Our son is 27 years old. He has had a rocky childhood and adult life. As a child he had problems getting along with others and was often in trouble at school although he has always done well academically. At the age of about 8 years, a psychiatrist suggested that he had Asperger’s. At the time, I didn’t think this was a correct diagnosis. However, after years of crisis after crisis, I am beginning to think otherwise. Since finishing high school, he has moved in and out of our home several times. At one point he was a heavy user of marijuana and perhaps some other drugs and became psychotic. He has problems getting along with others when working, has gone from job to job (mostly in the service industry), and I think it’s because of his Asperger’s. He is not good with money. When he moves back home with us, he is irritable and angry and takes things the wrong way. He is not totally aware of the feelings of other family members. He just broke the lease for his apartment because he was having problems with the people living above him making noise. He is going to college and he was unable to do his studies. Because of this he has temporarily moved back home once again. He is very knowledgeable about computers and hopes to one day start his own business. He refuses to go for any professional help and thinks the problems are the fault of others. We are at a loss as to what to do to help him. Any suggestions? Thank you. (age 63, from Canada)
I’m sorry that you have had such difficulties with your son and that he has struggled throughout his life. There is certainly a chance that he could be on the autism spectrum, but the only way to know for sure is for him to go through a psychological evaluation. This could also open a lot of doors for him in terms of getting help with education and employment. Even if the problem is not Asperger’s, it sounds like his struggles are genuine and he needs help.
It is difficult setting firm boundaries with an adult child who should be living independently but isn’t. However, clear boundaries and expectations need to be in place. Ultimately the agreement needs to be that he can live with you until he can get back on his feet — only if he gets professional help. If he does re-enroll in college, the student counseling center and department for disabilities would be great resources to tap into. If that’s not a possibility right now, the local community mental health center may be the best place to seek services. Unfortunately, the way you describe his history he is unlikely to be successful, even with his intelligence, unless he gets help. I hope that you find a way to facilitate this process and in the meantime prepare yourself for the possibility of more bumps in the road.
Strategies for Helping Someone with Asperger’s Syndrome
- Encourage clear communication: People with Asperger’s syndrome often have difficulty interpreting social cues and understanding the nuances of language. It can be helpful to communicate in a clear, straightforward manner, and to avoid using sarcasm or figurative language that might be confusing.
- Establish routines and schedules: Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome often benefit from structure and routine. By establishing predictable routines and schedules, you can help reduce anxiety and increase feelings of safety and security.
- Practice social skills: Social skills can be difficult for individuals with Asperger’s syndrome, but they can be learned and improved through practice. Activities like role-playing and social stories can help individuals with Asperger’s syndrome learn appropriate social behaviors.
- Provide sensory accommodations: People with Asperger’s syndrome may have difficulty processing sensory information, such as loud noises or bright lights. Providing accommodations such as noise-cancelling headphones or dimmer lighting can help reduce sensory overload.
- Offer emotional support: Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome may experience anxiety, depression, and other emotional challenges. It’s important to offer emotional support and to validate their feelings. Encourage them to seek professional help if needed, and provide resources and referrals to support their mental health.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts