Do you feel stressed out at times when it comes to taking care of your child who has Asperger’s syndrome? If so you’re not alone. There are many parents who have a child with Asperger’s syndrome and at times it can be difficult. To help understand common challenges parents face who have a child with Asperger’s syndrome and what a parent can do to cope with a child’s Asperger’s syndrome, I have interviewed psychotherapist Scott Windham, LCSW.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“Well, lets see. I’ve been a psychotherapist of one brand or another for about 10 years now. I started out in 2000 doing one on one behavioral support for children with autism in schools and homes and have since worked in psychiatric hospitals, public and private schools, and where I am currently which is in private practice in the greater Pittsburgh area.”
“One of the things that sets me apart somewhat from a lot of other mental health professionals is that I take a very non-pathological view of Asperger’s syndrome. I cringe anytime I hear it called a disease. From my experience Asperger’s often times comes with as many strengths as it does weaknesses, it’s not something that we should necessarily be rushing out there to try to “cure”. A lot of the work that I do with teens and adult Aspies revolves around helping them to understand that they are valid and whole as people just as they are and that they are not defective or damaged, which is often times how the syndrome has been described to them in the past. Just because the majority of the world is neurotypical and does not develop intense special interests or engage in self-stim behavior or try to understand emotional topics from a logical point of view does not make any of those things bad or wrong. I see my job, as helping people with Asperger’s become the best that they can be while learning to live in a neurotypical world. Often times the largest difficulties that Aspies face are depression, anxiety and loneliness that stems from the fact that the neurotypical world often does not accept them for who they are.”
What are some challenges for a parent who has a child who has Asperger’s syndrome?
“Parents of children with Asperger’s syndrome face a plethora of challenges. One that is almost universal is the issue of learning to accept your child as they are, having a child with Asperger’s means having a child that may at times be significantly different from what is thought of as “normal” (another word I dislike) in our society. For parents this means that they have to substantially alter their expectations of what it will mean to be a parent as their child grows up. Some parents describe it as “the loss of a dream” but I often re frame this as ‘having a different dream than the one you thought you were going to have, but a very beautiful dream none the less’.”
“Another very stressful challenge for many parents is learning to navigate the system of care, which is, in generous terms, quite broken. The amount of forms necessary to get services for a child can seem to be in and of itself a full time job, and it only gets more difficult as children reach school age.”
“Many parents also feel a very real sense of isolation and judgment; the assumption of many people seems to be that their child’s difficulties are the parent’s fault. In fact we are only several decades away from the time when psychiatrists used to claim basically the same thing. So many parents have been in the situation where their child is having some type of difficulty in public only to have a stranger make a remark such as “If that were my child things would be different”. It’s such a shame-provoking scenario for a lot of parents that many go out of their way to avoid going out in public with their child or attending family events etc..”
“Then there are the day to day struggles of parenting a child with Asperger’s syndrome, which can be especially frustrating as the needs of the child are not often so easily understood by the parent.”
What can a parent do to cope with their child’s Asperger’s syndrome?
“GET SUPPORT! Being the parent of any child is in and of itself a very daunting, stressful and difficult task, let alone a child who has significantly different needs than their peers. If your family and friends are willing to provide this support that is good, but for many parents, connecting with and being around other parents who also have children with Asperger’s or other forms of Autism is a life saver. You are not alone. There are many other parents who are struggling with issues that you would find very familiar, seek them out. Almost all larger cities and many smaller towns have organizations that offer peer support for parents of children on the Autistic spectrum, seek them out.”
What type of professional help is available for a parent who is coping with their child’s Asperger’s syndrome?
“At least in my area there are not a lot of services that are designed specifically with the parents in mind, which is sad actually. However, most therapists who have experience working with people with Asperger’s or with families can be very helpful. I think that it is important for the parent to address their own feelings and issues both for their own well-being and for that of their children.”
What last advice would you like to leave for a parent who has a child with Asperger’s syndrome?
“I think it is important to take it day by day and try to maintain perspective. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that the diagnosis in any way predicts or limits what your child will be capable of. It’s also very important that you do all that you can to become educated on the diagnosis and to advocate for your child. A lot of school professionals misread social difficulties as a lack of intelligence and this is almost never the case when it comes to Asperger’s. I’ve seen way too many kids wind up in classes that are way below their academic level because school personnel don’t understand the diagnosis.”
“Love your child, make sure that they know that you love them just the way that they are. Be there for them, and be ready to answer (sometimes sticky) questions in a very logical way as this is often how people with Asperger’s learn the best.”
“Don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself and/or your child.”
Thank you Scott for doing the interview on how a parent can cope with their child’s Asperger’s syndrome. For more information about Scott Windham or his work you can check out his website on www.pittsburgh-therapy.com.
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