Parenting Older Children With Special Needs: And It Gets Harder As They Get Older
I'm a major Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fan and their song "See The Changes" tops my list of favorites. So I hope they won't mind that I've changed the word "we" to "they" because I'm talking about children. It does get harder as they get older...much harder. Ask any parent and they'll tell you in vivid detail the age and stage that was the hardest for and with their child. Every parent knows well when the bags under their eyes deepened because of lack of sleep, worry, or worse. And for parents of children with Asperger's Syndrome, the stage can be ongoing.
During the preschool and elementary years, bullying and exclusion can often be the norm and because this is when a child develops his or her sense of self as it relates to peers, the impact can be indelible. Move into middle school and the social learning that may have occurred earlier now seems to have little relevance because talking about frogs and admiring each other's shiny lunchboxes has shifted to Facebook and exposure to things that were never in our purview when we were kids.
High school arrives and so does dating, texting, sexting, driving, and a host of other social pressures driven by social media and often crippling adolescents with Asperger's ... or leaving them in a state of constant struggle, trying to figure out what's happening around them and what they're supposed to do about it. These school years alone and the issues that emerge are enough to weaken even the strongest parent, but it doesn't end with high school graduation. No...the real challenges emerge when college and life hit - often like a mack truck.
Parents of younger children with Asperger's work hard to build a foundation of social understanding in preparation for the teen years. Parents of teens say that their worry (and hope) is that they have solid footing in social thinking to be their compass for what comes next. Yet for many, this simply doesn't happen because the freedom that accompanies English 101 and on-campus parties results in difficulties beyond what many parents anticipate. And when this happens, all bets are off.
Parents typically relish when their children start college because they believe - rightly or wrongly so - that their job is basically done. Not true for parents who know that, despite the fact that their child may be 18 and have a 4.0 GPA, they simply aren't prepared for the demands of young adulthood. And hearing college administrators tout at parent orientation, "Your child is now considered an adult" just doesn't apply...at least not concerning their child. The word "vulnerable" describes it best. And with it comes a host of issues that have real world consequences for which an explanation of Asperger's Syndrome holds little weight. Worry intensifies...and with good reason.
Just as life gets harder as *we* get older, it also gets harder as *they* get older. Watching a toddler stumble is expected. Watching a college-age child do so is something entirely different. The world suddenly expects more from them. They expect more from themselves. And parents hold their breath because getting older is only part of it...