Stella’s story

Some old friends of mine, who are some of the few people in the world who have been willing to socialize with my mother, recently gave me their take on her abnormalities and suggested that I see a psychiatrist about her. My mother’s behavior had never fit any psychological profile that I had encountered but I recently met with a psychiatrist and a genetic counsellor and they offered the Asperger diagnosis. Since reading about it I am convinced that their diagnosis is correct…. I am feeling very surprised that there seems to be a neurological profile for behavior that I thought was unique to my mother.  I understand AS is much more common in males than in females but my mother’s parents were closely related – they shared the same grandfather, whose son was institutionalized for antisocial behavior.  Therefore, I think that my mother inherited AS autism genes from both her parents.


Our family was not thriving on any level.  Although my mother was not competent at the basics of maintaining a household, my father thought that it was women’s work and did not contribute himself.  The upside is that because my mother (and father) could not cope with any of the responsibilities of having a house, we lived in a small rented apartment surrounded by elderly people and a few families who seemed to decide early on that they were going to intervene to see that I was okay.  Therefore, I divided my time since the age of three between a long-term baby-sitter and many neighbors who invited me for meals, helped when I was injured, provided a safe place to play and tried to give me a leg up in some ways.  My parents “home” had very little in it – no love, bizarre meals (usually just one ingredient, e.g. all eggs, all beans, all dairy, etc), few furniture (some black chairs and sofa that would not show the dirt), no TV or radios.  My mother never learned to drive and my parents had no interest in celebrating my birthday and did not want to celebrate the big holidays.   Another difficulty was that my mother favored my brother who is older and more resembles her.  Both she and my father turned a blind eye to his bullying and abuse. It seems that my father married my mother and stayed with her because of her extreme frugality, which he shared and appreciated.

Some of my mother’s obsessions changed frequently and included medieval coinage, arctic wildflowers, watching track and field.  Her collections have also changed and have included dozens of jars of fermented fruit, shoes, nail scissors, laundry detergent and bleach.  Her current interest is in accumulating dried plums. For the last 30+ years she has worked as a volunteer for the  [Political Organisation]  as an advocate for “Juvenile Justice,” mainly advocating funding for programs for youth who have committed crimes. In her comments about this work, has revealed a sense of camaraderie with young homicides who are probably sociopaths.  Her positions are never paid and she seems to experience a certain amount of conflict with the other volunteers.  Socially, she is extremely pedantic and most new acquaintances excuse themselves after a few minutes.

I have felt very let down in the past because others had so little understanding of the harm this type of terrible parenting can inflict.  I have never met any woman who reminds me of my mother and I have never met anyone who has described experiencing the type of bad parenting that I received from my mother. I have noticed that the number of resources devoted to helping parents with AS traits far outnumbers those for children with AS parents and yet children of AS parents have the most experience with how these traits play out over a lifetime and have probably suffered a great deal.   I am curious to learn more about others’ experience and see if they seem similar to my own.

5 thoughts on “Stella’s story

  1. I think the big sign of AS in a parent is they are just not present with you. They are absent. The main mistake I made in my childhood was that I mixed up giving attention with receiving attention. There was no such thing as receiving attention. The only possible interaction was me giving attention, listening to moms monologue, being involved with her. One way traffic. She was not present in my life. She was on her own track. I could join her, or be alone, she would never join me. We were never together. That’s what I read in all your stories: children trying hard to earn some attention and never getting any real involved love or care. AS could stand for Absent Soul. You just don’t get a real connection.

  2. Stella, one thing in particular that struck me from your post is your AS mother having a camaraderie with young murderers. My AS father and especially my sociopathic mother, as scathingly judgmental as they were about most everyone, had a certain fondness and understanding of rapists and murderers that I always found extremely disturbing and creepy. She also tended to vociferously blame victims for their own victimization.
    I always thought it was weird that they could identify.with those types of perpetrators. Maybe they saw a little of themselves in them.

  3. Thanks for both of your stories, Stella and C. Ann. I first put 2 + 2 together and realized my mom was AS about 10 years ago. I couldn’t understand WHY she was so different from other people. Just two days ago, I finally told her that I think she has AS. She’s 72 now and has, oddly, never even heard of AS. She agreed that she probably does have it, as she has been wondering why she is so different too. One of the traits of AS is “poor executive function,” which is the reason behind the lack of ability to do housework or organize your things. As a kid, my house was a complete pig-sty. My mother also has a very strange appearance. She cuts her hair in a bowl-cut type thing and then combs it completely forward from the back of her head. It looks so weird. She wears bizarre clothes–she wore a “valentine’s day” sweater with hearts and teddy bears on it for like two years (it’s the kind of sweater only a Kindergarden teacher should wear, and only ON Valentine’s day!). My mom wore it because she had it for some reason and didn’t really think about it.

    She monologues about her childhood memories. She has, honestly, never recalled a story about MY childhood. She was a pretty good mom; I was always fed and dressed, but she never hugged me or showed much affection. She hung out with me on weekends and took me bike riding, etc…, she TRIED to be a good mom and I appreciate that. But I always felt like I had to be the adult in the family. Although she is a savant in languages and (like alot of parents here, she has her Phd), she can’t do regular, everyday things. She can’t use any kind of technology unless she has practiced over and over again. For example, she can use her microwave at home, but she won’t even try to use a different microwave. She will not try to cook. She made instant coffee for so many years because she didn’t want to try to learn how to use a coffee maker. She won’t drive to any place she doesn’t already know how to drive to. Imagine the look on a 5-year old’s face if you ask him or her to take your car in for an oil-change. That’s the look on my mom’s face most of the time if you ask her to do anything–it’s a look of confusion and shock. If I ask her to run to the market around the corner from my house to pick up something, she panics because it’s not the market SHE usually goes to near her house. HOW will she get there (it’s around the corner), HOW will she find anything (it’s a typical supermarket)… One time I asked her to take my car to the supermarket around the corner, but the controls of my Honda automatic were too confusing, so she pulled into a bank driveway and called me to say that she can’t use my car and I have to pick her up.

    She’s not a bad person, she’s just been a difficult mother to have. Thanks for sharing your stories!

  4. Stella, I found your account of your mother helps me very much have insight into my mother. I believe my mother has Aspergers. She is 72 now, and since she had other factors in her life that made life difficult, most of her oddities as a mother were ascribed to the fact she was an intelligent ‘masculine’ woman, and a single mother who was poor most of her adult life. She moved a lot as a child and never had any friends. She describes being teased and bullied. She was a C student and tested very well. So well her mother had her go to a prep school her senior year. There she got good grades and went to a good college. She had only one or two friends in college. She majored in physics and astronomy. Astronomy and reading science fiction novels were her passion. She said she was good at physics because she could imagine the concepts concretely. She married after a brief courtship and had three kids. Before she was pregnant she had nothing to do with kids and her sister and mother were worried she would not like mothering. She describes loving and caring for a baby and bonding with her first child, however. When her children began talking back or behaving like typical toddlers she had a lot of difficulty. She definately thought it reflected on her if her children did not act like logical polite adults. Once she put me in a cold shower because I was having an emotional fit (I was 2). I quickly learned there was no point in relating to her emotionally. She was very rigid and rule based. She made sure we were physically healthy but she did not care about us emotionally and did not laugh or play with us. Our father did this though. Her marriage was falling apart over the years and she escaped by reading and did little housework and had no friends outside the marriage or in it. She fought a lot with my father and when I was 6 she moved out and drove her three kids four hundred miles away to live with her mother and father. She said she wanted a divorse and made no attempts to reconcile or get counseling. We only saw my father once or twice a year after this. It was a snap decision out of anger and there was no going back. The rest of my childhood we lived in poverty in a small town. We got emotional care and some financial and childcare help from my grandparents. My mother dressed funny, had strange ideas about what a house should look like, was very logical and perfunctory about solving problems and had absolutely no sympathy for any of our emotional distress about not having or being like other families. She yelled a lot and made us do the housework. Like your neighbors,Stella the parents of our friends and neighbors and people in our church took care of us in many ways. I earned money babysitting and doing odd jobs to buy all my own clothes and anything fun , since my mother thought I should be fine in charity cast offs and despised toys or sweets. She had a tough love attitude. She spoke in pronouncements and absolutes. She was proud of us when we did well, but was mostly anxious that we wouldn’t and was always finding ways to direct us and control us to behave better. I don’t think she enjoyed living in the moment. Her hobby of reading continued, mostly she retreated to a book. She made architectural drawings. She had a job as a statistion. Holidays were awful. Birthdays were nothing to look forward to. There was no hope of getting what you wanted for your birthday, the best I hoped for was not to be humiliated. I never had a birthday party where friends were invited during elementary school though I’d plan sleepovers for myself in middle school. When I moved away I got very little help or support from my mother. Mostly she had criticism or mistrust of me. I was literary and creative and she didn’t understand me at all. I majored in Greek in college which made her extremely uncomfortable. As an adult I realize that its taken me a lot longer than my peers just to feel ok about who I am. My older sister and younger brother fared better, though they also have left and had to build up there emotional lives as adults without support from my mother. It took me years before I began to notice how many toxic critical remarks she consistently spiced her conversations with me. I would tune them out, but they affected me. It would be impossible to win her approval so I gave up long ago. I think I have always felt unloved by her, and not ok , it is hard for a child to thrive when their parent’s body language and verbal tone shows constant disapproval. Others in the family realize that it his oddity that makes her this way. They tell me that of course she loves me, but that she just can’t show it like normal people. That is because she has Aspergers. As I became older I began to more consciounly notice and create defenses against her anxious toxic comments towards me. But I still have a long way to go. She wants to visit her children and her grandschildren and now she claims that we are the most important thing in her life. Despite her we have all become successful. When she does visit she acts like a 9 year old girl, needing things to be just so. She can ‘t stand if a street light goes into her bedroom or if a car goes by at night it wakes her up. She doesn’t like noise or emotional ups and downs of children. She needs to eat certain foods every day. She constantly makes prounouncements on how Things SHOULD be done and what Good people think and do and what bad people think and do. It drives everyone crazy. I only realized she might have aspergers a month ago so I am still processing what this may mean. I don’t think she will respond favorabley to any one telling her she has anything wrong with her though.

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