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My Asperger's + early emotional trauma = need to control


Danny Raede

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"To be honest, when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s (High-Functioning Autism) at age twelve, it didn’t have much of an impact on me. My parents, the therapist, and I sat on the couch as the good doctor took a few minutes to explain the particulars of my diagnosis while I listened politely. He asked if I had any questions. I didn’t. I remember thinking it was a funny word, but, at the time, I didn’t comprehend its full meaning. To me, it was just a word like any other.

And that was it. In fact, I soon forgot about the whole experience. The term didn’t surface again until I was fifteen when I found myself locked up in a residential treatment center for “at-risk” adolescents. There’s a rather interesting story behind how I ended up there.

Growing up, I was what many would have considered “a parent’s worst nightmare.” I was defiant and headstrong in the most extreme way imaginable. Nearly every day was punctuated by some kind of disagreement with my parents. And by disagreement, I mean two to four hours of all-out war where everyone is screaming, a window gets broken, I’m wrestled to the ground, the police get called, and eventually I grab my backpack and run away. My therapist would likely tell you that this happened because:

My Asperger’s + Emotional traumas early in life = Extreme need for control

Now that I’ve spent the last several years of my life studying psychology voraciously, both in and out of college, I’m inclined to agree with him.

I spent almost the entirety of my early life deep, deep in Defense Mode. I was so terrified and overwhelmed that the only way I knew how to feel somewhat okay was to assert control over everyone and everything around me. That kind of strong internal fire can be great if you’re an ambitious adult trying to build a life for yourself. However, it’s not so great when you’re a pre-teen who believes that parents (and other authority figures) are stupid.

My overwhelmed, stressed-out parents tried everything they could think of to get me to change. They took me to see countless therapists. They tried dozens of treatments and medications. They read parenting books. They tried talking softly. They tried talking loudly. They threatened, bribed, pleaded, and lectured. Nothing worked.

Finally, in desperation, they moved forward with what they considered their last-resort option: the residential treatment center. So I was awoken one morning by two very large, muscular men who took me to what would be my new home for the next year. It was eight hours a day of group and individual therapy. Seven days a week. For an entire freakin’ year. As you can imagine, I learned a lot of amazing life skills in there. I learned a lot about myself and about people in general. Finally, I graduated from the program and went home. I could hardly believe it. I was finally free!

For the first couple of months, life was amazing! My parents and I got along great. I even used my fancy new communication skills, and they worked! I felt confident that things were going to be different from now on. However, soon the “honeymoon” feeling wore off, and I was no longer the prodigal son who had finally come home. I was just part of the family again, and that meant that mom and dad tried to start parenting me again just like they used to. Despite my year of personal growth, it turned out that things at home hadn’t changed much at all. Soon, my old habits kicked in, my parents followed suit, and things got ugly really fast.

Faster than I would’ve thought possible, we were back to the same old pattern of fighting for control. My home was a war zone, and winning meant everything. The result was that, ultimately, everybody lost. After a few months of this, my parents decided that they had tried everything to help me, and that they had reached the end of their rope. It seemed their last-resort option, the treatment center, had failed.

Mom and Dad sat me down and informed me that they would be helping me to move out and find an apartment. I could either choose to stay in school with a part-time job, or I could choose to drop out and work full-time. In exchange, they would help me out with rent. I was seventeen years old.

Being thrown into the adult world at such a young age was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. On one hand, my greatest wish was finally fulfilled: I had nearly complete control of my life! On the other hand, I was a sheltered seventeen-year-old kid with Asperger's, ADHD, depression, and chronic anxiety who didn’t know the first thing about how to be successful in the “real world.” I was going to have to learn fast.

I distinctly remember that the day I became an “adult” was the day everything started to shift inside me. Honestly, there were very few “Eureka!” moments where a lightbulb went on, lightning struck, or the Earth shook. Most of the time, the change was gradual, like a sunrise. It starts out cold and dark with only the faint moonlight and stars overhead, but soon a little grey light peeks over the horizon. It gets brighter so gradually that it’s almost imperceptible, until suddenly you look around and realize that the world is now colorful, vivid, and radiant.

Over time, the more safe and in-control I felt the more I started to relax and come out of Defense Mode. I started to have little revelations here and there, and my perspective started to shift. For example, I realized that my parents weren’t around anymore, so, logically, I couldn’t blame them for my happiness and success (or lack thereof). I realized that those were my responsibility. From there, I realized that success wasn’t some arcane, mysterious thing. It was composed of particular skills that could all be learned. That singular epiphany started me down a road of learning and self-discovery that would completely change my life.

Years later now, I’m still growing and learning, but I have come a long way from those early days of raging meltdowns and failed relationships. Now, as a part of the Asperger Experts team, I get the amazing opportunity to work with individuals on the spectrum and their parents in order to help them overcome the same issues I struggled with so long ago. Honestly, it’s my dream job.

The journey of growth is never over. I still have sensory issues. I still go into Defense Mode sometimes. I still have moments of intense anxiety and social awkwardness. I still have bouts of depression that knock me flat on my back. The difference is that now I know how to handle those challenges effectively. I’ve realized that through knowledge, practice, and skill, things can truly, permanently change for the better."

Want More? This is an excerpt from our book "7 Easy Ways To Motivate Someone With Asperger's". Get the whole book here.

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After the return from the RTC, what would have made things easier so you didn’t fall back into old patterns? 

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Sue Simmons

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What an incredibly insightful and inspiring story, Danny. Sue 💫

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I am also incredibly happy to read your inspiring story. I have a daughter who I self-diagnosed 2 years ago but she is over the age of 18 now. She is 21. I can't do anything to make her happy at home because it's her way or the highway. I came to realize especially now after reading your story that I too want the same control in order to keep my now 21 year old daughter safe but in retrospect I now see why she acted and acts the way she does. She was the perfect daughter, and I mean perfect, all star basketball player, academically talented in Math, first to read in her kindergarten class, self-taught musical instruments, played the piano, percussion, and trained her voice to become an amazing singer by the age of 18 all within 1 year. She literally watched her sisters play ball and sing and one day she became better than them, however, they had years of training and she had none.  She had an emotional breakdown in her first semester in college and came home claiming she had suicidal thoughts. I couldn't understand what happened to my prodigal daughter. She went on her own to see a psychologist to get medications for what she thought was ADHD since that was her only diagnosis until 18. Since then she has had an increase in anxiety, is constantly up and down (similar to bipolar), one day wants to dress feminine, the next day masculine, and she initially told us she was "asexual", and then came out and said she was gay. But it didn't stop there, she paraded down in NYC for the LGBTQ community. She wore the socks, came out public on social media, and then decided to find a school where she thought it could be her ultimate college experience. It was a musical theater school in Manhattan where she didn't think twice to attend during COVID, despite the risks. She came home infrequently and she connected more and more with her new school mates and community. She continued the medications which by now changed two or three times but she started to disconnect from me, her father, sisters, and brother because once she left home, its as if she didn't have a family before. The new school became her new family. She failed to keep her promise on maintaining a daily budget, she wasted some of her tuition money and when I confronted her about it she said she would take accountability. She comes back home and starts working 42 hours a week and slept the other 1/2 of the day. After all she wasn't used to working this hard in school because school to her was a place she called "fun" and her "passion". Finally she realized that its going to be difficult to attend a 2nd year with her limited financial resources, some of which she spent ruthlessly going to cafes and Macdonalds. I decide to have that conversation with her to discuss me accepting her being gay because now that was not such a big concern for me anymore. She didn't seem happy anymore, she just worked, ate, and slept. She disconnected from her friends at home and had no energy to do anything she used to enjoy.  During the conversation I asked her why she feels the need to get validation from her 1000 facebook friends. If we finally accepted her being gay what does she want now. She said that she wanted to become a leader and advocate for the LGBTQ community and will continue to post about awareness online.  I now figured out that she was moving on to her new obsession, which was the LGBTQ community.  It seems as if when she fails at one obsession (basketball-she ended up not making Varsity team), she starts another obsession (singing/dancing/acting), and when she feels to keep up with one of the major responsibilities at school which was to pay for her 2nd semester tuition, she now found another new obsession to be the leader in the LGBTQ community.  She never finishes what she starts and when you give her advice she doesn't listen. When I told her that I think we need to see if she has something more than ADHD and that maybe theres a reason why she has alot of various issues that I see with kids on the aspergers spectrum, she started screaming and calling me crazy and so of course I had my meltdown and got upset. I ended up in the hospital, and the next day when I come home she decides to move out and live with total strangers whom we know nothing about. She disconnected from her sisters who she would normally confide in, and she abandoned her loving grandmother and brother with special needs.  Its been over a week. I have begged, pleaded, apologized, and asked her to come back home but she refuses to talk to me. She still has respectful conversations with her father but I can't seem to reconnect with her.  Can anyone give me any advice on how to reconnect with her.  I've tried sending her pictures of us when we were happy together and I told her I will help redecorate her apartment in our home since her sisters moved out and she can have the entire lower level to herself. I told her I lover her, but yet she still ignores my messages.  I don't know what she is planning next but I'm fearful of her life and her naiveness trusting a girl from school whom she just met and living with them in Brooklyn instead of her loving family in CT.  I have read alot about female aspies getting diagnosed in adulthood and beyond and I'm so certain she is on the spectrum however I can't get her to listen to me to get her the right diagnosis so she can learn the skills required to survive with her emotional imbalances, body dismorphia, black/white thinking, OCD behaviors, shopping impulsivity, and wreckless decision making with money.   I"m just a mom who really loves her daughter and need some guidance. Can anyone make any recommendations. -- Sincerley, worried MOM

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