Asperger's and Fatherhood
November 21, 2008 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Should I seriously consider a long-term relationship/having children with someone who seems to have a mild case of Asperger's?

This might seem like a shallow question, but honestly if I wasn't considering starting a family very soon it would never occur for me to ask it. I am fine with him the way he is. I actually like the fact that I need to be brutally honest to carry meaning through, and I can walk him through moments where he can't relate to others. But - if he is in anti-people state, I can always keep myself busy with my own hobbies/friends. But what if we have children? Will he have a hard time understanding what the children might want? Will he shrug them off? Will he treat them as one of his "projects" and pay a lot of attention to them one moment only to completely forget about them the next? I am really worried, because I do very much love this person. I guess I'm just looking for stories and opinions from you guys, so at least I don't feel so alone about this. I thought Metafilter would be a good place to ask for that.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you considering having children with him because you want to have children WITH HIM, or because you want to have children and he's the best option right now? If it's the latter, I would suggest not having children with him, because whatever issues come up involving your children you might grow to resent him, saying things to yourself like "I KNEW I shouldn't have had kids with this guy".
The only reason I ask is because the tone of your post already makes it sound like you think you're settling.
posted by greta simone at 6:54 AM on November 21, 2008

I think the most important thing you can do here is ask him about whether he wants to have a family or not.

That will give you the best indication as to how he'll deal with fatherhood. Just because he has Asperger's doesn't mean that he will feel a certain way about it (opposed or excited).

I can understand your concern but I think your answer lies within your relationship, not here.
posted by ginagina at 6:54 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might get some related perspective from answers to one part of this question from a while back.
posted by Askr at 6:58 AM on November 21, 2008

If you're fine with him the way he is, you're fine with him the way he is. That means up to and including seeing a future with him, wanting children with him.

If you're not fine with him the way he is, you're going to want him to change or resent the way he is around you/other people/possible future children.

Will he treat them as one of his "projects" and pay a lot of attention to them one moment only to completely forget about them the next?

If he treats people in his life this way now, it's entirely plausible he might do so with children.

Sounds to me like the question you're actually asking is:
Will marriage and/or children change him?

And to that, I can only say: Oh, honey, women have been asking that for ages. And if you're going into a marriage or family hoping your man's going to change, all you're doing is asking for a world of hurt, anger, regret and resentment.
posted by twiki at 7:18 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only time a woman can change a man is if he's an infant and she's changing his diaper. Otherwise - yes, people change, but it's because THEY choose to.

Children are a lifetime commitment - even if you divorce your children's father he's still going to be a part of their (and, by extension, your) lives. So don't have kids with someone you are "settling" for or might grow to resent.

How does HE feel about kids? Does he want them, too? It's a terrible, TERRIBLE idea to get pregnant by a man who doesn't really want children. Sure, some men don't like the idea of kids but fall in love with their own and make terrific fathers - but many do not, and wind up being detached, resentful fathers, and make their families' lives miserable.

The Asperger's is not the issue so much as: Do you want this man as your children's father? Does HE want kids, too? Get these things clear before you proceed (or not). Counseling may be a great help.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:54 AM on November 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Sorry that this doesn't directly answer your question, but there's a very important corollary issue to be aware of as you make this decision.

There's a natural tendency in relationships with disabled people for the non-disabled person to feel as if s/he is making a sacrifice or bearing a load in the relationship. And when the flurry of interpersonal give-and-take occurs, as it does in all relationships, that person may be willing to "give" less, having already started out bearing more load. But unless you're willing to engage in the relationship give/take on a very equal basis, completely disregarding issues of disability, the relationship will not work (it may stagger forward, but not with any sort of health).

I was with a paranoid schizophrenic for a few years. Loved her dearly. She did horrendous things to me, but I realized she didn't mean to. I was patient, I was understanding. But if she'd get snippy at me for, like, leaving my socks lying around, my feeling was that she could certainly buck up and show some tolerance regarding my minor annoyances, given the patience I was showing for her far more horrific actions.

I wasn't "wrong" in that by any means. It was a completely reasonable perspective by someone who really was going beyond the call of duty in a non-marriage relationship. But it killed the relationship. And it's taken me a decade to get enough perspective to see it from her point of view.

Patience-with-the-disability chits, cannot be cashed in to meet give-and-take-in-the-relationship chits. Ever. You can only go into this relationship on absolutely equal footing regardless of whatever adjustments/sacrifice you'll be needing to make for this disability.

So ask yourself whether you're completely ok with that. Sounds like you maybe are. But really ask yourself.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 8:08 AM on November 21, 2008 [16 favorites]

I think you should not consider having children with this person until you have a relationship that is strong enough to have discussions.

If I'm reading this right, you don't know if he has Asperger's, you just think he does. Instead of diagnosing him, ask him if he's been diagnosed.

He also will have good insight into whether he wants to be a father, and whether he will be the kind of father you would want him to be.

You are not "alone in this" -- he's in it with you. Talk with him.
posted by Houstonian at 8:24 AM on November 21, 2008

So you asked for anecdotes. All right, here goes: my dad has Asperger's, or at least exhibits major signs of the disorder, but still hails from the generation of Baby Boomers where behavioral problems just made people "strange" or"off." My mother, who now works with autistic children, swears up and down that her ex-husband has full-blown, untreated Asperger's.

My mom married my father because he was a good provider, because he thanked her for making him dinner (compulsively, she later realized. He would thank her for every supper time gesture, from folding the napkins to washing the dishes), and because he was preternaturally intelligent. She thought his money, manners, and intellect would prepare him to be a decent father. More than that, he wanted a baby! It was the natural thing to do, he said. But while they got along well as a married couple, my father changed drastically when they had me. A newborn upset my dad's routine, and cried when he needed to work, and took up all of my mother's time. Even though my father was an imminently rational being, he couldn't accept the basic reality that speaking softly or talking sensibly to a baby doesn't make it shut up. Kids are irrational beings who shit themselves and refuse to listen to reason; kids are, to my father, no-neck, unpredictable factors for someone whose well-being hinges on predictability.

My dad left the family before I was one, but he had locked himself in his study by the time I was a month old, and he'd been sleeping in the guest room since I came home from the hospital. He hated the messiness of parenting, the self-sacrifice that it demands of its participants, and above all he resented the presence of an irrational creature.

I saw my dad a handful of times when I was little, and then he stopped visiting when I was seven and my mom remarried the nicest, most normal man alive. The sole, hazy impression I gleaned from my biological father was that he just didn't know what to do with me. Kids can be jarred by adults who don't know how to engage them, but it was especially hurtful to me because I knew this fellow was supposed to be my dad, that my dad didn't like me very much. He'd take me to the pool and stick his nose in a book, and every time I tried to talk to him he'd get a terrified look on his face. Then he'd toss me candy bars from his tote bag so I would eat them and quit asking questions, until I got such a bad stomach ache that I cried for my mother and he'd drive me home. When my mom demanded to know why he'd given a five year old three snickers bars, his face went blank and he said, "She wanted them!"

Lucky for me, I stopped seeing my dad after my mom remarried, and we didn't speak to each other again until I was twenty-two and graduating college. I basically demanded for some catharsis on the whole matter, and he reluctantly agreed to meet me for dinner. We met at a bar near my school, and he talked about everything but our relationship. Finally, when he was paying the bill, I asked him if he wanted to talk about anything important. He looked up from the check and said, "You were mad at me."

Am I saying that no one with Asperger's should have kids? Definitely not. But that's my experience as a child of a man who almost certainly has it. Think about the things that makes your boyfriend different from other people, what makes him, as our parents would say, "off." If he's someone from Phalene's description, you might be golden. But if he's someone who demands routine, and cannot bear to reason with unreasonable people, and is generally unaffectionate and aloof, think long and hard about it. I know that my dad was just fundamentally unsuited for fatherhood in the way that many of us are fundamentally unsuited for muay Thai boxing and quilting bees, but it's hard, on an irrational level that my dad will never get, that my specific parent just can't reach across the treeless mental chasm in his mind and just like me. If you suspect your boyfriend's mind occupies that same chasm, don't tread into this new stage lightly.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:40 AM on November 21, 2008 [29 favorites]

"seems to have"? I think you should get a proper diagnosis before speculating. I also think you should ask this person directly what their feelings are about having kids. In other words, what Houstonian said.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:44 AM on November 21, 2008

zoomorphic and jimmyjimjim, outstanding answers. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

zoomorphic, your story couldn't have been easy to come to terms with, yet you have written about it in an even-handed and non-victim way. I am inspired.
posted by widdershins at 10:31 AM on November 21, 2008

Just to balance the stories above, my husband is a person with Asperger's. He is a successful hospital physician although much of his success we both agree is due to how I coach him to interact with neurologically typical peeps.
Anyway, a year after we had our daughter he admited to me that he had some concerns that he would be unable to bond with her as he viewed having kids with emotional detachment. We had discussed having kids well in advance and the difference between us was that for him this was a very rational decision, and he knew it would make me happy.
We needn't have worried. He adored our daughter from very shortly after her birth, and the same with our son (who, incidentally, is also Aspie).
He actually doesn't know what to do with the emotions that well up in him when talking about our children to third parties. He often has tears in his eyes, he is so proud of them (and I suspect so relieved he can feel this deeply about them)

BUT the same workarounds I've needed to employ for him in our day-to-day lives, I need when he is in charge of the kids. Every Aspie is different, it is after all a spectrum. I know that when he gets into one of his "projects" or if the cardiac bleep goes off on the ITU when he was due to go home, he can literally forget he was meant to pick up the kids (or anything else he was meant to do).

I have to have a system of back-ups in place that to be frank as a full time professional are quite stressful. Every job I have taken, and career choice I have made over the last 18 years (our daughter is now 18) is predicated on the fact that I may have to get out early or drop everything to pick up the kids, despite doing the full Aspie thing of putting it in his diary, ringing the secretary, texting him at 30 minutes intervals, etc., etc.,

Having kids with my Aspie has meant giving up on not one, but two careers I was particularly good at. But that said, he is an amazing father, although he spoils them way too much. He could never get the hang of baby talk, so it was quite sweet hearing his response to the 3 year old asking "Why is the sky blue?"

Interestingly my kids have never called him Daddy or Dad. They of their own accord call him by his first name, despite my attempts early on to change this. It's almost as if they sense he inhabits a different space.
But you know what, they adore him right back. Because I've had to be the disciplinarian and main time-keeper in the family I have no hesitation in saying he is their favorite parent. At the same time my children have been exposed to an image of masculinity that is kind, patient, completely non-macho, slightly ditzy intellectual which will thankfully balance the images they get of masculinity in most social fora.
I have no idea if I would have had children in hindsight, because it is no easy task to never be able to relax about the kids when they are with their Dad. Clearly it would have been easier if I were some 1950's Stepford wife. (In fact one of the reasons that Aspergers is more diagnosed these days is that women are unwilling to put up with the restrictions of the 1950's I believe)
But despite all the negatives, we are still a very strong loving family because each member accepts the idiosyncracies of the other. We are lucky to have him as a father and partner and he is equally lucky to have us.
Make your choice based on him, not on the putative future or potential kids.
posted by Wilder at 11:27 AM on November 21, 2008 [8 favorites]

On preview, thanks to Zoomorphic for your personal experiences (you make me feel lucky). Yes, as others say, the answer lies within the relationship and in talking to him BUT the kinds of negotiations about a 2 person relationship are not necessarily the same ones for a family. As anyone Neuroligically typical or not will attest, having kids is a whole 'nother ballgame. I think it is useful to hear from others who have the experience.

For some reason my maternal instincts are going off the scale for (((Zoomorphic))) I'm glad to hear your stepfather was so loving and I feel really sad for your father who probably doesn't know what he missed.
posted by Wilder at 11:44 AM on November 21, 2008

I'm sorry that this doesn't really answer your question, but on reading the above stories, I'm suddenly struck by wondering if my father had Asperger's. It's suddenly an obvious question that never occured to me before, and I'm in the field. This is a thunderbolt of enlightenment here. Just for the record, I'll briefly outline my life with my father.

As a young child, I didn't have much interaction with my dad. I saw him as a slightly frightening large person who came home from work everyday and spent the entire evening sleeping in his chair and then who stayed up all night doing whatever. The times my dad did pay attention to me were extremely special, like when he taught me to play chess when I was five. I lived for the times I could get my dad to play games with me. Those good memories of my dad were rare and treasured. Not that I have a lot of bad memories of him, I just have a lot of neutral memories because I never really established a connection with him. My mom ran a lot of interference between me and my dad, passing messages back and forth. "Your dad loves you, he really does." And I don't doubt that he did. I just had to understand that intellectually rather than emotionally. Once I got to be a teenager my dad and I talked a lot more and got into debates, sometimes heated ones. But I only ever saw my dad really angry a couple of times. He tended to be a mellowing factor in areas of discipline and was usually in favor of letting the kids do whatever we wanted. My dad only had one way of showing his love, and that was by giving people gifts. We teased him for it, but we eventually understood what he was trying to say when he spent ridiculous amounts of money the family didn't have on Christmas presents. My dad didn't hug, or kiss, or tell us he loved us. But I just grew up understanding that that was just him. I'm sure my mother being a saint has something to do with that.

What it comes down to? My father was distant, analytical, self-involved, and didn't talk much. My brother and I turned out mostly alright and we both loved him very much, though we may not have ever told him that. He died three and a half years ago and it's only since his death that I've really thought a lot about who he was and what he did for my family. My dad had a lot of faults, and I'm sure he wasn't the best parent ever, but I wouldn't have taken someone else instead.
posted by threeturtles at 2:53 PM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

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