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Rigid Asperger Kids Need Flexible Parents

Rigid Asperger Kids Need Flexible Parents

For years, my now 13-year-old son, Ian, has needed everything to be the same. As a toddler he would not sleep in his bed unless his blankets were laying in a certain order and various stuffed animals – including his Tickle Me Elmo – were tucked along the right edge of his red car bed – also in a very specific order.

He’d have a fit if he knew Mom was sharing this highlight from his younger years. After all, now he’s a cool junior high school student who would never admit to having watched Sesame Street.

Sounds almost normal, huh?

Sure, except for his Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis.

Things just have to be a certain way for kids with this type of cognitive functioning. Even the simplest daily activities can turn into monumental events.


Just ask Megan D., a member of the Moms of Kids with Asperger’s Syndrome community, who recently shared that her son asked for a clean sheet of paper because the line of numbers he was drawing was no longer straight. Her suggestion that he simply work around it just wasn’t going to work for her son. He wanted to start again.

While Megan doesn’t specifically mention this in her post, I suspect that some of the ensuing drama revolved around her Asperger kid’s need for perfection.

How do we as parents accommodate the needs of children who think way off the grid, when in reality that is exactly where they have to live? How do we help these square pegs fit into a round world without shaving off too much of who they are?

It’s a question I’ve been grappling with for years as I’ve watched my own amazing child struggle--with his need for everything to be done just so, and with the reality that compromise is a fact of life.

As Megan indicates in her post, “it takes a lot of energy.”

And that is often the biggest problem for an Aspie parent. We spend so much time making sure we cover all the bases. We anticipate every single possibility and outline a battle plan and a retreat plan for every social situation. Often we don’t manage to do the one thing our kids really need: teach them how to handle life and all of its curve balls in their own capacity.

Michelle O., who is also a member of Moms of Kids with Asperger’s Syndrome, suggests giving kids words to explain their struggles with self-regulation: “Enable them to verbalize how their engines are running. For example, too slow, too fast or just right,” she writes.

We’ve tried this approach with Ian. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Go figure. What we have learned is this: Be very careful with how you introduce anything new. The way it is first presented is what your Asperger child is going to want to see again and again.

My son is not a neurotypical kid and he’s not going to be a neurotypical adult. His need for sameness is engrained in who he is. The characters may change, but the plot remains on the same course.

When he was five, he was convinced that the ice cream scoop was a “digger hammer.” I couldn’t talk him out of that until just recently. For most of his early elementary years, a Veggie Tales movie provided the transition to bedtime. But not just any Veggie Tales. No, it had to be Dave and the Giant Pickle or all hell was going to break loose. There was no rationalizing this issue.

Fortunately, a lot of this has changed. His coping skills have increased. But he is still rigid. His need for “sameness” only expresses itself in more age-appropriate ways. By the time he comes home from school, for instance, he’s held it together long enough that he simply must unplug—with video games and music that sounds to me as if someone is getting stabbed by a pitchfork. And this is where my parenting skills are really put to the test. Do I insist that he do his homework right after school, as many parents would, or do I attempt to view this from my son’s perspective, and honor his need for a cognitive break while still finding a way to make sure that homework is completed before the sun sets? I’ve tried both. The second option is much harder for me but yields better fruit. I find that when I accept the validity of Ian’s uncompromising behaviors I’m able to deal more effectively with them.

I persist because I have to. I’m learning along the way to be flexible with my rigid kid.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Join The Conversation
AmyDixon39548 AmyDixon39548 5 years
Well, here, the need for 'sameness' can be your friend! Perhaps consider confining the 'time to unplug' to a routine start and finish time? Or a routine duration, if you can't bank on always being able to start at the same time. i.e. 'unplug' time is for half an hour, after which it is homework time. Just a suggestion... don't know if you've already tried that type of approach or not.
MiriamBanash MiriamBanash 5 years
My favorite parenting book for all kids, not just my asperger kid, is Raising Your Spirited Child. It assumes that there is a REASON for the behavior, a cause and a function. Then has excellent, practical suggestions on what parents can do. It also helps with choosing battles. When my son was 2 he was already reading and he loved the sign on the Sears at the mall. If I parked ANYWHERE but Sears he would scream and scream. It wasn't worth fighting that battle. I didn't care where we parked so we always parked at Sears.
jodi-shaw jodi-shaw 5 years
omg I cried reading this. Our son Trace is five and he's getting assessed through Children's for Asperger's. When you describe your son, I see mine. All day at school he's good, his behavior is good, mind you he's in kindergarten. At home it's music and video games, DS, Nintendo, but I'm trying hard to get him to read books, play with his imagination, but the battles are never ending. It's a fight and struggle and some days I even stare at him and wonder what is really wrong with you other than I am a horrible mother for you to be this way - because all along they have said nothing is wrong. But these are the same people who said nothing was wrong for two years until they discovered Trace had mild CP which is why he didn't walk until after his second birthday! I cannot trust anyone, not even myself and I'm scared to death. Reading this gave me hope. Thank you so much!
DavidRubbico DavidRubbico 6 years
I am a single father raising a 17 yr old daughter w/Autism, Asperger's, & CP. With all the services she's rec'd, not one has helped deal with her severe food mannerisms. She doesn't eat what most others do (IE: mashed potatoes, tomato sauce unless on pizza, fruit, veggies, etc). Childrens Services was called when someone thought I was starving her, but when they asked my daughter what happened, she said "He tried making me eat vegetables". CS regs say that I don't have to make a separate meal for my daughter, but I feel guilty then, & my daughter uses this against me. All I can do is have hot dogs & plain salad (only iceburg lettuce) for her to make her own dinner. Services must be made to help the parent(s) deal with food mannerisms, or the child's body will have serious issues when the child gets older.
sandinutty sandinutty 6 years
Wow. This is one of those articles that make a mom like me who does not have a special needs child really appreciate how much heavier your load is to bear. Your deep respect for who your son really is and his right to be as God made him is admirable. Plus, you still have a wonderful sense of humor!
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