A quick internet search will lead to numerous suggestions that adults who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) make poor parents. This is not uniformly true, however.
Granted, difficulty reading and expressing emotions, trouble seeing things from another person’s point of view, interpreting language literally and getting confused unless people say things in concrete and specific language, having fix interests and not learning from mistakes, are not characteristics of ideal parents.
But, as is often the case, looking at the other side of the coin leads to a quite different perspective.
Here are some of the many benefits that Autism Spectrum Disorder parents can give to their children.
It’s untrue that parents with Autism Spectrum Disorder cannot love their children. They are just as capable of being loving parents as neurotypicals. The difficulty they have in connecting with people should not be interpreted to mean a lack of caring.
Many adults with ASD have strong loving, caring feelings that are difficult for them to process, understand and communicate because of their condition. The fact that it is hard for them to articulate their emotions, especially those that are powerfully felt, should not be interpreted to mean loving, affectionate feelings are nonexistent.
The task for the parent with Autism is to learn to express those feelings more directly and frequently to their children. With the support and encouragement from others and help in developing the skills to express these feelings, communicating positive emotions is entirely possible.
Because they focus on rules and doing things correctly, parents with Autism Spectrum Disorder are often honest and direct. They have a strong desire to seek truth and to conduct themselves with honesty. Lying, even telling a “white” lie is difficult.
You can often rely on a parent with Autism Spectrum Disorder to tell the truth no matter how tactless or hurtful it may be. That may not always feel good but on the other hand, there is someone you know will be honest.
It might come as a surprise to list empathy as one of the strong suits of parents with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but often the difficulty they had growing up with their condition helps them understand the hardships children inevitably face as they mature. They know what it’s like to be rejected, shunned, and made fun of, to doubt, and to feel unloved. In a way, that makes them more empathic with what the normal course of development is like for most children.
Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder typically have a preoccupation with certain interests, usually collections of objects or the acquisition of knowledge on a specific topic or concept. When those interests mesh with the child’s interest, both parent and child share an important bond that enhance each other’s growth.
Don had a fascination with boats and water. When his children were young he would take them out on his ski boat almost every weekend during the summer months. Sometimes he would invite other families along and when the children were old enough they invited their friends to join. Those weekends led to amazing memories the children later cherished.
Parents with Autism Spectrum Disorder don’t have a monopoly on responsibility, obviously, but they often take life seriously, having struggled to fit into a world that is different from who they are. That seriousness can coincide with a clear and determined sense of responsibility in their lives and, for parents, the lives of their children.
They may not always understand what the appropriate response is in difficult situations, having always struggled to “get” what’s right to do, but many parents with Autism do want to get it right and will try hard to figure out what that is.
If one area of parenting is foreign to them, like setting limits on the children’s behavior, they will study the problem, learn what to do, and try hard to implement solutions. It may appear mechanical and unemotional, but the trying is important.
All relationships take patience, hard work, and understanding. That is even more the case when one person has Autism Spectrum Disorder. While it may seem that Autism Spectrum Disorder poses too great an obstacle for effective parenting, in fact, parents who want to excel can do so regardless of the barriers in their way.
Having Autism Spectrum Disorder is a challenge for parents, but wanting to do a good job at it is the most important ingredient for effective parenting.