If you’re dating after divorce, sooner or later the time will come for introducing your child to the new woman in your life. Introducing a new woman to kids can be tough, but when your Asperger’s child is involved, it can be even more difficult.
To help the new woman in your life understand you and your Asperger’s child, keep in mind
1. She May Know Very Little About Asperger’s
Chances are she will know nothing about Asperger’s (also know as High-Functioning Autism or ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder) or perhaps even be misinformed about the syndrome. Recall what it was like for you when you first learned of your child’s diagnosis. Then take care to help her understand what you have come to know. Provide her with books or recommended websites to learn what Asperger’s is and what it is not.
The traits, symptoms, or challenges of Asperger’s vary widely from child to child, as you well may know. Helping a new significant other understand this will be beneficial for her, you and your Asperger’s child.
If you are not as well versed on the subject, as you would like to be, I highly recommend you take the time to learn more. If your child is an 8 year-old, read about traits and challenges they may encounter at the age of 10, 12, or even 15. The more you learn, the easier it will be for you down the road.
2. Practice Patience and Appreciation
Assuming this is new territory for your lady friend, you’ll need to have as much patience with her as you do with your child. She may forget that your son doesn’t like loud noises and turns up her favorite song on the car radio; or that your daughter prefers not to be touched and attempts to give her a goodnight hug. In time, she will come to know these things and may also intuitively understand and identify new challenges as they arise.
Acknowledge the efforts of both your female friend and your Asperger’s child as they discover each other and learn to communicate and interact. This will likely be a very trying time for them and you as well. Expressing your appreciation will certainly help.
3. If She Has Children, You May Need Additional and Frequent Discussions
This is for two reasons. One, it may be repeatedly difficult for her to understand the differences between her children and your Asperger’s child. Because those differences are not physically apparent, she may often need gentle reminders.
Secondly, her children may also need some information to understand certain behaviors and traits of your child. Age appropriate explanations, handled by the both of you together, will aid in alleviating misunderstandings and help remedy emotional disturbances.
A Big Picture Profile of Your Asperger’s Child
Before introducing your Asperger’s child to your girlfriend, get her up to speed about life with ASD. The more information she has up front, the smoother the experience should be for all of you.
No two children are alike. This list of traits, symptoms, and challenges, is not exhaustive nor will everything fit your Asperger’s child. This information is drawn from my own experience as a step-mom to a an Asperger’s child, solid research, and discussions with other parents.
Help the new woman in your life understand children with ASD may exhibit the following:
Personal / Behavioral
- Exceptionally high skilled or gifted in certain subjects while very low in others
- Excellent rote memory in specific areas
- Perfectionism displayed in some areas
- Significant difficulty with reading comprehension
- Abnormal fear with little to no apparent reason
- Limited interests with intense focus on one or two subjects
- Obsession with TV or movie quotes, video games, objects, ideas, or desires
- Tendency to injure self via biting, head banging, or pinching
- Lack of interest in others or intense preoccupation with own interests
- Appears distant or lacking in emotion
Social Interactions / Communication
- Difficulty making eye contact or reading facial expressions and body language
- Reluctance to answer questions, especially about themselves
- Inability to understand another’s feelings or express empathy
- Difficulty in grasping ‘rules’ of conversation, small-talk, jokes, sarcasm, or certain figures of speech
- Avoidance of groups or social gatherings including family gatherings
- Tendency to engage with those younger or older more easily than those of their age
- Preference to being alone
- Disinterest in others or what is occurring around them
- Flat or blank expressions, often seeming in their own world
- Speech or language difficulties or peculiarities
- Spontaneous commenting on topics unrelated to current subjects of conversation
- Resistance to being held or touched or conversely a strong preference for touching or hugging others
- Difficulty in understanding personal space
- Obsession with one or more topics that they talk incessantly about
- Often talks out loud or makes verbal noises while listening
- Either abnormally loud or quiet when speaking
- Brutal honesty, sometimes inappropriately
- Difficulty making friends or maintaining friendships
- Inability to perceive danger in certain situations
Emotions and Moods
- Emotions may pass very suddenly or linger for an abnormally long period
- Intense frustration and release of it in unusual ways
- Crying, throwing temper tantrums, or acting out violently for no apparent reason
- Fear of disappointing others
- Breaks down or tunes out when being reprimanded
- Feelings of overwhelm when given too much verbal direction
- Strong resistance to change
Physical Sensitivities and Eating Habits
- Strong need for comfort Items such as a blanket, a particular toy, or small object
- Strong sensitivity to lights, sounds, textures, tastes, or smells
- Very high or low pain tolerance
- Extreme intolerance to certain foods – textures, smells, colors, or their proximity to each other
Health and Physical Movement
- Food allergies and food sensitivities
- Gastric issues
- Bathroom issues
- Difficulty with fine motor activities and coordination
- Behind in both fine and gross motor skills development relative to peers
- Odd or unnatural posture and gait – walking on toes or without swinging arms
- Lack of concern for personal hygiene
Time and Regimented Routines
- Short attention span for learning or game playing with others
- Difficulty transitioning from one activity to another without repeated reminders
- Inability to sense timing – 5 minutes, 5 days, 2 months
- Difficulty waiting their turn; strong desire to be first in line
- Strong need for structure and scheduled routines
- Expresses displeasure or frustration at others who do not stick to ‘the schedule.’
- Repetitive play
- Compulsive or ritualistic behavior patterns such as rocking, spinning, arm flapping, licking, tapping, humming, rubbing, etc.
- May engage in particular activities, often mundane ones, for hours
My stepson exhibits many of the above but certainly not all. He amazes me with his memory of facts, information, and ability to quote numerous movie lines and almost complete television shows. Initially, I was uncomfortable with his rubbing of my arm or need to touch, but I learned to accept it.
I still struggle with his extreme fear of bugs, anti-social behaviors and strange to me, eating behaviors. I am not sure I will ever enjoy eating out in restaurants with him. Some things I have learned to let go. Other things I still need a reminder for, such as not taking things personally.
Thankfully, my stepson outgrew many of his anger issues. I used to fear his outbursts and couldn’t understand his violence. He still needs multiple reminders to complete tasks or prepare for events.
His dad and I worry about depression, schoolwork, and his future. Similar thoughts most parents have about any child, but for my stepson with ASD there are additional considerations. I learned early on that becoming his stepmom would be challenging. I am grateful his dad did his best to help prepare me and that he still forgives me when I get frustrated. He is grateful that someone else loves and cares about his son even during my exasperations.
Children with Asperger’s face unique challenges, as do their parents. The more aware and educated those in your family and close inner circle are about ASD the more help for your Asperger’s child and you. Prepare for successful interactions, despite the challenges and any differences, by sharing information and resources in advance. Your Asperger’s child and new woman friend will both be thankful.