Children of a parent with ASD / Asperger’s Syndrome

What can be the affect on a child if a parent has Autism Spectrum Disorder (including Asperger’s, High Functioning autism, ASD)?

That question should ideally be answered by the child, including adult children.

The issue of Asperger’s/ASD parenting affects thousands of children’s well-being alone in this country. And that affects millions of children’s well-being worldwide. Still, there is limited information available on the subject.

The concerns of a normal (NT) mother or father of a child when the other parent has AS / ASD will raise a number of key questions, such as:

What will be the emotional / social / intellectual outcome and impairment for the child when the Asperger/ ASD-parent …

  • cannot read the child’s emotional state and needs, including an infant who does not yet have a language?
  • cannot give an appropriate emotional response?
  • cannot switch instantly from one situation to another and respond immediately to the child’s needs?
  • has difficulty in appropriate physical contact?
  • has sensory difficulties with sounds and noise from playing children and their peers?
  • cannot distinguish or check whether the child is in danger, sad, tired, scared, lonely, happy, in crisis?
  • cannot foresee contexts and overviews in a situation, but only the details?
  • does not have adult impulse control over themselves, including over their own anxiety and meltdowns?
  • has difficulty organizing time, planning and carrying out practical tasks?
  • cannot do several things at once?
  • is extremely preoccupied with their own interests?
  • has limited imagination?
  • cannot participate in mutual conversations?
  • cannot give relevant response to analytical/emotionally based higher order questions (“why”, “how”)?
  • has not achieved an adult and mature Theory of Mind?


Limited parenting skills

By definition of the disorder, those parents on the autism spectrum may obviously have limitations in parenting skills.

Asperger’s/ASD expert and psychologist Tony Attwood mentions briefly in his book  The complete guide to Asperger’s Syndrome” a number of serious limitations on the parenting skills of those with autism spectrum disorder (including Asperger’s and High Functioning autism). [1]

Attwood thus mentions the following phenomena:

  • The emotional atmosphere at home is characterized by the AS/ASD parent’s negativity and irritability.
  • Asperger’s puts a damper on the other family members’ enthusiasm.
  • Spouse and children living on tiptoe so as not to trigger tantrums and mood swings in Asperger-parent.
  • The family lives in fear of the strong reactions, an outbreak can cause.
  • Spouse and children must adapt Asperger-parent’s inflexible routines and their inflexible expectations of others’ behavior.
  • Spouse and children are forced to adapt to Asperger-parent’s intolerance to noise, spontaneity, playmates and guests, and they must endure Asperger’s black and white perception of others.
  • General children’s needs and behavior is not understood by Asperger-parent.
  • Children and spouses rarely receive positive confirmation from the  Asperger-parent.
  • Asperger parent does not show much interest in what has emotional significance for the other family members and often criticizes.
  • Praise from an Asperger parent is rare.
  • The parent who does not have AS/ASD, experiences the reality of effectively being a single parent with sole responsibility for children, home and family.


NT-children’s reaction

Tony Attwood also describes how normal children may react to the parenting style by feeling:

  • not loved and not accepted,
  • feeling invisible,
  • learning not to show emotion nor expect mutual sympathy in joy and sorrow,
  • not permitted to show sadness
  • learning that to attempt conversation with their AS/ASD-parent results in a monologue about the adult’s own problems
  • their parent has no real interest in them and their lives,
  • may find that peers are not welcome in the home.

Tony Attwood writes that a father or mother with Asperger’s syndrome/ASD in some cases can learn to be a good parent. However, a precondition for this is that the ASD-parent recognizes their Autism Spectrum Disorder and lack of Theory of Mind and recognizes their need for ongoing professional guidance.


The neuro-typical parent’s central role

Professor Tony Attwood does not mention in his book the important role that the normal (NT) parent has

  • in their children’s emotional, social and intellectual development.
  • He also does not mention the importance of the psychological and educational efforts, the normal (neuro-typical) parent performs to train and motivate Asperger-parent to function optimally in parenting.
  • Finally, he does not mention the special problems that arise around the kids, if the adult relationship is dissolved by separation, and if the divorce and child custody authorities including social workers, lawyers, psychologists etc. do not have specialized experience and knowledge of the impacts on children of a parent’s autistic, invisible disorder.

[1] The complete guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, chapter 13. By Tony Attwood, 2007.


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9 comments for “Children of a parent with ASD / Asperger’s Syndrome

  1. sharon
    11. april 2018 at 22:17

    great explanation of the effect on a NT child with an ASD parent. I need help as one of these children, now 61 years old, but don’t know who to turn to. I married a guy with ASD and have two out of three children with the characteristics. I don’t feel I belong…anywhere…I never have…and regular mental health counselors don’t understand…medications have never even touched the pain…I am glad to see this problem hitting the radar. I fear it is too late for me though…

  2. Maree
    18. juni 2018 at 15:33

    I’ve been stuck in a relationship with a AS man for 14 years, unable to leave because it would not be safe to leave the kids part time in his care after a separation, physically and emotionally. Left alone with them for short times, he is unable to cook well or prepare food on time, plan shopping and meals, plan for their nutritional needs, (feeding them lollies and chocolate instead of meals at times), provide them medicine or effectively determine when they need medical care. He will not get up in the night if they need him, often won’t talk to them and socially isolates himself most of the time. he verbally abuses them for not doing their jobs, even before they have had a chance to do them, even after he has neglected the small number that he considers his own. He has no engagement in their social health, not knowing their friends or the parents of their friends, never organising parties or people over, withdrawing if we have guests (or being rude to them), never organising meetings with other parents or attending school functions (excpet award ceremonies). he rarely engages in their homework, assignments or school life, or anything to do with their physical and emotional health, like physiotherapists, doctors or counsellors etc. I am responsible for meeting their emotional needs – all their worries, fears, frustrations, problems, hopes, dreams, insecurities and responsible for his emotional and social processing (and constant, gentle, over-cautious education and guidance) too. I constantly have to be on guard to protect the kids against his rages and meet all their needs like an unrecognised and unsupported single mother. Nothing I do is recognised and instead I am blamed for everything he does wrong or makes mistakes on, or pulled down because he feels anxious, angry or insecure, often for things that are nothing to do with me. And yet, if we divorced, he could get 50% custody for kids who beg me to leave him. We were recently diagnosed as living with domestic violence, the financial and emotional abuse and neglect is so bad. Suddenly people are listening to me in a way they didn’t when the diagnosis was AS – they suddenly have sympathy for us when nothing has changed. But they don’t understand the half of it. If he hurt someone else this much in any other environment, such as a workplace, there would be legal recourse for them. But for us in OUR HOME there is no hope and so little chance of escape or justice.

  3. Faye
    13. juli 2018 at 04:11

    Thank goodness for your article, because there is so little help for NT children who are suffering in silence with an AS parent. There are no experts willing to stand up to speak to their experience living with AS parenting. I hope more will come online in my lifetime, and I want to give anyone who needs it, whatever support I can.

  4. Julian
    17. februar 2019 at 12:28

    Maree. Go to an attorney and get out of that situation. If your children are asking for you to leave your spouse they are being hurt emotionally by you staying in it. Do you want them to be able to function when they grow up?

  5. Chelsea
    16. maj 2019 at 11:02

    I am 42 and I was brought up by my Asperger Mother who was also physically ill after suffering a brain tumor.
    It was just her and I.
    No other children for her to be annoyed with or take the heat off me.
    She didn’t go and get a husband or boyfriend to tell her problems too.
    She has been telling me about herself and her problems my whole life but she won’t take my advice. It’s exhausting.
    I had blood poisoning by the time that I was four years old.
    Many of my childhood memories are too painful to think about, so I don’t. I can’t function when they bubble up into my consciousness.

  6. Suzanne
    4. juni 2019 at 08:10

    Thank you so much for this article. It has just come to light that my late Step Dad had aspergers. Without going into my life suffering suffice to say my entire young, and adult life was exactly what the above article describes. The unrelenting torture by my step Dad only now beginning to make sense. I will be sixty in six months and have been trying to heal my life for more than thirty years with professional therapy. Realizing that my step Dad actually had a serious mental illness has given me the ability to forgive him and my late mother for my 47 years of suffering with my step Dad. I am also starting to forgive myself knowing that 100% of the pain, sorrow, constant punishments, grueling demands of my step Dad growing up had absolutely nothing to do with my brother and my behavior we were really dutiful, good children and are both exceptional adults. It was all my step Dad and my mothers own undiagnosed mental illness that caused such a painful, life. As I write this comment I am still in shock, completely dumbfounded to what I have learned about my Mother and Step Dad. For all of these years I always thought the constant misery, and insanity that was my family was somehow my fault. I am being liberated from my family history for the first time in my life.

  7. Anais
    29. august 2019 at 03:41

    Thank you so much for compiling this information. It’s far and in between online. I don’t understand, because if it is evident by now that Asperger’s can be absolutely devastating to an ADULT partner, how soul-shattering and absolutely obliterating must it be for a child, especially if it is the mother and SOLE parent (as was the case for me)? Most of the commenters, it seems, are of a generation when Asperger’s wasn’t on anybody’s radar and certainly not for women. Children of an Asperger’s mother will be damaged beyond repair, especially if there was NOT another parent to allow them a FACE, to reflect their existence as something other than a mere nuisance at best and a maligned, despised, hated (non-)entity, a scapegoat and ‘whipping boy’ (or girl, in my case) at worst. When my sister and I had just entered puberty, my Asperger’s mother actually went to court to see whether she could be dismissed, by law, from her parental responsibilities. She could not. I ran away a few years later and was never ever invited into the home again: not for birthdays, not for Christmas or anything. She was well rid of me. At the age of thirty, after a decade in therapy and indescribable misery in the outside world – I divorced the notion of having a parent (I’ve never known my father). I realized you simply can’t mean anything to someone who doesn’t want you to mean anything to them.

    I would like to see a board or another online platform for children of an Asperger’s parent to gather. I think we are all incredibly lonely in this experience – and it will be nigh impossible to understand for anybody else. I have been extremely fortunate with a loyal partner, who recognized from the very start – some 35 years ago – that my mother treats me (to this day) ‘as if you’re a random neighbor.’ She moved to another country, actually, and in all of my adult life, I’ve only had sporadically contact with her.

    Anyhow, thanks again – can’t tell you how important the insight that my mother is on the spectrum has been, however late it came. It’s been a paradigm shift. Finally, a comprehensive, cohesive understanding of what I was put through. Sadly, it never ends, and we will all have to live with a big black hole in our hearts and histories. There is no hope for change with the Asperger’s parent.

  8. Catowner
    31. august 2019 at 10:50

    I am so grateful for this article. I come back to it often to help me to understand what has happened, and is happening to me still. I can say with complete sincerity that this information has changed my life, and helped to release me from some of the shame, fear, and tension that has pursued me all my life. May God Bless you all.

  9. Beya
    2. oktober 2019 at 23:59

    There should be a forum for people like us who have endured this. We NEED to be able to talk to oneanother!

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