Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults –
Living with Your Adult Child
There are many issues involved in dealing with Asperger’s syndrome in adults that you would not necessarily have with other adult children. The issue of readiness to live alone at 18 or 21 is one of them.
Many young adults without neurological disabilities are also living with their parents after graduating college or high school as well. The press has even given them the name “boomerang kids.” Still, living with your adult Asperger’s child does have its special challenges. So how do you make sure it works for both of you?
1. Set Clear Boundaries for Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults
To start with, you need to set clear boundaries and rules as to the living situation, and what will be expected of all people in the household. This is a good idea no matter whom you are living with. But if you are dealing with Asperger’s syndrome in adults this has extra importance. Why? Because adults with Asperger’s syndrome crave clarity and direction. They completely flounder without it. They do not have the ability to read between the lines and understand what is expected of them. You have to spell it out.
2. Make Rules Clear for Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults
You can save yourself a lot of resentment in the future by making these rules clear ahead of time. Do you want your adult child to help with the chores around the house? Pay rent? Come home by a certain time of night? Limit the amount of people they have over? Then tell them in very explicit terms.
Never assume “Oh, a reasonable person would know to put the dishes away without being told” or “Anyone would know it’s impolite to have friends over after 11pm” or whatever it may be — and then get mad at your child when they break these invisible rules!
Common sense is not a strength of a person with Asperger’s syndrome. Mostly, a person with Asperger’s syndrome will march according to their logic, which makes perfect sense to them. But if you explain to them why you want something a done a certain way or why a certain thing is important to you, then they are perfectly capable of, and usually even eager to, follow the rules.
3. Pay attention to Emotional Maturity, Anxiety and Level of Detail
It can be a hard transition for anyone who is leaving the relatively sheltered world of education to whatever comes next. When dealing with Asperger’s syndrome in adults, though, going from a structured existence where there were clear goals and ways to accomplish them to an aimless existence in which none of this exists can be very hard. You also have to remember that emotional maturity levels of this age group will be behind typical kids, due to the nature of developmental disabilities.
The Experience of a Young Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome
One young woman with Asperger’s syndrome reveals the following about her experiences living with her parents after college.
When I lived at my parents’ house after college, I was an extremely frustrated person. I had absolutely nothing to do with my time, and no way to get out of the house except for perhaps once a week. I didn’t drive, and we lived far from town. I had no control over my life whatsoever.
I would go to my parents for sympathy but they’d just get mad at me. They would go out for dinner, and I’d spend the whole evening resenting that they were able to leave the house and I wasn’t.
When they’d come home late at night, they’d ask me why I hadn’t done the dishes or some other chore, and I’d explode at them about how lucky they were and get mad at them for asking me to help.
It is clear that I had very little emotional maturity at that time. I was drowning in self-pity and didn’t even realize it, and it made me a pretty selfish person at that time in my life. I had no way to feel like I had any control over my life, so had no way to get out of it.
I should have been grateful for a place to stay and helped out around the house in return, but no one had made it clear to me that this was what I was expected to do. And I was so deep in my own feelings of remorse for the life I wanted to have that I couldn’t see it.
What Would Help This Situation
In retrospect, there are a few things that would have made this situation better. When she came home from college, there should have been an in depth, very detailed explanation of “We’re glad to help you out for a little bit and let you stay here, but we expect some things in return. We know the (circumstances of your life that brought you to this place) are very hard, but we still need you to help out.” Then list the specific chores she would be responsible for, or at least the specific things she should make a point to look for to see if they needed to be done. Make a chart. Make it visual, make it stick, and most of all, do it at a time when no one is defensive and it’s being done out of love rather than resentment.
The Method of Communication Matters for Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome
Telling someone to do something in a tone of voice that implies you are angry at them will not have the effect you want when dealing with Asperger’s syndrome in adults. Adults with Asperger’s syndrome are very sensitive to emotion, despite not always being able to display it.
They will pick up on the anger in your tone and be so overwhelmed by it that they will not be able to process what you are saying. The anger is scary to them and makes them go into “survival mode” or at least get very defensive. This takes all their mental energy, and they will totally not remember what you are saying.
Therefore, the mistake will be repeated again and again and again until tensions escalate to unbearable levels. Each party is just trying to do what seems right to them, but both parties fail to see that a lack of proper communication is causing all this resentment. It matters how you communicate.
Be Aware of Each Other’s Emotions, and Pay Attention to Detail
The level of detail also matters. Telling your adult child to “help around the house more” is a very ambiguous statement. Adults with Asperger’s syndrome do not do well with ambiguous statements. Telling them “You should know to do this without us asking” is not helpful either. The feelings of guilt and inadequacy that it creates gets in the way of any helpful message getting across. If they knew to do it, they would be doing it. Most adults with Asperger’s syndrome are eager to please.
Be specific on what chores you want done when, how many friends is a “few,” what time “by night” means, or any other ambiguous statement. You may think “They’re so smart, they should know this stuff,” but remember, adults with Asperger’s syndrome have uneven abilities. They seem very smart in some areas, but can be quite clueless in others.
In most cases, it is not a case of laziness. It’s a case of having no idea what one is supposed to do, or having too much emotional baggage or anxiety to pay attention to anything but the thoughts in their head. In either case, specific direction can work wonders.
There are many other issues involved when dealing with Asperger’s syndrome in adults, and living with your adult child. Many are covered in detail in my book, Thriving in Adulthood with Asperger’s Syndrome. But we cannot stress enough that the most important issue is communication, and communication in a way that your child can really understand. Asperger’s syndrome in adults can present many issues, but with a little understanding of these issues, they can be easily overcome.