Miriam

I believe that my father, sister and nephew all are affected by Asperger’s Syndrome. My nephew (my sister’s child) was diagnosed with Asperger’s about a year ago. I learned about Asperger’s Syndrome several years ago while researching a paper on autism for a school project. When I saw an article about Asperger’s, I couldn’t believe it – I thought, “Oh my God, it’s my family!”

My father was a professor of logic, now retired. He has always been extremely socially inept and unable to read “cues.” He relies on my mother to tell him how to dress, act, take care of himself. He has numerous peculiar “special interests,” including collecting flags (not the actual flags, but pictures of flags and facts about them), national anthems and military uniforms (again, not the uniforms themselves, but pictures and facts). He is extremely pedantic and boring and tends to “communicate” (if you want to call it that) by following another person around and lecturing on and on, without letting the other person really participate in the conversation, seemingly not able to comprehend that the other person has no interest in the topic. He is a kind man – not a mean bone in his body – but he’s totally oblivious to the needs of others. I could go on, and I’d be happy to provide more information if necessary, but I think that’s probably sufficient.

My sister is, I believe, affected even more profoundly by AS. She’s two years older than I am, and was actually diagnosed as “mildly autistic” when she was about 5 years old. Her school had sent her for an evaluation because her behavior was odd. However, she was never told about the diagnosis (which is my mother’s style), although I was told about it as an adult. My sister, though she’s very bright, seems to have no insight whatsoever into the fact that her mannerisms and perspective are unusual or uncomfortable to others. Her son received a diagnosis of AS and she doesn’t seem to be able to put this fact together with her own behavior. It is very hard for me to see her struggle ineffectively with her son’s issues. She is so sensitive that I don’t feel that I can bring up her own diagnosis with her.

I guess that I’m mostly looking for some support and understanding about growing up in a household where AS traits were not only considered “normal,” but often actually desirable. The family lore was that “this is how really smart people act,” so that not exhibiting AS traits meant that I wasn’t as “smart” as they were. (Yes, my father and sister did test higher on IQ tests, SATs, etc. than I did – and my sister does not let me forget it to this day.) On one hand, I began to realize (especially witnessing the teasing of my sister at school) that they were different, but on the other hand, I felt that I was inferior to them. Also, my mother, though not affected with AS, is quite simplistic when it comes to understanding emotional issues of any kind. I always felt that it was not ok to have feelings, let alone express them or get my emotional needs met. To this day, I feel that it’s my job to “walk on eggshells” around my family – to figure out what’s ok to talk about, not get them upset, etc. I do not look to them for support – I believe that they all try their best, but just can’t give it. I’d like to talk to others who may have faced a similar family dynamic growing up. I am struggling with recurrent depressions as an adult, find that I have a very hard time acknowledging my own feelings and needs, and would like to hear if others in my situation face similar issues.

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4 thoughts on “Miriam

  1. I’m surprised there are so few resources for people who grew up in this situation but I suppose it makes sense because the parent would, by definition, not have noticed a problem with the kids. Both of your stories resonate with mine.

    My dad’s preferred odd obsessions: boats, engines, vehicles, hunting, fishing, guns. Totally embarrassing to me! My friends also were baffled. One friend came clean to our group of adolescent friends that her dad was an alcoholic and was no longer living with them. Then everyone asked what was up with my family, but all I could say was “I don’t know, there is something though.” I think they thought I was withholding information, they even asked if my was an alcoholic or something.

    As a young child, I became mad at my dad because he was ignoring me. I used angry tones when I spoke, minimal eye-contact, and a lot of sarcasm. This went on for about a year, but he didn’t notice. I thought he didn’t care I was mad at him and I felt deeply rejected, but later I realized that he can’t follow nonverbal cues (being a kid I wasn’t saying anything literally bad) so he was unable to pick up on it. I basically was upset with him, forgave him, and moved on without him even noticing anything.

    Fortunately he traveled a lot, so my mom, brother and I formed a family ourselves, and he didn’t ever seem to be really a part of it.

    I also oscillate between feeling sorry for him and trying to be nice to him during visits, and angry with him. You can say he has no intentional mean behavior and that essentially, he is a very good person. But not being a sociopath/cruel person isn’t really that great of a compliment, it is basically saying, there is nothing horrible…. but there are some important good things missing too. It is hard not to be sarcastic or mad at him because he acts obnoxiously and can have a mean streak if you disagree with him. If you are sarcastic or insult him in a sideways way he doesn’t even notice. He can’t hold a normal conversation but does the monologue thing, and to speak at all you must interrupt. If you raise a topic that isn’t one of his topics he will immediately change it back. He is unable to fathom that some people are not following his talk on the combustion engine. After being angry with him I always feel guilty. I feel like it would be like being angry with a person with no legs for not running.

    My mom (they divorced after I was through college) recently apologized to me for marrying him, she said she married him out of pity and almost backed out on her wedding day. I would never ever leave my kids alone with him for more than a few minutes (like my 2 year old still asleep and needing to take my other kid to preschool). I know if my mom was watching them and my younger child had a dirty diaper, she would change the diaper, but I wouldn’t think he would change it, and he wouldn’t make accommodations for them being small, such as offering different food or using a softer voice. My mom told me she left my older brother with him one time when he was very small and when she got home the baby was filthy. She is very clean so I thought maybe she was exaggerating, but I think now she was right to not let him care for us solo. He gets really mad with the sounds of small children playing, even if they are not fighting or crying, just playing normally.

    I have a distinction mentally when interacting with him, “being real” and “being inauthentic.” It is a lot easier to interact inauthentically, this involves pretending to be interested in boats, not disagreeing with anything ridiculous, and not insulting him or correcting him. But I don’t feel connected at all during this time. If I try to be “real” I interrupt him and tell him if I don’t want to talk about fishing. I tell him if I am upset. But you can’t do that for very long. Ideally I would do only short visits but I live in another state. I just came off a week of holiday interaction with him at my house and it was rough! My house is trashed, and my daughter wasn’t sad to see grandpa go home, whereas when grandma visits she is very sad.

  2. Miriam,
    your post resonates with me more than some of the others I have read on this site. I have recently began researching AS online as I’ve harboured suspicions that my father displays what appear to be mild symptoms of AS, rather than some of the more fully-blown autistic symptoms.

    I would also describe my father as kind and bright, but extremely socially naive without an apparent ability to ‘read’ non verbal cues that make ‘conversation’ (in actual fact lectures) either frustrating, or at times, excruciating.

    It’s very sad for me to see his constant atttempts to engage with people being rebuffed – but it’s understandable to be put off when faced with a man who wants to talk only about his birdwatching/camera interests, all the while with intense, unblinking eye contact!

    On the other hand, I find him exhausting and have in the past opted for a strategy of ‘short but sweet’ interaction with him, determining it is better to spend quality time we both enjoy than longer periods where he starts to drive me crazy!

    I seesaw between frustration at his apparent insensitivity and what I’ve thought of narcissism and then guilt over this.

    As a child I remember often feeling the need to ‘smooth’ over social gaffes and even as as an adult I feel this need to somehow make him feel as though ”everything is okay”. I also remember well the feeling of walking on eggshells in my family and often feeling embarassment about the way my father behaved in front of friends. Even then I realised he was a little odd.

    He was extremely strict disciplinarian when we were growing up. I have a photo of the four of us aged under five and the looks on our faces makes me want to cry – my father is clearly commanding us to look at the camera and we all obey in a sweet, but nervous way that suggests we are worried that we may not be doing it right.

    My other strong memory is when I was 17 and about to leave for my school formal, when he tells me I can’t go back unless I wear stockings with my strapless dress because without them I am not ‘properly dressed’. It is the middle of summer – steaming hot- and the hose in the house belong to my mother – they are heavy varicose vein control hose. He has shown no interest in my preparations until this moment. My mother quietly tells me to take them off in the car – she never contradicts him or argues.

    My predominant feeling (shared by my siblings)is of pretty much being left to our own devices emotionally from quite a young age – our physical needs were fairly promptly attended to, but with any problems we might have had – such as bullying at school – my siblings would try to solve among ourselves. There was no thought of going to our parents, which I realise now is very strange.

    My mother seemed unavailable to me and I think now she was busy meeting to the needs of my father, but she was a distant figure. My well meaning, but essentially clueless father would probably have taken up a lot of her emotional resources. Noone in my family (two brothers and a sister)had a close relationship with her either.

    I too have found it difficult to form relationships. I have had very poor self esteem, set perfectionistic standards that I inevitably don’t reach and find fault with myself when this happens.

    I have found it easier to be away from my father (my mother is no longer alive). However, the possibility that he has AS symptoms has made me think about revisiting aspects of my childhood from a new perspective, not simply from the old, painful reflections of self doubt and a feeling of seeing something in our family noone else wants to acknowledge.

    I hope this helps a little.

    • Hi Helen and Miriam,

      Your father’s descriptions are also quite familiar to mine!

      The subject of autism in my life was sparked once again by a friend asking if I could possibly have a mild version of it. But I knew from past diagnoses that this is not the case (not moreso than the average male).

      I never realized my father was odd though but I myself had many problems fitting in when I was young, had very low self worth or understanding as well, I never wanted to be as alone as my father though. I never understood why. But this week I kind of saw the light…

      Things that I recall about his behaviour, quite similarly:
      – Endless monologues and having a tantrum when I showed my dislike of that (almost like narcissistic injury)
      – Very stubborn in his opinions (black and white)
      – Scolding me even for accidents, or when I accendentally hurt him
      – Scolding me for not following his orders during stressful moments
      – Not understanding emotions and even asking me what I thought it all meant (while I needed to have the explanations myself even more as a kid)
      – Self centered, demanding attention and support
      – Very disciplinary indeed
      – During holidays, we had to walk for hours and hours through the mountains with almost no drinks
      – Rare but strict rules, like having to walk straight up with my shoulders in the right position
      – Total silence during diner or barrage of intrusive questions
      – He had no friends
      – He did try really hard to be a good parent and was worried about his effects on other people constantly

      Effects on my life:
      – clumsy in relationships when it comes to dealing with (complex) emotions / cues
      – difficult to adapt to social norms (although this maybe attributed to ADD-ishness and pure stubbornness on my part)
      – difficulty communicating anything properly from thoughts, to events and feelings
      – black and white thinking / being somewhat single minded
      – many negative and sometimes paranoid thought patterns about others
      – self centeredness (problem on my part just the same)
      – impossible standards on myself
      – addictions

      It’s great to keep reading about this though, it helps our recovery! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      Bart

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