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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.

33 Responses to Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults – Living with Your Adult Child-90

  1. Kathleen says:

    I have a son aged 28 with Asperger Syndrome. I only found out he had Aspergers when I started working as a secretary to a physician in behavioural problems. Day in, day out I typed medical reports about children with Aspergers and every time I would find something that I could relate to my son. I decided to talk to my boss about it and she spent about an hour asking me all sorts of questions and in the end told me that she was 90% sure he had Aspergers. My son is in complete denial and the word “Aspegers” became tabu in my household. No one is allowed to mention that word cause if we do he throws a tantrum. Not knowing he had aspergers by the time he was 25 I told him to leave the house (I had had enough of his “rudeness” towards me. To a certain extent it turned out to be a good thing) as because he has a passion for music, he formed his own company of music producing and management of artistds and is doing very well but money goes through his hands like water. He has no sense of money management and I cant say anything about that. Then he asks me for money and if I say I dont have there is a problem. Help with housework is not even mentioned in my house because he will not help. Your newsletter says:

    “…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…”

    Well, that does not mean anything to my son as he will answer “WHY??” and after that there will be an argument. If I dont answer he pokes me suggesting an answer, if I DO answer he doesnt agree with the answer and the argument will go on for hours. If I want to leave the house in order to get away from him he will pin me to the wall asking “WHERE ARE YOU GOING”. Im an elderly lady working still at my retirement age and am finding it difficult to deal with a 6ft 4ins man of 28 who does not understand me. I have been for therapy sessions in order to help ME to handle him but nothing works. Its got to a point that Im the one who needs help and not him.

    • Kathy says:

      This is a tough situation, Kathy, and I feel for you.
      Contact the autism society in your state and ask what services are available for adults. See if you can get respite care.
      Is he able to live alone? If so this may be the time to push him to do so, teach him while you’re still around, save both of your sanity. Have you applied for disability for him? will help with money for him to live on.
      Sounds like if he is capable of taking care of himself he needs to be, you need a break.
      If you can’t get services from the state, maybe you can hire someone to check in on him a few times a week or to help with finances – might be easier than the stress of trying to take it on yourself.

      It’s hard with older, and it sounds like relatively high functioning people on the spectrum. But his behavior is sounding slightly manipulative to me and it sounds like he needs a good push to learning how to do things himself, if possible.

      Good luck

  2. Rob says:

    Can any Asperger’s people enlist in the Military? ie. USAF

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      Yes, but it depends on their abilities. Many with mild autism/high functioning autism / Asperger’s thrive in the military. The military is often a great place for someone with Asperger’s because the military is very “rules” based. Everything is done according to standard procedures and the military is very good at training. Routine is followed and that plays to an adult with Asperger’s strengths. Additionally, your job is protected and “office politics” plays a lesser roll in the military than in private industry.

  3. marsha campanaro says:

    We have an adult Asperger’s son. Would like to read more.

  4. geraldine says:

    i found this very helpful as my housband and 15 year old child both have high fuction

  5. Marina says:

    When you are speaking to the student/adult child are you expecting the family to understand it? How do you get the family to read this?

  6. Samantha says:

    Thank-U! It makes me cry to read this because you explain in words what I experience with my son and husband, who both have A.S. It helps to read it and encourages me to keep following my ‘gut’. The communication and routine we have is a huge part of why we work. I Love my family, we have many hard times but they are worth it, and ‘understanding’ A.S. is the key. I don’t always read these emails (for lack of time) but you are doing an amazing and totally worthwhile job. Thank-you again. Sam.

    • Eileen says:

      Hi Samantha: My husband has Aspergers too. When we got married, neither one of us knew about his condition. He always seemed to have issues with people and it became clear he was having a hard time finding work he could do without these issues getting in the way. Eventually he applies for and received Social Security Disability (w/o a proper diagnosis, but just knowing some things were difficult and missing for him.) Over the years, I learned to accept him for the wonderful person he is and was able to let go of all the societal expectations I had for him. We’ve been married almost 26 years and I don’t know what I would do w/o him. Finding out what his true condition was a few years ago was so helpful. It’s good to read there are other “mixed marriages” out there that are working. May the Lord continue to bless us both in our unique relationships. Eileen

      • Craig Kendall - Author says:

        My book “Thriving in Adulthood with Asperger’s Syndrome” has many tips for married adults with Asperger’s.

      • Jenny says:

        I have been married for 30 years and always knew my husband was a little bit different but I initially put it down to lack of confidence.
        Being a teacher of 21 years now I have developed the belief that my husband has aspects of Aspergers, but he has also had other health issues that have caused depression.

        Since our early days my husband would always read the car magazine in the newspaper before he did anything else. He has to read the newspaper from back to front and gets mad with me if I throw out the papers after two weeks because he says he hasn’t read a certain bit.

        I talk to him about being Aspergers and he just laughs, but at the same time when he does something that is not correct he says he is Aspergers.

        His emotional intelligence I believe is very low, as he has trouble connecting on an emotional level. He has trouble holding hands, and now since his physical problems with prostrate cancer, cannot even have a cuddle in bed.

        I have tried to get him to see a counsellor but he resists. I would like some advice or opinions on how I can get him to reconnect emotionally so that they we can have an emotional relationship.

      • Marianne Bernaldo says:

        Hi Jenny,

        I’m so sorry to hear that your husband has prostate cancer. I am not a licensed MFT or psychologist but a Certified Behavior Analyst so I cannot give you specific emotional advice but I can give you my professional opinion has a Behavior Analyst.

        I would try to define what an emotional relationship means to you. Have a clear definition of what you expect. Make it measurable as well such as, “I need XX amount of XX 3 times per day” or whatever it is that you are wanting. Present the list to him (this would be your data) and see if he can meet you half way.

        Unfortunately, individuals cannot be forced to see a counselor but at least presenting to him clear, defined set expectations is a start if he indeed does have Asperger’s Syndrome.


  7. Fred McPeck says:

    Also very good for adult spouses.

  8. peggy cooper says:

    My brother Tom is a 55 year old man with aspergers, he has had the usual hellish experiences, Tom is the youngest of 7 siblings and I am the oldest. I am a retired Presbyterian pastor. Tom was or mothers care giver, when she died Tom was expected to hit the road. Tom has lots of skills and hobbies, he wants to meet a “gal” of British Isles back ground. Tom is not with out funds but with out friends. please respond. thanks Peggy and Tom [name and number withheld]

    • Craig Kendall says:

      I suggest that any adult with high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome try and meet other adults who also have Asperger’s. There maybe groups for adults sponsored by therapists. Other good places to find friends who have Asperger’s is to go to a local university. Nearly all of them these days have student groups for adults with Asperger’s. While the members of these groups may disproportionately be students (and too young) there may still be professors or older students whom you could meet. Let’s face it, someone with Asperger’s will understand and be a potential friend for another adults with Asperger’s.

  9. Collie says:

    Without proper assistance I have had to survive with Asperger’s Syndrome for almost 73 years. My life has not been easy, but I have survived. I am among the top 20 members here on ASN trying to give advice to members and non members

  10. Kimberly Schank says:

    Thank you Craig,
    You have helped a great deal. This newsletter was perfect timing. My son is 19, going to college, has aspergers, and is floundering. We have asked him, numerous times to help around the house after homework is done. Our problem, we weren’t specific as to how we want the dishes done, the bathroom cleaned, etc.. Thank you again.
    Kimberly Schank

    • Craig Kendall says:

      You are welcome and thanks for reading my newsletters. If you know anyone who would benefit, email them the newsletters and suggest they sign up for a free subscription.

  11. Margaret Bower says:

    This was extremely helpful as we are living with an adult girl age 24 with Asperger’s and we are trying to help her complete her last few credits from college and obtain her degree. Apparently everything that I read above seems to fit the situation perfectly and we definitely have not been handling things correctly in the past. We will try the suggestions you have given.

  12. Laura Skarvada says:

    How do I know my adult son has Asperger’s Syndrome. Is there testing for this?

  13. Dayna says:

    I understand aspergers and my husband has aspergers but I think this sounds like a normal immature adult child living at home. I normal young adult can be very selfish and clueless. But the child in your story also needs an outlet and is justified in felling trapped in that situation. She sounded right on to me.

    Also your last newsletter about traveling with children sounded like good advice for normal kids to me. I always prepare my kids and take items of interst and snacks. That’s good parenting.

    I usually really enjoy your newsletter. I just thought I should comment. Thx.

  14. jonathan garson says:

    This is a good article, but you left out a big issue- NONCOMPLIANCE.

    I wanted to see the next sub heading after “Be Aware of Each Other’s Emotions…” be “What To Do When They Refuse to Comply, How to Consequence.”

    Thanks!! JON GARSON

  15. Susan Germain-Wachs says:

    I want to order your book, Thriving in Adult hood. But I do not use Pay pal. How can I get it?

  16. Kathy says:

    My Asperger’s son is 22 and has not done a thing with his life since graduating high school. He lives with his father who demands nothing of him. His Asperger’s wasn’t discovered until he was almost done with high school, so he’s had no help whatsoever. I’ve tried different avenues to get him help but have been told he’s not bad enough or needs to interact/communicate with them himself. He does not drive. I need help and don’t know where to turn.

    • Craig Kendall says:

      Unfortunately, those with very mild autism are often not diagnosed until late teens or adulthood. But it is never too late to get help. I suggest that you find a therapist who helps adults with Asperger’s syndrome. They can help your son with communication and social skills and also with occupational training. You may also find this article helpful, Asperger’s adults who were never diagnosed.

  17. Patrick Potter says:

    I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome several times. How can I get you books you mentioned? Also I live alone.

  18. Maggy Pishneshin says:

    Hi, My daughter is now 42, and is in denial about her Aspergers, so we don’t have a diagnosis or a way forward. Her life pattern fits the Aspie profile exactly, and now that I have modified how I relate to her as her mother, our relationship is so much less fraught. I have ordered a copy of the new book, and am hoping it will cast some light on our situation as I worry for her future when I’m not around to look out for her anymore. There must be many many thousands of people her age who are stuck, no friends, no job, and a lot of anxiety and unhappiness. More needs to be done for this invisible group of sufferers. Keep up the good work! Maggy

  19. Kelvin Nairn says:

    I am 65 years old, and was only diagnosed 5 years ago. This has been very helpful!

  20. erika says:

    this was very helpfull

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