How can I help my adult son with Asperger’s?

Q&A with Ken Kellam

Q: “Many people see children with Asperger’s and they don’t understand that their needs are lifelong. They don’t see that even if you watch your child succeed at a young age, there will be new territory to navigate as they get older and new situations arise.” This is so true, my son was diagnosed with Aspergers in the 90’s when there was not a lot of “buzz” about it. He did okay, but now as an adult he seems to be having difficulty especially with anxiety and confidence. I am worried for him, and keep directing him towards counseling, but he hasn’t yet. Any suggestions?

-Angela

adulthood

Angela,

I can completely relate to this. Near the end of my high school days, I garnered several accomplishments and awards, but college was a completely different ballgame, especially since I was four hours away from home. Once I got out of college and moved back home, the working world was a completely different situation as well, and I struggled mightily at times. Each new job, new relationship, and new situation is a challenge, but an opportunity as well. Fortunately, my family could not have been more supportive of me over the years.

When I was first having problems out of college, my Mom directed me towards counseling, but I just didn’t want to go. I wish I had now, because the insights from a counselor could have been more helpful than I realized. As it was, I was left to fumble around in the dark, trying to figure things out. You can direct your son towards counseling, but as the expression says, “You can lead a horse to water….” If he goes because he has to, he may not hear anything the counselor says. If and when he goes, it has to be his choice. This may be disappointing to hear, but you can only do so much for someone.

Is your son on social media? If so, there are many groups specifically dedicated to autism and Asperger’s in particular. For me, these groups have served as a type of group therapy, and might help your son see that he is not alone in his struggles. For instance, someone will asked a question on one of the threads such as, “Do you avoid this or that social situation,” or “What would you do if faced by such and such dilemma?”

If he joins these groups, he can contribute if he’d like; if nothing else, it might help him put his own issues in perspective. You might want to go to Facebook, for example, and put “Asperger” or “autism” in the search engine and see what you can come up with. By the way, these groups, aren’t necessarily just for those on the spectrum. Several times, parents join the group looking for advice, or just validation.

Also, what are your son’s talents and interests? You might encourage him to go online and look up information on things that appeal to him, because you never know where this may lead. For example: Years ago I was looking up articles on Survivor, one of my favorite shows. I found a website that posted articles on the show, as well as other reality t.v. shows. Since I liked the show and liked to write, I submitted an article to them. They liked it, posted it, and to make a long story short, I ended up writing for the site for about 10 years before it shut down. No, I didn’t get paid, but I got the byline, and became friends online with many of the other writers. Some of the writers I still keep up with even several years after the website ended. Hopefully, your son can find people with similar interests to his.

Best wishes, and hope my answer helps!

-Ken

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Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in his late 30's, and has worked with Autism Treatment Center of Texas since 2003. He is currently the administrative assistant to the clinical director. He also helps facilitate three different self-advocate groups, and in the Spring of 2015 was presented with the "Angel Award" by the National Autism Association of North Texas for the works he has done with these groups. He has also done public speaking on the subject of autism/Asperger syndrome, and has spoken to various educational and parental groups. When not involved with autism, Ken has led the singing at the same church since 1988, and has also been the fill-in preacher at this same church. In 2006 he was called on to sing the National Anthem at the Autism Society of America's national convention in Dallas, and performed the same song at ATC's rodeo fundraiser. He also enjoys writing, and formerly wrote articles for a website dedicated to reality television. In 2011 he got married for the first time, and his wife Rachel works for ATC in Adult Services. Ken graduated from Oklahoma Christian University in 1987 with a Bachelor's in Mass Communications, and once worked as a radio traffic reporter, interactive announcer and writer, and news producer in Dallas. He views Asperger's as a difference, not a defect, and has come to appreciate the positive aspect's of Asperger's.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “How can I help my adult son with Asperger’s?

  1. Ken,
    Thank you for your article.
    My son has been diagnosed with OCD and Depression and anxiety.
    He is in his 30’s.
    I suspect he may have Asperger.
    I am not able to bring this up with him because he seems moody he uses such a sophisticated language I sometimes do not even understand the words as English is my second language.
    Basically he is not capable of small talk. He may answer yes or not and can be very sarcastic.
    It may be a cliche and some people may be offended by what I am writing but my son seems to be just like Sheldon on the Big Bang.
    He has called me dense and not smart at all in front of one friend of is I was so shocked I had no idea what to do or what to say so I said nothing.
    I did however see a psychologist for myself.
    We ” suspect” he may have Asperger but my son always tells me if he wants my opinion he will ask for it thank you very much mother for your concern…
    He has no empathy with me but yet he loves animals.
    Yes he works with computer and in communication and if I am not able to understand something on my cell phone or laptop he calls me stupid and tells me my brain isnt working properly…
    Granted we do not even live in the same state and he is an adult but I visit him and he visits me.
    I recently got a new job and texted him and told him he was polite he told me it was nice. I continued texting saying I am so happy I will make more money it is not far from home. His answer was…. Mother I need to tell you about texting etiquette, if someone does not answer you after two texts of yours it means they are not wanting to speak to you, I hope you understand mother.
    This hurt me so much I was not able to stop crying.
    I thought he was so mean with so much indifference.
    Now I understand it is not his fault.
    However I feel it is not my fault either and while I am terribly sad for him I cannot have my son with Asperger calling me dense, stupid, pea brain … I just cannot.
    I was attached to my parents whom I loved very much, when I told my son I wanted to go on my parent’s graves and bring some flowers he told me what a waste of money it is to buy flowers for a pack of old bones with no souls no bodies. Again I know he has issues but this lack of empathy totally breaks me and I do not want to see him at all.
    He was supposed to visit me for Thanskgiving and I am trying to make up an excuse not to see him and at the same time I feel guilty. I am starting to wish I could have a small accident and be in a hospital at that time so my son would not come and not stay with me.
    I am sorry to sound so cold blooded and mean and heartless. I just saw your post and decided to answer.
    Loretta

    • It is not offensive to say your son seems just like Sheldon on Big Bang, since that character shows certain Aspie traits. For him to call you dense or not smart, and in front of others no less, was extremely rude. You don’t talk to anyone like that, much less your own mother. Same for the comment “If I want your opinion I’ll ask you for it.”

      I think it is good you see a therapist for yourself. You can’t change your son, but you can change how you react to him, but more importantly, how you perceive his behavior. Realize it is his issue, not yours. As for calling your “stupid” for not understanding your laptop, since he is in the communications and computer business, understanding technology may be second nature to him, and the people around him at work, and he may not grasp that everyone doesn’t understand it as easily as he does. He also does not seem to understand how his behavior affects people around him. He may well be shocked to find out you are so hurt (and justifiably so) by his comments.

      My advice: Tell him how it makes you feel when he resorts to name-calling and you would appreciate it if he would refrain from doing so. If he persists you may need to end the conversation until he treats you better. But give him ample warning: If it’s a phone conversation, tell him if he talks to you that way again, you will hang up on him, and then follow through. If it’s in person, walk out of the room if it convenient to do so. Otherwise, tell him, “I’m not speaking to you when you talk to me that way.” He may not understand why it bothers you, but at least he will know he cannot engage in such behaviors around you.

      If you dread his visit on Thanksgiving, you might just tell him you have other plans this year. I know you hate to do this, but it might just be necessary for your mental health. You are under no obligation to spend time with a person who is verbally and emotionally abusive, and the fact he doesn’t realize what he is doing does not let him off the hook, or make you feel any better when he makes his comments.

      If he is coming for sure, you might want to set some boundries with him in advance: Let him know what you will and won’t tolerate, and that if he can’t abide by this, he will not be welcome in your home. With Aspies, you sometimes have to be this blunt and direct. And by the way, you do not sound cold blooded and heartless; instead you sound like a wounded person who is afraid of being wounded again. I hope my advice helps you deal with your son. Best Wishes.

  2. Ken,
    My almost 21 year old was just diagnosed with aspergers after 3 horrendous years of trying to discern what was going on. I am told although he “was born with it”, it was not triggered (by what we don’t know) until 3 years ago. He became a totally differant person – at this point he has told us he is “indifferant to us” and “he does not care about us”. Nothing like my son before! The counselor he has been seein for 6 months (required by us to have us support him in college) has no experience or training in this field (although a nice person). But he referred him to psychiatrist to be tested for anxiety and we ended up with the diagnosis of aspergers. I have been doing exhaustive research to find someone knowledgable in this field in Orlando, FL, for counseling for all of us but to know avail so far. I love your bio (training & experience) and that faith is part of your life —- so wondering if you can refer me to someone of your calibur in the Orlando area? Near 32816 or 32806? I don’t need you to post this – you can just reply to my email. Thanks!

  3. Ken,

    All of the comments have hit home with me. I’m desperate. This is my son. I’ve known forever too. It’s miserable. My son does not live with me but he does live close. I feel like he is 24 and old enough to figure it out. I admit to avoiding him because he is so miserable and argues constantly. His siblings do the same and I believe he has no friends because of it. My question is, What can I do? I state the obvious, I call him out on his behavior, I tell him to see a counselor and I set boundaries. He has no one but me and sometimes his stepfather when he has the energy to spend time with him. Now that he is an adult he is seems too old to act like this. I feel he is making this choice to act this way. We overlook, and are forgiving of his rude and selfish behavior. I think he takes advantage of us. What do u think?

  4. Hello –

    I have a son with who is 20. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but his dad and I believe he also has aspergers. He shows a lot of the symptoms such as having sensory sensitivities, lacks social skills (distant, often unable to empathize with others, etc.) gets obsessed with certain things, severe anxiety about new situations and so on. This has gone on for most of his life.

    He was expelled from high school after he turned 18. He is currently living at home and doesn’t do much other than play video games, and mess around on his computer. He has been hired several times but quits only after a few days on the job, usually extremely angry about something insignificant.

    My son has also become violent at home, busting up furniture and walls. He has also become physically and verbally violent with me and verbally with his younger sister as well. One episode involving me landed him in the county jail for 5 weeks. Often we have no idea why he is angry. He’ll just come downstairs and begin acting out.

    He is under the care of a psychiatrist and taking medication which helps a little with his anxiety and angry outbursts. He has also been through counseling but is usually very uncooperative about receiving help.

    His dad and I are at odds about how to handle his unwillingness to better his life and bad behavior. I believe he needs consequences like taking privileges away, but his dad doesn’t want to do that because he feels sorry for him and thinks it will escalate his violent outbursts.

    I am at the end of my rope and don’t know where to turn. He has no friends, no job skills, not even a high school education. We are very reluctant to force him to move out because he’ll be homeless. We can’t afford to keep him in his own place. I seriously doubt he’d be able to manage on his own anyway and would end up back with us.

    We love our son but this is tearing our family apart. I plan to move away after my daughter graduates from high school in a couple of years if the situation doesn’t get better.

    Do you know of any resources that can help us or have any suggestions to pass along? So far everything we’ve tried over many years hasn’t helped much.

  5. All these comments are close to home for me. I have a 20 year old son; Taiwanese/American. I’m American and his mother- we are divorced- is Taiwanese. My son was diagnosed with Aspergers when he was 15. It was his idea. In America. Now, he denies he has it and yet he can’t speak or write hardly at all. He has no social skills. We all live in Taiwan where he has his own studio which we cover costs on. He does not work and never has. The military here rejected him and I want to take him back to the states where he can’t at least go to college, get counseling and work PT.. He wants nothing to do with me and does not talk to me anymore. His mother ignores me and the fact that he is autistic. She has blinders on and she is actually trying to enroll him in college here in Taiwan, which isn’t even possible because of his language skills in Chinese. Its insane. I want to leave and return to the states but fear that will be the end of my family. If I stay here, its as if I’m invisible. I can’t help my son unless he asks for help and he will not do that. And I can’t help him in this country… I’m in my 60’s now and I ‘m tired of this…. I want to quit. Can anybody relate to this?

    • I think many can relate to this. The majority of parents with a child on the spectrum end up divorcing because they cannot agree on how to approach the condition, and even if they stay together, they aren’t always on the same page. Also, I suspect your ex-wife is poisoning your son against you.

      The key to your plight might be that your son will not ask for help. You can only do so much for someone, but part of it is out of your control, and if your son will not accept or ask for help, there’s not much you can do.

      He may eventually have a falling out with him mother and want to live with you after all, and may even be willing to move. But even then, he has many problems to address, and at your age, you may not have the energy to do this.

      You said you want to quit, and sadly, that may be your only option. If you can’t save your son (and it sounds as if you’ve tried), you need to at least save yourself. The stress of trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped can take its toll if you aren’t careful, and may lead to long-term health problems.

      Best Wishes for you and your son.

      Ken