Renamed high-functioning autism in the fifth edition of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual," Asperger’s syndrome is a complex disorder on the autism spectrum. Kids with Asperger’s tend to have average to high IQs, but struggle with many of the tasks of daily living. Social deficits are present in virtually every Asperger’s sufferer. As children become tweens, social skills take on a new importance that might cause your child to be shunned or even bullied. Parenting a tween with Asperger’s is hard work, but with love and understanding you can help your child navigate this complicated time in his life.
1. Developmental Considerations
The Asperger’s Association of New England, or AANE, points out that people with Asperger’s syndrome are generally behind their peers in social and emotional development. Although your child might have chronologically entered the tween years, she might act immature when compared to others her age. Yet like all tweens, your child will begin to pull away and pay less attention to the things you say. Help her find a supportive peer or adult mentor who can assist her with developing new coping skills and age-appropriate outlets for her feelings.
2. Consistency and Familiarity
Asperger’s syndrome does not go away as children mature. Allow your tween to maintain comforting habits even if they seem childish to you. Indulging in a special obsession, wearing comfortable clothing and eating familiar foods help people with Asperger’s syndrome cope with the stress of daily living. As your tween begins middle school, he will face increased expectations, complex scheduling and competing priorities. Help him streamline his activities and create a comfortable, safe routine. Continue to communicate simply and directly, using impersonal means such as email or notes when possible. Some tweens with Asperger’s prefer to sit side by side rather than face to face, or engage in conversation while involved in a shared activity.
3. Tween Sanity
The tween years are trying for both parents and children, even when the child is neurotypical. Asperger’s syndrome adds another layer of challenges to these years. Keep a close eye on your child’s state of mind. The complicated stressors of puberty put kids with Asperger’s at increased risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse and even attempted suicide, according to the AANE. Seek professional help for any child who displays signs of a mental health condition. Help your child find structured opportunities to practice her social skills, such as a hobby or special interest group. Work with her school to provide appropriate assistance in the classroom.
4. Parent Sanity
Maintain your own sanity by actively seeking support. Friends, family members, structured support groups and individual therapy provide valuable outlets for your own complex feelings. Let go of guilt by realizing that you are doing the best you can. If you are married or partnered, enlist your partner’s help in setting up a family structure and daily routine that works for everyone.