I felt utterly helpless. There was something profoundly wrong with my daughter, but I couldn’t help her — me the trained psychologist, the one with the master’s degree in social work and a doctoral degree in psychology. But this was long before the Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis became official in the United States. (Now it’s classified as a high functioning form Autism Spectrum Disorder.)
I began wondering about Bianca’s social skills by the end of first grade. She never seemed to play with other children and actually shunned them if they got too rambunctious. I dismissed my concerns and chalked it up to her sensitive, fanciful spirit.
Then the “wonder years” (age 6 to 11) arrived. This is when children enthusiastically explore their newfound independence. Their curiosity expands beyond the family yet they are still delightfully innocent. Although they are cultivating friends and acquiring social and academic knowledge at school, they really do still adore their parents.
They are also learning about social context. In other words, they are developing a theory of mind that is a prerequisite for empathy. Empathy leads to a whole host of social skills required in the worlds of children and adults. Bianca’s “wonder years” were anything but typical.
That’s when I started to get desperate. I became a classic helicopter mother. I found all kinds of ways to work around the school system. I hired tutors to coax her. I negotiated high school credit from outside activities. I tried Brownies, soccer, piano lessons, and summer camps. I forced her to audition for a prestigious private choir because of her marvelous singing ability—even though she was frightened of the other choir members. I tried everything I could think of to make my autistic child smile.
I consulted a naturopath. Being the supreme helicopter mother, I rolled up my sleeves and called local psychiatrists and psychologists. After a few appointments, it was clear these local folks weren’t going to be much help. I got on the Internet and began searching for help outside our community. Eventually we got the diagnosis…your daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome.
After the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome
My daughter was born eight years before anyone could have diagnosed her with Asperger Syndrome. By the time she was officially diagnosed, at age 14, I had been a helicopter mother for years.
I was taken by surprise with my daughter’s problems. I had no special knowledge to help her, just a mother’s love. I had to learn from the “outside in” and change many of my basic beliefs about parenting in order to reach her. I made some profoundly moving discoveries along the way. I made some terrible, life-altering mistakes, too.
I would like to tell you things got better for Bianca and all of us, but our lives turned tragic. My husband and I went through an extremely hostile divorce. Bianca continued to deteriorate under the aftermath of the divorce.
What does my story have to do with you?
Being a helicopter parent is a natural outcome of the crazy-making Asperger Sydrome/Neurotypical world we find ourselves in. Our natural instincts are to protectively hover over our children when they have such a serious disability. It’s equally natural to fight for them even if neighbors, teachers, and authority figures deem you unreasonable.
There are serious drawbacks to helicopter parenting. It leaves you very little time to relax and enjoy your children. As the super-responsible parent, you are always in survival mode. Bianca used to say of me, “My mom is obsessed with my brain!” Sadly, she wasn’t equally aware of my love for her. That is my fault as a helicopter mother. I’d circled her with offers of help while not leaving enough time for hugs.
- Helicopter parenting is a natural by-product of loving your very dependent child. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are over-reacting. Your strongest asset is your heart.
- Channel your helicoptering into finding a good psychologist or Asperger Syndrome specialist, who really knows what he or she is doing.
- Join a support group for NTs in relationships with Aspies. I sponsor an international group online. It’s called Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD. Find us at http://www.meetup.com/Asperger-Syndrome-Partners-Family-of-Adults-with-ASD
- Read everything about Asperger Syndrome you can get your hands on. There are marvelously supportive resources at Autism Asperger Publishing Company. See http://www.aapcpublishing.net/
- Join your local Autism Society affiliate. It’s important that you socialize with other parents and spouses who share your experience. You are not alone. There are others who have gone before you and can help you avoid the pitfalls of ignorance. You’ll find a list of these groups at http://www.autismsource.org/
- Don’t blame yourself for your mistakes. This is a challenging walk. Love yourself enough to keep on creating a meaningful life in spite of your mistakes. Keep in mind that human beings are remarkably resilient.
- Take time to relax and play. The future is unwritten, but today is a gift to be relished with your loved ones.
Thank goodness there have been tremendous improvements in understanding Asperger Syndrome. However, we have a long way to go to help our AS/NT families. If we hope to save the Biancas of the world (and their parents from a lifetime of grieving) we must have the courage to look at the harsh realities threatening our families and find the healing we all need.