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ASD Family Interactions

Autistic Spectrum Disorders:

We have nearly 25 years of experience working with twice exceptional individuals who struggle with Asperger's Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, or other high functioning developmental disorders. More information...

The Parent Challenge:

Patricia Sullivan, our Director, has over 30 years of experience in education and has particular expertise in behavioral management. More information...

Herman & Associates

Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Family Interactions

This section contains anecdotal information collected through our clinical experience in working with many individuals on the Autistic Spectrum.  This is not research based scientific evidence.  Herman & Associates offers these observations only as points for discussion and as possible research topics in the future. 

ASD tends to run in families.  If one person is identified with ASD, then there are likely others who have it but have not been identified.  The most common reason for this is that they may have a very mild version of ASD.  Families with ASD can have a variety of problems interacting with each other because those with ASD have similar social weaknesses.  For example, a parent with ASD may have minimal ability to understand or manage their own emotions, let alone a child's emotions with ASD.  The problems surrounding affect regulation for both the parent and child may be intense and could tend to ignite.  The neuro-typical (NT) spouse is commonly the parent that intervenes to help the child with emotional dysregulation because they are the one more likely to be able to sooth and comfort the child.

The NT-ASD marriage - When individuals with ASD marry, they often marry individuals who love them and respect their logical, rational, and sequential thinking style.  The NT spouses tend to posses strengths in patience and social skills to compensate for their partner's social shortcomings.  When the adult with ASD is on the upper end of the cognitive spectrum, they may be highly accomplished professionals who function very well in the world.  Their brilliance has frequently lead to advanced education and training and their attention to detail and ability to hyperfocus on high areas of interest may allow them to complete tasks and projects that would be boring to their NT peers.  However, they commonly rely on their NT spouses to help them process and understand their emotions, and with social and communication skills in their lives outside the office.

Those adults with ASD who are in the average or below average cognitive range often need more support.  Their spouses sometimes act as "gate-keepers" for the ASD adult, helping with regulation by constantly monitoring the activities of the ASD adult.  Additionally, we have found that the NT spouses are also often born in other countries and identify themselves as bi-cultural.  Because they were raised in another country under different cultural norms, they often do not see or understand the social errors adults with ASD make in our culture.  They can easily overlook these errors or view the ASD adult as being unique, quirky, or having some idiosyncratic behaviors.  The impact of the social errors of the ASD adult on the bi-cultural spouse is frequently minimized by their spouse's their lack of experience and understanding of our western social nuances.

Parenting Issues - Parents wear many hats.  They are part educator, psychologist, manager, police officer, but always caregiver.  As a primary caregiver, parents naturally compensate for their child when s/he does not understand a communication or social interaction.  However, when a parent and a child both have forms of ASD, this can cause significant problems in parent-child interaction.  The problems appear to largely depend on the degree of ASD in the parent.  This is because the two people with ASD often struggle with empathy, literal interpretations of house rules, and the ability to understand and communicate with each other. 

The Relationship with Siblings - It's a parent's job to nurture and raise their children as best they can and children with disabilities often require much time and attention.  Children with ASD are no different.  In some households there is one child with an ASD and a sibling(s) without it. 

The Relationship with Pets - Individuals with ASD often report feeling closest to family pets rather then the humans in their family.  Their family drawings commonly over-emphasize the role of their pets and their pets can play prominent roles in their family stories.  We believe this may be because the family pet is often a primary source of unconditional love.  They are always happy to see the person with ASD, are sensitive, loyal, empathic, and loving.  Many common family pets are pack animals and love "hanging out" with their pack.  They are very forgiving regarding social errors and are unconcerned about the day's events.  They are just happy to see us when we come home.   



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