Autism spectrum disorder and fatherhood. (Topic#016)

Natural Beauty

Natural Beauty

My dad. [I’ve revised this post now that I’m calmer.] It is split into two main sections: First, I describe my brother’s current behaviors, hurt, and blame toward my dad. Then I explain my dad’s behaviors and how the two relate to each other.

The impetus for this post: My brother is currently unwell. He recently went through several major life changes. He moved across the country, changed jobs, had a very intense but abusive relationship that he put all of his energies into, got out of the relationship as it imploded but lost himself very much. His relationship had caused him to sever all ties with friends and be unable to connect with coworkers at the new job. So his support network was pretty threadbare, really. He’s become depressed and extremely, extremely unhappy with himself and his life (it does seem to be on the verge of a turning point, though. He has met a young lady who seems to be clicking with him, and he might have a new job offer soon in a better location).

One of the things he is doing now, though, is blaming everything wrong with himself and his life on our dad. He’s doing this out loud to our whole extended family. He is poisoning our whole extended family against our dad. The worst part is that everybody is hearing his words and becoming quite upset with and full of blame toward our dad, but I don’t feel it’s entirely fair.

For starters, why can’t people look a little more closely at the source? My brother is a wonderful and amazing person but he is very depressed right now. With depression comes an inability to recall positive life events. I’ve seen studies on that before. Also, he is so desperately reaching out to find some kind of explanation for his feelings, some kind of meaning and validation. He’s decided it’s all his dad’s fault (with a little blame for Mom, as well).

But even besides the fact that it’s possible his extremely vocal character smears could be stemming strongly from his depression, at least consider the fact that this is all Second-Hand information by the time it reaches you. How can you know what is truth when you weren’t there and didn’t see it? There are two sides to every story. So don’t tell me to my face that my dad is awful when you’re basing your opinions on information you didn’t actually see for yourself.

It kind of sort of feels like my brother is trying to get my mom to divorce my dad. I do understand a little of where my brother’s blame has stemmed from. Our dad is not warm and fuzzy. He does not cuddle you or say the words, “I love you.” In fact, he expresses very little emotion verbally. He certainly won’t do it physically. He avoids conflict so he doesn’t set boundaries. In fact, although he often observes the situation, he will pretty much not do or say anything at all to influence it. He’ll leave the vicinity if voices raise. And yes, he is not “empathetic”.

My dad is on the autism spectrum.

How can I help people understand my dad better? My brother honestly believes my dad does not love him. I didn’t know that until recently, and it really shocked me. I mean, I suppose if you don’t understand the autism spectrum, and kept expecting him to behave the way “other” dads do, you could certainly misconstrue his behaviors and lack of emotional words as unlove or uncaring.

But look at what he’s done for us. Look at when he recorded your sports games and your track meets on VHS tapes. Look at when he took you and taught you how to dog mush. Look at when he read to you at night. Look at all the hiking trips he took you on. And the overnight trips and the backpacking trips (I was soooo envious). He spent special, quality time with you. Look at all the times he’d rouse us to go outside and watch the Northern Lights as he photographed them. Look at all the special times, the caves he built, the jokes he played, the long family car trips. Look at the computer games you guys used to play so competitively. You’d get a high score and he’d spend hours into the night trying to beat it, only to have you beat it again the next day. Look at all the times we trekked out to the cabins in the middle of winter and how special that time was. Look at the Tooth Fairy. Look at all the holidays spent together as a family. Look at all the skiing and beauty of the Natural world we have gotten to experience. All the lakes we’ve seen, all the streams, all the mountains, all the Northern Lights, all the trees and grasses and wildflowers. All the tents. All the card games. All the dry-sense-of-humor joking he’d do and say. He LOVED (and still loves) you. He CARES about you. He WORRIES for and about you now. He WANTS you to be happy.

How do I know? Because I lived with him for many more years than you did. I lived with them through my high school years and again after my college mental breakdown time period. I’ve SEEN how he expresses his emotion. And especially, I lived with them during my own Asperger diagnosis and all the research and therapy and even getting to see Temple Grandin at a two-day conference I attended on the subject.

Do you need me to spell it out? Even a single sentence sums this up about our dad:

“Two core features of autism are: a) social and communication deficits and b) fixated interests and repetitive behaviors.” (from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/detail_asperger.htm)

Yep. Need I say more?! Really?! Okay. I’ll list out a few of his ‘symptoms’:
(Chosen from this website)

  • Difficulty in expressing emotions
  • Insensitivity to the non-verbal cues of others (stance, posture, facial expressions)
  • Perseveration best characterized by the term “bulldog tenacity”
    [Well, if he has something on his mind, it’s not going to go away.]
  • Literal interpretation of instructions (failure to read between the lines)
    [Right. If you want him to do something for you, then spell it out.]
  • Difficulty in understanding rules for games of social entertainment
    [I’m not positive what this is referring to – he is certainly good with card games and board games and such, but if they’re talking about social-rules, then nah]
  • Missing or misconstruing others’ agendas, priorities, preferences
  • Compelling need to finish one task completely before starting another
  • Rigid adherence to rules and routines
  • Difficulty in interpreting meaning to others’ activities; difficulty in drawing relationships between an activity or event and ideas
  • Exquisite attention to detail, principally visual, or details which can be visualized (”Thinking in Pictures”) or cognitive details (often those learned by rote)
  • Concrete thinking
  • Difficulty in imagining others’ thoughts in a similar or identical event or circumstance that are different from one’s own (”Theory of Mind” issues)
    [100% truth]
  • Substantial hidden self-anger, anger towards others, and resentment
  • Difficulty in accepting criticism or correction
    [He’ll just ignore it completely 😉 ]
  • Difficulty in offering correction or criticism without appearing harsh, pedantic or insensitive
    [If you don’t understand something he’s trying to explain, his response is, “It’s easy! What’s wrong with you??” But even then, he has NO intention of hurting anybody’s feelings and would be shocked to find out it had.]
    [Related memory: Hahaha! The best compliment he ever gave me was to say, “You have more mechanical abilities in your little pinky than Mom has in her entire body.” He had NO idea he had just insulted Mom. I took it as a damn huge compliment, coming from him.]
  • Difficulty in perceiving and applying unwritten social rules or protocols
  • “Immature” manners
    [I thought the “Symphony of Odors” was a brilliant idea for a cassette tape]
  • Lack of?trust in others
  • Shyness
  • Low or no conversational participation in group meetings or conferences
  • Scrupulous honesty, often expressed in an apparently disarming or inappropriate manner or setting
  • Bluntness in emotional expression
  • Unmodulated reaction in being manipulated, patronized, or “handled” by others
  • Low to medium level of paranoia
    [I’m only adding this from all the conspiracy theories. Any family members that get his emails will know what I’m talking about.]
  • Low to no apparent sense of humor; bizarre sense of humor (often stemming from a “private” internal thread of humor being inserted in public conversation without preparation or warming others up to the reason for the “punchline”)
    [I’m putting this because so many people don’t understand his sense of humor, but I think it’s awesome. Except when he laughs when seeing dogs fight.]
  • Difficulty with reciprocal displays of pleasantries and greetings
    [HAHAHA that’s hilarious to picture!]
  • Problems expressing empathy or comfort to/with others: sadness, condolence, congratulations, etc.
    [BINGO! And I would bet money that this alone has hurt my brother a lot.]
  • Difficulty with adopting a social mask to obscure real feelings, moods, reactions
    [Absolutely cannot mask at all whatsoever. 🙂 ]
  • Abrupt and strong expression of likes and dislikes
    [Yup. Offend people much?]
  • Rigid adherence to rules and social conventions where flexibility is desirable
  • Difficulty in forming friendships and intimate relationships; difficulty in distinguishing between acquaintance and friendship
    [The former]
  • Social isolation and intense concern for privacy
    [Ooohhhh yeah]
  • Limited clothing preference; discomfort with formal attire or uniforms
  • Preference for bland or bare environments in living arrangements
  • Limited by intensely pursued interests
    [I wouldn’t say limited! His interests are awesome! But yes, they can be more important than other humans, if that’s what you mean. 🙂 ]
  • Difficulty with “teamwork”
  • Sarcasm, negativism, criticism
  • Difficulty in accepting compliments, often responding with quizzical or self-deprecatory language
  • Discomfort with competition, out of scale reactions to losing
    [He quit tennis because he was too competitive]
  • Low motivation to perform tasks of no immediate personal interest
    [Me too, Dad. Me too.]
  • Oversight or forgetting of tasks without formal reminders such as lists or schedules
    [Right, if they’re not interesting.]
  • Perfectionism
  • Reluctance to ask for help or seek comfort
    [I cannot picture him requiring comfort. Or help. Hmm wait. He asks Mom for help on the computer sometimes.]
  • Low sensitivity to risks in the environment to self and/or others
    [BINGO, BABY CAKES!!! Who doesn’t recognize THIS one?! Haha. He’s only almost gotten a couple of people killed on his backpacking trips (literally)…]
  • Stress, frustration and anger reaction to interruptions
  • Difficulty in negotiating either in conflict situations or as a self-advocate
    [Bingo bingo bingo]
  • Ver[y] low level of assertiveness
  • Reluctance to accept positions of authority or supervision
    [could have owned the whole practice at work, chose not to]
  • Often viewed as vulnerable or less able to resist harassment and badgering by others
    [Only viewed this way by myself and my mom; my brother has poisoned the whole family against him at this point and so I cannot allow him to come down and visit me here 😦 !!!!!]
  • Avoids socializing, “hanging out,” or small talk on and off the job
    [YUP]
  • Difficulty expressing anger (excessive or “bottled up”)
  • Bad or unusual personal hygiene
    [Does wearing a single pair of socks for skiing every day ALL WINTER LONG without washing them at all count as bad personal hygiene? Haha 😀 ]

Okay, does this give you a better understanding? Getting closer? 🙂 Here are a couple more select traits from this website:

  • average or above-average intelligence
  • difficulties in empathising with others
  • problems with understanding another person’s point of view
  • difficulties engaging in social routines such as conversations and ‘small talk’
  • a preference for routines and schedules which can result in stress or anxiety if a routine is disrupted
  • specialised fields of interest or hobbies.

That website also explains:

“Emotions of other people

A person with Asperger syndrome may have trouble understanding the emotions of other people, and the subtle messages sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language are often missed or misinterpreted. Because of this, people with Asperger syndrome might be mistakenly perceived as being egotistical, selfish or uncaring.

These are unfair labels because the person concerned may be unable to understand other people’s emotional states. People with Asperger syndrome are usually surprised when told their actions were hurtful or inappropriate.”

Dad LOVES you. He’s INTERESTED in you. But when you two speak over the telephone, and you ask him questions and he responds, but never asks you a question, it’s not from lack of interest. He WANTS to hear, he WANTS you to tell him, he asks Mom for the details later when he realizes he still doesn’t know them. He just doesn’t know how to ask for them.

He worries about you. It eats at him. You have no idea but I have seen it, touched it, felt it, heard it. It’s as real as anything, just expressed differently.

So how about those childhood abuse stories you’re telling our family?

  • Child: He shoveled out one entrance to the snowcave, put you in it, and then blocked it off and shoveled out the other entrance but it was more difficult than he expected and you’re now saying it took hours. And when he had put you in there and blocked it off, he said, “Bye M!” Like he was leaving you there forever.
  • Child: How about when he left you in a tent to go for water, and the wind picked you and the tent up and almost blew you off a cliff?
  • Child: How about the time he put you on a sled and you started to pick up speed going down the mountain, until you were just a dot and headed straight for an open river?
  • Teen: How about when the black bear was following you guys down the mountain and he left you at one point to go back for his camera equipment, and the bear continued to advance on you?
  • Adult: Because he was obsessed with the stock market, lost a TON of their money, including having pulled from sources he wasn’t supposed to have touched, and tried to hide it from Mom?
  • Adult: Because he sent you a very rude email once, basically demanding you repay the school loan now that you had the money? And he was drunk when he wrote it, it was apparently VERY hurtful and rude, and he called you immediately to ask you to delete it without reading it, which was one of the only two times he’s ever called you on the telephone.

I get it. I’m not saying your points are invalid. But I’m sorry you take all of this and find he does not love you. He STILL talks about how awful he felt about the sledding incident, and how scared he was watching you get smaller and smaller. Additionally, his eyes bug out when he tells it and the skin along his neck flushes. He laughs while telling it until he almost cries. But it’s not his comfortable, humor laugh. Don’t you feel the difference? It’s the horror of it all. It’s the emotions he doesn’t express to you. It’s later that same evening of telling the story when he drinks alcohol and expresses to us how it haunts him to this day.

But take all of these things and forgive him, for your OWN sake. He loved and still loves you and only ever wanted the best for you. HE ISN’T GOING TO BE THE ONE TO REACH OUT TO YOU TO SMOOTH THINGS OVER. HE DOESN’T HAVE THAT SKILLSET. ONLY YOU HAVE THIS ABILITY. IT IS UP TO YOU WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO DO NOW. He’s something around 65 years old and has lived his life the way he’s wanted to live his life. He’s not going to change now. I choose to enjoy any time I can get with our dad, and love every moment of it. I feel there is not enough time in the world to spend with our parents (but that’s just me). ❤

(((Additional quote from this website, for how my mom potentially could be feeling (I did not hand-select bullets as I did above):

“Some common issues for partners of people with Asperger syndrome include:

  • feeling overly responsible for their partner
  • failure to have their own needs met by the relationship
  • lack of emotional support from family members and friends who do not fully understand or appreciate the extra strains placed on a relationship by Asperger syndrome [Instead of support or understanding, she is now getting blasted with the family members my brother has vented to, telling her how awful her husband is!! That’s not support or understanding. It’s actually stressing her more and making her feel more responsible and more like she needs to protect him from the rest of the family. He already suspected that the family thought of him as an oddball. Imagine if they knew how much they hate and blame him now. 😦 ]
  • a sense of isolation, because the challenges of their relationship are unique and not easily understood by others
  • frustrations, since problems in the relationship do not seem to improve despite great efforts
  • doubting the integrity of the relationship, or frequently wondering about whether or not to end the relationship
  • difficulties in accepting that their partner will not ‘recover’ from Asperger syndrome
  • after accepting that their partner’s Asperger syndrome cannot be ‘cured’, partners can often experience emotions such as guilt, despair and disappointment.”)))

I think it is important that you talk with someone about how you feel and work through things, but I think it needs to be a professional, rather than the entire extended family. We are here for you and we love you and we support you, but please get help so you can start to feel better about yourself and your life again.

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2 thoughts on “Autism spectrum disorder and fatherhood. (Topic#016)

  1. That must have been a very tough post to write, and I suspect it will be just as tough for your brother to read it. I really hope things work out for the both of you, and also for your Dad. I lost my mom when I was only 8, and though my father was still alive until I was in my twenties, I hardly ever saw him after I was 12 or 13. I just think that people should make the most of whatever time with their parents that they’re given, and with each other, even though my own life didn’t go that way…or maybe BECAUSE my life didn’t go that way. At any rate, your post made me think, so it was a worthwhile post, and I thank you for sharing all that. I’ll read you later. Take care, and God bless.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you so much.

    I haven’t shown this to my brother. My therapist thinks it would be ok to show him, but I’m not that brave. The next time he goes into it in front of me, though, I’m definitely going to say something to him. But I don’t want to be inflammatory at all — something else I’ve learned from all of this is that it appears he won’t mend a bridge once broken, so I definitely want to avoid breaking the bridge I have with him. He and I didn’t get along until we were adults, so I don’t want to lose that either. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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