Raising Someone With Asperger’s During The Summer

Note about the author: Ellen is the mom of two adult sons  (including Danny) who are two years apart. She was, and still is, the “mom on call” for  Danny, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 12, and his older brother, who was the one with the more “normal” culture. She is thankful that she has had a very patient, and much more playful husband, to share in her parenting responsibilities.

I really hated summertime! Unless I could get frequent breaks, I disliked being with my Asperger son, Danny, playing Pokemon with him all day, and listening to endless monologues about his obsessions.

While I did my best to pretend to enjoy every single moment of parenting, I can now admit that I did not enjoy summertime. Here are some things I would have done differently:

1)  Don’t stress about the lack of peer-friends.  Up until about age eight, his peers didn’t seem to mind Danny’s quirks.  After that, the kids his age began to notice that Danny was different and didn’t want to be with him. (I used to cry when he was excluded from birthday parties.) They didn’t understand him when he spoke obsessively like a little engineer explaining in much too much detail about whatever topic interested him. They didn’t like that Danny did not abide by the social norm of respecting their physical space, and they thought it was strange that he would freak-out when someone touched him playfully. So, instead of complaining about the lack of peer-friends, or forcing Danny to be in stressful situations trying to fit in, I would have removed that stress by finding people of different ages to be with him.

I would have found a few patient adults or older teens to be Danny’s buddies and spend time with him. I would have contacted the local high school and asked for some mature students who need volunteer time, connected with the community “big brother” program, or asked friends and relatives to help out.  A few hours of their time would have provided Danny some social time, and allowed me to have more breaks.

2) Let him be in control by giving him choices. I often was the “drill sergeant” mom and told Danny what to do. But, when I gave him two choices that I was willing to live with, he felt in control and we were both happier.  For example, “At 10:00 this morning, two hours from now, do you want to go to the park, or a walk on the beach?”  Or, “We need to go grocery shopping.  Do you prefer store X or store Y?”

3) Avoid Meltdown triggers. I would have avoided places that set Danny off into melt-down mode.  It took me years of dragging Danny to the fish market until I finally realized he stressed every time.  Likewise, how many times did I need to cook with olives before I realized the smell caused him pain? And, Kmart’s florescent lights were way to bright for him. He was overly sensitive to these smells and sights, and was very uncomfortable, ultimately stressing, retreating into his own world, and melting down.

I would have also avoided people who stressed Danny out. Summer was often time to visit with friends and relatives and that unfortunately often triggered problems.  Danny had a very low tolerance for certain people’s voices, and others who talked too much, or as he would say, spoke “mindless chatter.”  (He would sometimes accuse me of being one of those people.) Of course, there were times when he needed to be polite, but I would     have changed my visit times or durations, and explained to him ahead of time that it was perfectly okay, after saying hello, to excuse himself whenever he was feeling stressed and go read a book or play gameboy in the other room.  And, I would not have cared what anyone thought of this behavior!

4) Find more volunteer experiences for Danny.  (This would have worked well when he was about 10 or older.)  One summer, Danny got a taste of a fun volunteer job when he helped at a preschool. The children were too young to judge, and instead simply liked that Danny showed them magic tricks, made really cool shapes out of clay, and pushed them on the swing. Other opportunities existed too. There are many homes for the elderly in town and perhaps they would have enjoyed to play cards or chess with Danny. Opportunities are out there, but again, I would have narrowed the choices down and let Danny ultimately pick what he would do.

Ultimately a  less-stressed Danny meant a happier mom.  And, likewise, a less-stressed  mom, meant a happier Danny!  Oh, how I wish I would have known better!

122 thoughts on “Raising Someone With Asperger’s During The Summer

  1. It wasn’t for the summer, but it was during the school year that my daughter, Caity, (who has PDD-NOS and is very high functioning) volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters. She was big sister to a little 8 year old boy when she was in high school. She walked over to the primary school once a week and helped Dylan, a third grader with his homework and they played board games and she talked to him about school and his problems. She did this for three years until she graduated high school. She was awarded the Big Brother Big Sisters Award for Best Student Mentor for 3 counties. One reason was Dylan’s mom wrote and told the judges how much Caity had influenced her son for the best and he had brought up all his grades and was much happier due to her influence.
    I think for me, as her mom, it was so wonderful for me to see her giving back and helping when she had always been the one receiving. Her self esteem and confidence went way up knowing she was making a difference. I noticed her working harder as she told Dylan to do. When she graduated high school in 2012 she got 5 scholarships from our county and one from the college she attended, Stetson University. She lived on campus and just graduated this past spring with her BA degree in Communications. She is back near Stetson with her first real friends she met at college and is pursuing her MA online and living on her own in an apartment.she is closer to the campus than when she was in the dorm.
    I am taking this course because I know there are things I need to learn and I already have in just the first 3 lessons now that she is entering adulthood. Once her friends graduate (they all had one year left) she will be back home. We gave her the gift of another year (paying for the apartment) because we felt it would help her socialization with real friends who accept her for who she is and love her for who she is. I’m clueless as to the adulthood part, in school you follow a path from one year to the next with goals of graduation. This is a whole new ballgame, and I hope to learn from the class.
    While she was in school I did learn how important it was for her to do volunteering and when she got into college she took it upon herself to do so, with the American Cancer Society and other organizations at school. She also had the experience of applying for and actually getting work study jobs where there was a lot of competition for the positions.These things have helped fill her resume She has a way to go though, when she applied for a part time job writing for an online magazine and the woman called her during lunch. She told the woman “I’m eating lunch I’ll call you later” Needless to say, she did not get the job but got an email telling her why, which I explained so now she knows, either don’t answer the phone if you are busy, let them leave a message or get up and leave the room and take the call. As I said we have a way to go. Thank you for these tools that will continue to help Caity on her journey and me who is along for the ride but volunteering and doing a couple of internships has greatly helped give her some experience and helped build her confidence.

  2. Thank you so much for this article. My son was diagnosed 2 years ago and I’m just becoming to terms with it. I have always known but uncounciously wasn’t able to accept it. Somehow I thought it wasn’t true and I was scare of it. Now the more I read, the more I want to know to help him. The support of other parents who understand because they have lived through it, is priceless. Thank you for this article, I’m planning to make this summer a better experience for my son and the whole family.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your list!!! Summertime has been challenging with my almost 11yo son with
    Aspergers and his 8yo brother. I want summer to
    be a happy, relaxing time for my boys like I remember when I was a child. It means so much to have the advice of a mom who has gone through what I’m going through!! Thank you so much!!!

  4. Ellen,
    Great advice! My Aspie Mark is 12 and I’ve experienced similar things! I think the pressure we put on ourselves is what we later realize was a big part of the problem. One thing I found worked last summer (we will see about this year) is “discovering” school playgrounds around the towns in our area. It not only gets him out and playing but his sister and couple of her friends like doing that too– and it also feeds Mark curiosity about geography and local places to talk about. Win-win. However, this summer– I just decided last week — I am choosing to let go of making Mark go to the beach. Every year I cajole, beg, bribe, and threaten until he goes to the beach — and I end up doing entertainment duty and worrying the whole time about him having a good time. No more. He doesn’t like the beach — I love it — so this year I am getting a sitter while I go to the beach with his sister and all of us “win”. Thank you for your posts and KEEP THEM COMING!

  5. Thank you Ellen so much for sharing you story. I’ve just worked out myself that my son 12 years is Asperger’s (confirmed last Tuesday by Doctor). The last 8 years have been a huge struggle for me & him as I didn’t understand WHY he was so stressed & me about going to school (Steiner) it seemed so nice & nurturing there. He has been telling me for years that he wasn’t like the other kids he didn’t fit in with them, he felt like he was always on the outside looking in. So sad to watch broke my heart may times.
    With reading the posts its been so supportive to me to know I’m not alone & other parents have & are on a similar road its comforting to know. I did feel stupid at the beginning thinking WHY did I have no clue. But with going to psychologist for the past 4 years they should have know better & diagnosed him sooner. I’d like to say a HUGE THANKYOU to Danny & Hayden & all their staff for the wonderful helpful webinars DVD’s I have been able to help my son so much in just 4 months he is a happier young man now that I understand him.

    1. My son is 12 too! Which part of the USA do you live? Has anyone ever tried social skills with your son?

  6. My daughter is 16 recently diagnosed high functioning Autism. (Asbergers ) Hates leaving the house although I have had her help with vbs every year since she aged out. She almost always gets straight A’s very much smarter than I. Doesn’t like the crowds including family gatherings. She also ADHD. I wonder if she will ever be able to get her drivers license. She isn’t pushing for them. But I don’t want to hold her back either.

    1. My daughter is 16 too, diagnosed high functioning Autism fall 2016. Its common for these teens to have anxiety about driving. Its just not a priority compared to having her comfortable to leave the house. For my daughter, who does go to a public h.s. but does not like school, I suggested that she take the test 1) because they went over the information in PE/just not actual driving 2) She would have a form of ID to carry.

      My daughter doesn’t like crowds either including family gatherings! She hangs in as long as she can and then retreats somewhere quiet to read or draw. I told her that if something is going on that I think she would like to see (recently an albino dog) or fun thing going on that I think she might want to participate in (Pie in Your Face Game), that I will come ask her or send someone to tell her about it. And she is under no pressure to do it. She decides with no prodding from me. Expecting her to act like everyone else, when she’s not like everyone else, sets you up for failure. If the goal is for both of you is to see your relatives and not have a miserable time, then make that works for both of you.

  7. Thank you all. I personally diagnosed our son with AS around age 12 and found it to be dead on! I read up on everything I could – most importantly; how to communicate with him so as to offer him the most normal, stress-free environment possible at all times. There are a million things I wish I had known earlier on, but I can’t worry about that now. He just graduated high school with a 3.75 gpa and is starting Jr College in the fall. His obsession with barricading himself in the corner and playing his guitar or on the computer at all hours of the day drives me crazy, but he also has a part-time job and he’ll help at home with anything I ask. He is open to getting out and changing up his routine when I suggest it. We try to include him in everything we do in order to instill important life lessons. He really seems to have it all together to most people but I dread the day he decides to head out on his own. No matter what we have done for him (and he is one lucky kid!) his anger issues still scare me to death. He’s so darn smart that he gets frustrated with the genuine stupidity of us normal folks! I can only hope that the love and kindness we have always shown him will continue to teach him the patience he’s going to need in this world as an adult. I’m just thankful his syndrome is a functional type of AS as my heart breaks for parents of of children with special needs of any kind! Stay calm, kind, and grateful, my friends!

  8. What great suggestions! I have to talk in retrospect, too, as our 21 year old son was diagnosed with Aspergers just last June, right before he turned 20. Sigh… if only we had known. Your suggestions would all have been perfect to help him be happier, and thus, us, his family.

  9. Thank you for your honesty and wisdom. You should be very proud of the mothering that you did. Danny seems like a wonderful young man and has given me inspiration in the little time I have spent watching him and his buddy on You Tube. Very important work they do and you do being a great mom!

  10. OMG so glad I took the time to read the blog and every single comment. I’ve wondered if I was the only mom who had these thoughts. I love my son beyond everything but it’s always easier to be with hos older sister. I also love the ideas for family gathering. Thank you thank you to all!

  11. I needed this today. Being at home all day with my son has been so very draining. I’m in tears telling myself it is ok and will be ok. Thank you for honest and thoughtful advice.

    1. I feel the same way! My son is 12 and loves being with me and sometimes I just need a break ???????? .

  12. I could have written this article about my son it is so on point for us. It took me 10 years to figure these things out and I find myself wanting to apologize to my son, who is now 14, for the 10 years that I didn’t understand just how stressful things were for him. He has been recently diagnosed on the spectrum and is doing so much better thanks to his wonderful doctor. I quit worrying about what anyone thought of our or his absence at different events and put my focus on him being comfortable. He is so very smart and so polite (honest to a fault sometimes, outloud) and I am so very proud of him and how far he has come in the last few years. I had to learn to relax and not worry about others but to focus on his needs and how to adjust what we were doing or not doing that affected him. Thanks so much for this honest, refreshing take on your experiences.

  13. Thanks for sharing….I will be mindful of your suggestions as we are approaching summer. Thanks for sharing! I enjoy your son’s website and am inspired by him and Hayden.

  14. My son Brian, who is an Aspie and is now 24 is helping me twice a week delivering meals on wheels to senior citizens in the Chicago area with me and is enjoying it thoroughly! I just received my copy of “Fundamentals for Thriving” and am going to share it with my ex- wife as soon as I ma finished watching myself! Danny, Hayden I just want to thank you both for really giving me the tools to understand what my son experiences with Aspergers and being two young men who deal with it yourself, I feel I am getting valuable, experienced insight. Thank You!


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