A father’s perspective: What I did wrong (and what I did right)

My name is Rob Raede and I’m Danny’s Dad.  As parents of kids with Asperger’s, I don’t need to tell you that raising a child with AS can be incredibly challenging and frustrating.  My wife and I are thankful every day that somehow along the way we did enough things right to get Danny to a point where he could find a path to become a thriving adult.

Asperger’s as a term and diagnosis was fairly new when Danny was diagnosed at age 12.  Not very many people knew about it, and no one had heard of Defense Mode or Sensory Funnels.  Resources were limited, and we had to make a lot of it up as we went along.  We wish we had Asperger Experts around when we were raising Danny.

I thought perhaps it might be helpful to other fathers of AS kids to recount some of the things I did wrong, and did right, raising Danny.

Let’s get the embarrassing mistakes out of the way first:

Number 1:  Expecting Danny to eventually become more like his older brother and/or me.  I’m a reasonably average guy, in terms of how I like to spend my free time.  I like bike riding, playing and watching sports, cool cars, and watching action/adventure type movies (if nothing blows up in the movie, it really has to be something special for me to like it)  In short, guy stuff.  And I also like to play and write music.

Danny’s older brother shares almost all of those interests, which made it very easy for he and I to bond, and have common ground as he grew older.  With Danny, to build that same bond required an alternate approach (see below).

I’ve always intensely enjoyed spending lots of time with both my sons, and from a very early age I would take them on outings every weekend, hikes or to the park, shopping or running errands, and lots of camping trips, etc.  Between the ages of 2 and 12 or so it was “let’s go boys, we’ve got adventures to do”, and we all loved it.

When Danny got to be 11 or 12, it became increasingly obvious that he was a different kid, with very different interests and feelings about, and reactions to, the world.  It became clear he was not going to be like me, or like his older brother.

And that took me some time to adjust to, during which I probably tried way too often and sometimes too insistently to get Danny to like playing ball sports, or bike riding, or rough housing around.  Danny liked none of those kinds of things, and at first it was disappointing to me.

Number 2:  Sometimes getting angry at Danny for withdrawing from, and refusing to participate in, whatever family or “boys” activity we were engaged in.  I was never proud of myself for that, but occasionally I would raise my voice to Danny trying to exhort him to get engaged and be part of whatever we were doing.  There were times when Danny’s actions were a real drag on the family fun dynamic, and times when it tested my patience and my wife’s as well.  Every now and then I’d lose it a little and get mad at him.

There’s a fine line between accommodating a kid with Asperger’s differences, and coddling him.  I was probably a little too much on the tough love side, but I did not want Danny to ever think of having AS as an excuse to fail.  In retrospect, I could’ve been a little more understanding from time to time.

Things I did right…..
Number 1:  Figuring out how to engage with Danny in the things HE was interested in.  I will come right out and admit this…I don’t like Pokemon.  I know it’s strange, but there it is, I’ll just have to live with it.  But Danny does, or did between roughly ages 12 thru 16.  So during the summer, or on weekends, given his lack of interest in the activities that I often enjoy, if I wanted to spend time with Danny it was going to have to be doing things that he enjoyed.  Like playing Pokemon, and Dungeons and Dragons, and reading D&D books, and looking at funny websites, etc.  So that’s what we did.  Danny is my kid, and I love him, and I like spending time with him.  So, I did the things that he liked doing.  Even the ones that give me a major headache.

Number 2:  Learning what made Danny uncomfortable, and when to stop an activity.  As important as it was to spend time with Danny doing what he was/is interested in, it was equally important to figure out the things that really made him uncomfortable, and not do those things.  I remember very clearly once, Jurassic Park 2 had just come out, and Danny wanted to go see it, so I took him to the theater one Saturday afternoon.

10 minutes into the film, when the Stegasauruses were rampaging around, Danny got spooked by it, and wanted to leave.  Parents all know that it’s not inexpensive to take your kids to a first run movie– you’ve got the tickets that run $10 each, then the wildly overpriced popcorn and candy, etc.  It can easily be $35 just for two people at the movies, so at first I thought about trying to convince him to stay, give it a chance, etc.  Finally, though, I decided that we’d just do what Danny wanted.  Without any arguing or cajoling.  As we walked out, Danny said “Dad, 10 minutes of a movie like that is about right, don’t you think?”.  I laughed and agreed, and we found something else to do.

The “aha” moment there was discovering that the important thing was not what specific activity we were engaged in, it was just spending time with my son, doing something he was comfortable with.

Number 3:  Believing in Danny and standing up for him.  As we learned more about Asperger’s, we also learned about all the famous successful people who have or had it–Albert Einstein for example.  I will say, having read about the habits and characteristics of several other well known folks, that it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Bill Gates has Asperger’s, as does likely Warren Buffett and especially his partner Charlie Munger.  5 minutes into the movie “Social Network”, about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, as the Mark Zuckerberg character is talking to his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend and taking everything literally, my wife and I both looked at each other in the movie theater and said simultaneously, “Aspergers”.  (Only judging from the movie character, we’ve never met Mark Z.)

So our family would talk about that around the dinner table, and I always felt very certain when I told Danny that someday he would grow up to do something really interesting and important: that he would see things differently than other people, and make some kind of very special contribution to the world.
He wasted no time in proving that prediction correct.

(As an aside, I think one of the things we did right in general as parents was having dinner every night together with our kids.  That’s where we talked about our day, about what we were doing and feeling, about current events, and family history.  In many ways, it’s what gave our family strength and cohesion.)

As Danny progressed through school, we would occasionally encounter a teacher or counselor who would require, um, education about the correct way to deal with Danny.  I should say here that the vast majority of the Danny’s teachers in Jr. and Sr. High School were terrific, some of them actually becoming friends of Danny’s to this day.

However, about once a year or so while Danny was in high school, we would run into a person of authority who either refused to believe Danny has AS, or refused to cooperate with the terms of his IEP.  So I, and sometimes my wife and I, found it necessary from time to time to sit down with the teacher or counselor and explain very gently, but very firmly that if they didn’t get with the program a you-know-what storm of Biblical proportions was about to rain down on their heads.  All the while smiling and using a calm voice.  Actually, I used what Danny refers to as my ‘scary voice’, which is very soft and low pitched.  It means I’m a touch upset.

Being an involved Dad, and showing Danny that I had his back, I think was very important, and gave him a lot of confidence that he had at least one safe place to be where everyone valued him; namely, home.
To conclude, raising an child with Asperger’s was often frustrating, occasionally infuriating, but always fulfilling and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  To the Dads out there, you’re probably going to make mistakes just like I did, but don’t despair.  It doesn’t mean you won’t be successful raising your child.  And maybe you can learn a little something from my experience, save yourself a little time.

One last thing I would add for fathers of kids with AS– remember to keep your sense of humor.  It’s really helpful.

91 thoughts on “A father’s perspective: What I did wrong (and what I did right)

  1. Hello Mr Raede,

    Thanks so much for posting this letter from “a father’s perspective”– I really hits home and, yet, reiterates the need for us parents to forgive ourselves when we feel overwhelmed by having to find a ways to interact with and nurture our Aspy children.

    What meant the world to me is the way it shows how many of us wish to be most of the time…having a positive, loving, hopeful, and “everything will be alright if we do all we can to nurture the kids in the right way.” I’m with you on the Pokemon interests being not really my thing…but that’s something I know that I need to do better…show more interest and spend more time doing what my son likes to do.

    I do feel like I’ve let my son down in some ways, such as not standing up his 5th grade teacher who belittled and embarrassed him in front of the class, who wore a smile in front of the adults but a frown and contempt away when it was just the kids around (on three different occasions my son and I separately surprised her where she all-of-a-sudden was the nicest teacher in the world), who blamed him for many things that weren’t actually as she thought…just because she was overly-frustrated with not getting the results she wanted and felt disrespected in her own class. I don’t think she was ever trained well enough to ask herself “what am I doing wrong that is affecting my ability to understand him or help him calm down?” Instead, she would push him harder to act normal and give her the respect she demanded when he was overwhelmed. She yanked a paintbrush from his hand and banned him from art, after she told him to clean off extra paint off a project that was to be a gift to dad…he didn’t know what or how he should do it so he got overwhelmed and frustrated when she kept drilling him to “just do it!” She would also accept other kids perspectives and even a slight glimpse of something and automatically accuse him of doing wrong or intentionally doing something. But he was the most straight-edge, “I don’t do wrong as long as I understand it’s something’s wrong” kid…the class police officer (lol). When it came down to being more of a kid or adult, he has always been more adult-like and ethical than even many adults.

    We’ve since pulled him out of school and he’s going to try online school…we’ll see how that goes.

    Thanks again for the post. I’ll save it to re-read when I feel like I’m drifting away from being the outstanding parent I’d like to be.

    Best regards,


    1. I apologize for my grammatical errors. 🙂 Too much going through my mind and not enough people to understand what my son and I went through during his 5th grade. It was a nightmare…much stress and many sleepless nights thinking about how the teacher essentially created a negative learning environment.

      He was treated guilty of so many things, when he wasn’t–deemed the troublemaker, even though he was the most straight-edge kid there. She threatened to send him home many times, because she didn’t want him to explain anything…only for him to give her the respect that she demanded “in HER classroom,” do as she asked exactly when she asked it (even when terrible overwhelmed). She would hide what she was writing on his daily performance sheets as l she wrote it, so that he didn’t get upset and argue to be heard and so many other things, including telling him “well you can stay home for the last….days of school, then!”, after he told her that I didn’t care what she wrote (because she was always impatience, unjust, and not willing to take the time to talk neutrally to understand him or the situation. On the last day of school, when the kids were allowed free time in the gym, she came up to us and treated him like he was three-year-old in front of us…telling him and us that, if he wanted to stay, he needs to “get along and not cause problems”–we took him home. We said goodbye to his friends, before we left, and they said many openly stated “she’s mean to him a lot.” God how I wished I’d filed a grievance against her. The next year she was in charge of teachers…a grave injustice to our area, the teachers, and the students she will oversee.

  2. I wish I had this kind of support as an adult with aspergers. I diagnosed myself and learning on my own to live alongside people. I guess its the best way to learn but it could be easier if people were more aware

  3. That you for your comments and knowledge. My son is 20 now and was diagnosed at 10. I struggled because I could see he was different but everyone just said he was immature. He was reading and writing by Kindergarden but did not want to do it. The school kept wanting him to stay back but I didn’t think he needed it. You see he has a brother that is 2 yrs older and the kids he hung out with from swim class, nursery school all had siblings Matts age. He always had trouble making friends so I didn’t want him to seperated from them. But I lost my battle and they kept him back and evenually his friends outgrew him. He did well in school until high school when he hit puberity. Now he went to Community College but is not doing well at all. He doesn’t want anyone to know he has autism so he won’t go to the resource room. His father is not supportive and no longer lives with us. He feels if he can’t get good grades he needs to get a job and pay rent I had to pay for driving lessons because he had not gotten his licence. I told he would have to learn or take the city bus. he did it as long as we weren’t instructing him. I got him a GPS because was he didn’t know where anything was. He got better but the grades are worse what do I do?

  4. Thank you for the retrospective and heartfelt post. I connected with many of the things you wrote about. My son is 12 and was diagnosed with Asperger’s (now Low to Mild on the Autism Spectrum Disorder) when he was almost 11 (so it has been a little over a year). I have been frustrated at times, because I have tried to help him be a “normal” kid and fit in with “normal” kids, because I know he desperately wants to have close friends. He does have some friends that date back to pre-school, but you know Middle School can be a time where friend drift.
    But my son has a large family support group and my wife is very bull-doggish when it comes to teacher following his IEP and I relate to you in that, I am very open and friendly, but when I feel that people aren’t following up on agreed to promises, my anger will come out.

    Thanks again for sharing.
    Emmett (Chip) Benedum

  5. Thank you so much, this is all new to me, our daughter was just diagnosed at the age of 16, so learning new things at the age of 60…

  6. Rob, Hearing you share about every day life and your feelings and encouragements is so very helpful! It gives us time to reflect, as well as knowing we are on the right track. Danny and Hayden have helped this family out in so many ways already. One, just by allowing us to accept, understand better, and acknowledge what is going on and two, giving us solid ways to establish and achieve the goals we feel our son deserves in so many ways! Since finding The Asperger Experts our son has made honor roll and is laughing and smiling a great deal more. We also feel we have more control over the things our son needs to include our entire family. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Wonderful perspective on AS. My husband and I will celebrate 39 years of marriage next month.
    He was diagnosed 10 years ago. We have been missionaries for 37 years.
    I so identified with your successes and failures, as a wife.
    A sense of humor is the best tool for me. He led me to the Lord 40 years ago and what a ride it has been.
    Because I had been in an abusive marriage before him for 12 years. His directness was a healing balm for my soul.
    So grateful for this amazing man.
    Thank you for taking the time to share.

  8. The kid gloves are most important for the principals and teachers who refuse to tolerate the differences in children. Teachers who are highly qualified and trained to teach children with special needs depend upon the advocacy of you parents or we lose our jobs and any opportunity to help your children ever. Never assume the school authority is the right authority on your child, or that every teacher supports the school philosophy for students to score high, win awards for the school, comply, and get in line to be molded into manageable copies.

  9. Thank you for sharing your synopsis of parenting. I use Danny’s site to refer all of the Aspergers on my caseload. I have a husband that was not diagnosed until 2 years ago (married 28 years), and a son who was diagnosed in high school (now 26). Having a label has been enlightening, because that is where you find answers. My son parroted in language until age 4, and had tactile issues with clothing. I never worried about the sensory with food (chicken strips and potatoes every night). What made me the most sad was how gifted my son is in math, however reading was delayed. By high school he was tutoring the kids in the IEP classroom. Finally when re-tested he was placed in the gifted classes where the kids were mean (what are you doing here retard, your in the wrong classroom). His sister (now age 30) has always been in the gifted classroom and she repeatedly told him, it is the people who call you stupid or retard that have a problem. She struggled with math and he did not. The motto in our house was “everyone has different gifts, discovery yours”. My husband has the most damage from a his family calling him stupid until he believed it. My husband can see in three dimensional, and is a gifted cabinet maker and installer. I think the biggest issue to overcome is social norms and the definition of “intelligence” according to the general uneducated public. My husband told me he likes to go out in the world, it is the personal interaction with others that causes anxiety and withdrawal. Transition is an issue for both my son and husband. The next primary issue is processing. You have to know they are keyed into you before you begin speaking or they do not hear all that you have said. The defense mechanism habit was to be aggressive with me rather than say “can you repeat that, I wasn’t listening” or “what did you say?” Aspergers are such a gift to the world, how sad to not be treated as such. Aspergers may not have empathy, but they do have compassion. They are in my opinion more injured by the callousness of others. My son lives on his own and has a life centered around wilderness hiking and training to be a gunsmith. He is just now realizing how much his anxiety affects his ‘awareness” of how is friends are feeling. Keep up the good work 🙂

  10. I commend you for all you do for your son. My son has aspergers and his father and father’s family have made no effort and are not in his life.
    God bless you!!

  11. I’m a teacher of a boy who (to me) certainly seems to be an Asperger child. The parents don’t want to believe this about their son. Their experience with a counselor wasn’t good, so they stopped seeing him. So a couple of years later, as a ten yr old their son crossed the line at school with his anger and hurt
    (not seriously) another student (two on the same day). The parents want to continue using strategies to help him; but I truly believe they need professional help. Do you have any tips on how I can gently help these parents realize or seek help?

  12. Wow quiet surreal account of being a father to Danny feel so tune in to your views and aware you come through the years with your Son, We are at age 12 stage and Pokemon days are here and tuning in to their interests, so true we live in society of how to be accepted I know I should stop the judging others factor but I from time to time start comparing my 12 year old with ASD with others !!! we struggling with social independent stuff, while other 12 years old are building this now my Son has reclusive behaviours so our battle is full on just going out for tea is battle, meter action with family is decreasing so feel the tuning in with his likes interests is paramount ! Have to agree we always try n sit table when ever possible for meals n talk and chats are formed we gather lot out of this so another value moments to have, lovely account and honest account of father n Son and living with Aspengers ????

  13. Good post. I feel similar to you in your approach. Nice to know I’m not the only parent who has had to leave in the middle of a movie (actually several) due to an Asperger’s kid 🙂

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed ur post,r son has ASD/ADHD…he’s eight years old and sounds so much like Danny,life is so active in our household,it has to be,that’s what I keep saying to myself,if it wasn’t then he would just shut himself off,avoid everyone.My husband is just starting to get it,its taken such along time,our weekends are based around our son,his interests,not what we want to do,I accepted that quite quickly,r sons friends r us,only…he doesn’t go outside to play but we no what wrks for him,water sports,sailing,banana boating,fair rides..the faster the better and higher,he’s feeds on adrenaline.We r in our forties, and more active than ever,but I do think back to when we didn’t no what he liked, sitting in the living area staring at the TV,playing a game etc…he never asks to do anything,never,but we do no the places that we dare not take him,shops,long walks,cycling, etc…sorry for the long message, but ur post rang a very loud bell to me,thanku..

  15. First, HELP! I want to thank you for writing this. When reading your description of his likes, I laughed out loud, sounds just like my Alex. He is a Freshman this year and 14. Both are hard but then you add in the Aspergers…..look out! The local school works with him on accommodations, however I think he is bored. If he does not have his anxiety under control he can’t do his work. I am so worried that I am not doing enough for him on a daily basis. I keep up with the intervention teachers several times a week, but I still feel that is not enough. This is what I feel he needs…..the Home School idea where he can learn and progress at a faster pace that he needs but still getting the daily social interaction and life skills outside the home. I feel like we are floating. He has asked me recently if he will be able to live on his own and go to college and I have told him , YES!
    Do I direct him into areas that might be of interest to him, I can’t just let him drift. I have 4 boys total and he is number 2. Any suggestions?

  16. So spot on. Our son was diagnosed with ADD at 12. The diagnosis was a 5 minute conversation with an HMO doc. He is 19 and now we realize that he has had AS. We believe my husband and younger son have it also, but to a lesser degree. So thankful that you are speaking for parents and for your son! Wish we had known more years ago.

    1. Thank you for your insights Mary! With technology making mass couamnicmtions so simple, it is important to remind ourselves of the basics and ensure we consider the audience when we communicate. The simple things can make a huge difference!

  17. First I have to say, I’m glad I found this group! My son is 17 recently graduated HS and is moving onto college. At age 4 he was diagnosed PDD and also thought to be mildly retarded. K-6 grade was in special needs class. Boy did he defy the odds! Mainstreamed in jr high went onto high school and wrestled all 4 years. Graduated with high honors. How proud I am of him! But I struggle with his lack of motivation to get a job. He’s not outgoing or charismatic. He’s afraid to drive. I have to make him. I can see that it makes him have anxiety. He wanted to live on campus when he got accepted into college, but we can’t afford the housing and the University is 30 min away. I gave him a car and told him he must learn to drive before school starts. How do I get my son ready for the real world?


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