What if I were to tell you that parenting a child with Asperger’s Disorder is (as not-so-simple as) having an argument without emotion? Perspective and patience, neither of which are plentiful for Aspies or for participants in an argument, are the keys to success.
Let’s face it. An argument takes on a life of its own. It is a verbal joust without rules, order, or logic. At their worst, arguments can be about “winning”, putting others down, and getting revenge. At their best, negative emotion fuels negative emotion as the initial trigger for the argument is shoved aside by anger, frustration, and impatience.
What happens when you replace the word argument with debate? The emotionality of the interaction is completely drained and replaced with rules and structure. A podium allows for uninterrupted speech. A topic is provided beforehand, affording each side time to construct their thoughts into cogent arguments and counterarguments. Emotion is for emphasis but is not necessarily effective or desired.
Let’s take a mom and an Aspie. Our Aspie has failed to brush her teeth after four reminders because the latest installment of Pokemon is far more interesting. Our mom has a long day ahead of her and little sleep and just needs our Aspie to brush her teeth, so they can leave for school.
Brush your teeth.
BRUSH your teeth.
BRUSH YOUR teeth.
BRUSH YOUR TEETH.
When this shift occurs, from problem-solving, from logical, practical thinking, to emotionally laden speech, we lose our Aspie. We bombard her/him with tone of voice, facial expressions, postures, emotive language, and gestures that simply
Brushing anything is farthest from our Aspie’s mind as she tries to make sense of the emotion. Her mind whizzes, she panics, and she has no idea what to do. As she tries to make sense of the emotion, her mom continues to expect that task to be completed. A full-on argument ensues, and our Aspie’s ability to problem-solve, to think rationally – a typical cognitive strength for Aspies – is replaced with a Flight or Flight reaction (depending on the day).
When the dust settles, and the teeth are brushed, our Aspie cannot be left to pick up the pieces, attempting to understand both the problem and the emotion. We need to have a conversation with her, asking her: How can we avoid this next time? How can I communicate better?
Parenting an Aspie is a cerebral task, a constant one at that. By no means am I saying you can parent a neurotypical child easily or mindlessly but they can make sense and learn from your emotions. Your Aspie cannot. You will parent an NT with your gut and an Aspie with your brain. Your Aspie needs you calm, logical, and with your emotions in check.