have with our autistic children.
- Identify our own personality characteristics that are autistic, even if they are only slightly so. Examine these characteristics, how long weâ€™ve had them, and how they affect us. Once we understand the characteristics, identify how we display them to others. For example, I’ve always been somewhat introverted. I know that I tend to avoid small talk and that this can appear to others as being unfriendly. I can easily relate this to my sons’ challenges with reaching out to others.
- Identify any negative behaviors that we model for our child. Do we become frustrated and angry about unexpected change? As an example, Iâ€™ve learned that my sarcastic comments about other drivers can lead to my son to perseverating on the fact that others are â€˜breaking the rulesâ€™. I try to use such instances as a starting point to initiate change for myself. I let my boys know that I’m trying to make the change so they can observe the results. Every time I slip up in my efforts, I have an opportunity to talk with them about what I want to do better.
- Identify our own positive behaviors that can help our child. Our children cotinually use us as models for behavior. These behaviors will be particulaly powerful models if they relate to situations they also face. If I can ignore a driver that cuts me off, perhaps my son will learn to be flexible when he feels someone has cut line at school.
I’d be exaggerating if I said that these tips have made everything different. They haven’t, but they have some things better and they feel like a very healthy foundation upon which I will continue to build. I also continue to learn a lot about myself and I always consider that a good thing.