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I suspect my mum is on the autistic spectrum, should I say anything to her?

(29 Posts)
threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 14:17:35

The history to this is that my mum and I have a long history of a volatile relationship - much, much better now I'm an adult but still difficult at times.

It stems mostly from her being emotionally unavailable or distant to me, which I have in the past interpreted as her not caring about me.

As a child and a teen I craved her attention, and a lot of our conflict was due to this. I felt rejected, and felt a great sense of frustration and unfairness.

These days I've learnt not to expect much, or for her to engage with me in the way I would like. I know that she cares about me really, I just find it hard still sometimes.

Some brief examples to give you an idea:

- she doesn't do small talk. She will talk passionately about a limited number of subjects which interest her, but no real interest in what's going on in my day to day life, whether I have good friendships or my thoughts on stuff. She is interested in my academic achievements, work life and house buying.

- when I came home at 15 and announced I had a boyfriend, my mum said "oh". I said "aren't you going to ask me anything?" She said "what am i supposed to ask?" This is typical - she doesn't seem to understand social things which others would take for granted

- I told my dad that I was pregnant again recently. I couldn't tell my mum as she was away, and she refuses to have a mobile. When she got back she didn't call to congratulate me. After 5 days I called her, wondering if my dad had not told her. She said she hadn't called as she'd been busy "catching up on stuff" (by this she means study for her PHD). She had no idea that I might find it upsetting. (I didn't tell her this time)

- her brother almost certainly has undiagnosed Aspergers. It's much more obvious in him. Other family members think so, including his dad and another family member who was a psychiatric social worker.

- she has few real friends, she doesn't really enjoy social events

- she has real problems understanding why I get upset at the lack of emotional closeness from her. I think she thinks I'm unstable and bonkers!

- she's a very high achiever and was very successful professionally

I've found being her daughter very difficult at times. It has been hard not to take it personally.

A RL friend suggested she might be on the spectrum, and some mumsnetters recently also said they though this could be the case. Also I read an article a while back which said that a study shows that siblings of people with aspergers often share some traits and it really rang a bell.

I have found it very comforting to understand that my mum's behaviour towards me may stem from a real condition, rather than simply that she doesn't care about me. I will find it much easier to make allowances for her in the future.

Do you think there is anything to be gained from sharing my thoughts with her?

If she is does she have a right to know? Or might she be terribly upset?

Is there any use to her in knowing this now? I would hope that it might help her in some way, and might help heal some of the old wounds in our relationship. But am I being naive? She's nearly 70. Very on the ball, and super smart. She is very well respected in her professional life. If she is on the spectrum she's very high functioning. I would think it's not obvious to people not close to her.

What would you do?

I would be very keen to hear from any Aspie mumsnetters, or relatives of people on the spectrum. Or anyone else with an opinion!

Did it help you to get a diagnosis? Would you have wanted someone to point it out to you?

Is there anything to be gained by telling my mum my thoughts?!

Wow, that was long! Thanks for reading.

fuzzpig Sun 19-Aug-12 14:23:41

Hello! I am waiting for my own Aspergers dx (assessment next month) and I know at least 2 others in my family who probably have it. I do know that as an older adult getting a dx is incredibly hard (my dad basically got told he was too old for example) - and also if she isn't actually unhappy as she is, there is no point in chasing a dx. It will help me because I have been miserable and full of self loathing for most of my 25 years. I guess it all rests on how she would feel - would she take it as a criticism for example.

Have a look at the "adults on the autistic spectrum" thread on the mental health board - I may be somewhat biased grin but it is full of experiences which may help you.

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 14:28:48

hey fuxxpig! thanks for the reply.

"I guess it all rests on how she would feel - would she take it as a criticism for example."

You've got right to the heart of the matter. And the answer to that is I really don't know.

I can imagine her getting upset with me. But this could be my fear rather than anything to do with reality! I just don't know. I know that it's helped me greatly to think there might be a reason for why she is as she is. I will be much more understanding now. I wonder if it might help her to make sense of the world and herself if she understood this aspect of herself better?

She is very smart, and would be very measured and great at dealing with this if it was someone else.

I just don't know what to do for the best, or how I might broach the subject. I think I may talk to my sister about it, and see what she thinks.

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 14:29:15

Oops, fuzzpig! Sorry, typing too fast! blush

MoreBeta Sun 19-Aug-12 14:32:24

I wouldn't tell her or say anything. At her age it will not change anything but from reading your post it may help you to manage that relationship better by understanding more about how and why the she is the way she is.

Interesting that it is a family trait and the fact she is a woman has made it a less 'obvious' trait than in her brother. It is a quite common observation that it is much less prevalent or severe in women than men.

If it is any help my mother is very similar. Not sure I want to call it 'Aspergers' but mmotional detachment is a particular issue and intense obsessive interest in technical subjects but has little interaction with people. I have inherited some of her traits but largely overcome them. I think people can learn appropriate social responses and perhaps your mother has done just enough of that to further her career but obviously tries less hard with her family.

Perhaps talk to your father and ask how he deal with this issue.

MoreBeta Sun 19-Aug-12 14:33:15

mmotional = emotional

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 14:46:45

Thanks for the reply morebeta.

It's a difficult one. On the one hand she is nearly 70 and I do think "what's the point in her knowing at such a late stage". This is a very strong argument IMO.

But then I sometimes think "why shouldn't she know?" She's not an old 70. She's very smart and on the ball.

Am I not using her age as an excuse? Is it not a bit patronising to not tell her solely because of her age? If she was 96 then yes. But at 70 she may well have plenty of years ahead of her (her family have lived long lives).

There are still unresolved issues between us, and I'd like to think that this might help us come to some kind of understanding.

colditz Sun 19-Aug-12 15:01:54

Does she need to know? Is her life happy as it is?

I strongly suspect my mother has aspergers, but haven't told her this. She's happy enough. I have pointed out that when you haven't seen a family member for six months, it is not normal to sit and do a crossword at them just because you always sit and do a crossword at three pm, but I haven't directly said "you're behaviour is unusual and socially unacceptable most of the time" because she'd be upset

fuzzpig Sun 19-Aug-12 15:06:54

It is a quite common observation that it is much less prevalent or severe in women than men.
I know what you mean, but I disagree - we used to think it was much less common in females but now it is more widely understood that it just presents differently and is far more likely to be missed. What you said about learning social responses is the reason for this; girls seem to find it much easier to learn to blend in, so they still have the problems, but they are hidden, which often leads to depression and other MH problems, which are often diagnosed while the cause - the Aspergers - is missed.

OP - I think a dx would be more beneficial for you than for your mum. As you say it would help you understand why she was not the mother you needed her to be. I really don't know how she'd react if you said anything, but I certainly wouldn't say anything to my nan (whom my dad and I believe to have AS) as I think she has lived her whole life how she is and would perceive it as a criticism. With my dad, I told him that I'd been referred and gave him some info to read, and just as I expected he phoned me back and said that it rung very true with him too.

Is there some way you could casually bring autism/Aspergers into a conversation with your mum? Maybe talk about your brother, something relevant on TV, another person you know who is getting diagnosed? Just to see if she says anything.

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 15:12:36

fuzzpig yes, I think I could talk to her about her brother. We rarely get a chance to really talk though, but I think I'll bring it up when I can.

MoreBeta Sun 19-Aug-12 15:27:25

fuzzpig - yes I very much agree with you about women with Aspergers often being missed. Choosing particular types of careers (eg academic) or staying at home with children is likely to lead to under reporting.

You said something very interesting too about depression. I am reluctant to label my mother as 'Aspergers' but much more ready to say she 'suffered depression' although never properly diagnosed with either condition. Her brother committed suicide at a young age and I suspect is another clue of a family 'trait'.

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 15:29:56

colditz, do you feel you have unresolved issues between you or do you find it easy to accept her as she is now?

My mum and I have clashed so badly over the years, particularly when I was young, but still every so often (maybe once every couple of years) when - for whatever reason - the mask slips and I let her know how much her behaviour hurts me. The last time was about a month ago. We promised to talk about it but never did.

I feel a diagnosis - even if not official - is a solution of sorts to unresolved issues which still have bearing on both our lives.

I hope that a self-diagnosis might give her some valuable some insight which might help improve our relationship.

However I worry that in fact she'll get upset and it'll make it worse.

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 15:31:46

If Aspergers runs in families I guess it's something I should be aware to look out for in my own DCs?

Ephiny Sun 19-Aug-12 15:42:35

I remember your other thread, and while I think you might be right in your 'diagnosis', I'm not sure saying anything would be helpful.

When I read your other post, your description of your mum reminded me a bit of me. I have a brother diagnosed with autism, and I almost certainly have traits myself. However I don't see it as a problem particularly, it's just the way I am, it hasn't held me back in life (quite the opposite in some ways) and I wouldn't want anyone trying to point it out to me or label it. Partly because there's nothing wrong with my intelligence or self-awareness, so I don't need that sort of thing pointing out, partly because, well, it's kind of patronising and insulting.

Honestly I find it hard to understand why any of this bothers you and why it matters. I don't understand the need to 'resolve issues' or 'improve your relationship' (in fact those phrases make me do an involuntary hmm face).

Not saying I'm right and you're wrong to feel this way, but suspect your mum might see it more the way I do than the way you do iyswim.

longjane Sun 19-Aug-12 15:43:15

oh yes you should look out for it your kids

and it is good way to talk to your mum
make a list or go on the net with her and go though the list and see if she can see it in your kids or her brother

Maryz Sun 19-Aug-12 15:44:28

I strongly suspect that my father has AS, and also my brother and members of my extended family. My son (with a diagnosis) is very like my brother was as a teenager, but my brother was just put down as being badly behaved.

My mum agrees with me about my dad - but it isn't something we would push with him. He has taken an online AS test (just out of curiosity) and was way up the scale, but his attitude is that he is just driven and single-minded, that a "diagnosis" won't change him.

My mum has adapted over the years and is very understanding of how he thinks. They do occasionally have rows about his inability to be emotionally supportive - he would do anything practical for any of us, but wouldn't think to give me a hug, for example, but essentially she has given both us and him the demonstrative love that has enabled us to grow as a "normal" family.

Because of my upbringing with my dad and brother (and with the nuttier more eccentric members of my wider family) I have found understanding my son comes much more easily to me than it does to dh - he finds ds baffling. But that doesn't stop me being hurt by ds refusing to hug me, trust me or love me sad.

ds also suffers from depression, as does my brother. My brother self-medicates with alcohol, my son with cannabis. I suspect both use drugs to calm their over-active and confused brains.

My dad and brother have both been successful in life; my dad has a family life because my mum compensates for him, my brother has not married, isn't likely to, and says openly he wouldn't have a wife or children as he "doesn't see the point" and "wouldn't be able to give them what they want", whatever that means.

I'm not sure a diagnosis will help your mum if she is happy with her life. But if you read more about AS, and can come to terms with the fact that she lives her life as she does not because you are in some way lacking, but because that is how she is, it might help your self-esteem and improve your happiness.

If that makes sense?

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 15:58:19

Ephiny thanks for your reply.

"Honestly I find it hard to understand why any of this bothers you and why it matters" yes you do sound like my mum! smile

It matters to me as when it was younger I thought my mum didn't love me, that she didn't care about me, wasn't interested in my life and that I was just an annoyance to her. In fact that wasn't true, but it's what it looked like from my perspective. Feeling like this cause me great pain. As her daughter, I needed to feel loved and valued by her and I did not. It damaged my self-esteem and sense of self worth, and the way I related to other people. I ended up in abusive relationships as a young woman partly because I was so desperate to be loved and valued.

I suppress the feelings of rejection but they're still there. Sometimes the way my mum behaves still hurts me. I would like to "resolve issues" as it's still causing me pain.

Her motivation matters to me as it hurts if she's rejecting me emotionally because she doesn't care, but not nearly so much if it's because of a condition.

I may be wholly unrealistic, but it would mean an awful lot for me if she could acknowledge that the reason she upsets me sometimes is not because I am unstable or highly-strung, but because I am reacting so something real, that it's not strange, and that most people would find her behaviour upsetting. I would love for her to be able to recognise that I have needs that she finds hard to recognise and to try to compensate for that, even the act of her trying would mean the world to me.

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 16:02:35

Maryz thank you, that does make a lot of sense.

Maryz Sun 19-Aug-12 16:04:36

I have learned to accept that the way ds relates to me isn't because he hates me but because of his Asperger's. It still hurts when he says he hates me, but I have learned to take a step back and not take it personally. Now you are an adult you will probably have to learn to do the same.

My son hasn't hugged me since he was 2. But when he sees my mum, he always gives her a hug. When I asked him recently why he did this, his answer was "I've learned she likes it" - so he hugs her out of duty, as a learned behaviour. Not as a hug.

I think you are being unrealistic if you expect her to say "yes I have treated you badly because there is something in my nature which makes me unable to show love". She is unlikely to do this, because it is her nature, and therefore it is natural to her.

As my son has often said "there isn't anything wrong with me, the rest of the world has issues".

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 16:04:42

longjane I will try to talk about her brother with her, but it'll be a while before we get the opportunity I imagine.

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 16:07:02

Maryz my mum didn't hug me when I was a child, but she did cuddle my little sister! Not sure what that's about!

She doesn't show any favouritism towards my sister in other ways btw. I think it was more that my sister was the youngest, and it simply didn't occur to her that I might have liked a hug too!

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 16:08:11

"there isn't anything wrong with me, the rest of the world has issues". What can you say to that?! He's got a point - hard to argue with!

Maryz Sun 19-Aug-12 16:11:28

Yes, he is impossible to argue with - he is so fecking logical. My life has been much better since I have realised that it is simply the way he is. Trying to make him express love, either in words or actions, is a waste of effort. I end up frustrated, he is just baffled by the whole thing.

He is, funnily enough, demonstrative with small children and puppies and kittens. So he can be gentle, and affectionate, it just doesn't come naturally. I bet your mum hugged you when you were a baby, but when your little sister was born you were then "the older child" and no longer needed such affection, in her eyes.

What was your dad like?

Ephiny Sun 19-Aug-12 16:17:35

No, I understand, and I didn't mean to be rude or dismissive about your feelings. But it seems to me that these are your feelings, and your responsibility to work through and deal with, and your mum probably doesn't need or want to be deeply involved in that process. I agree with whoever said it's you that 'needs' this diagnosis, not her.

Also maybe worth thinking about what if you try talking to her about this and it doesn't go well, she doesn't respond the way you want? Would it mean more upset for you, and maybe damage your relationship further?

And do you not think she might already 'know'? If she's intelligent and well-educated, and has a brother with Asperger's, presumably she can make that connection just as well as you can?

threeleftfeet Sun 19-Aug-12 16:41:27

No offence taken Ephiny. In fact your views are very valuable to me.

"Not saying I'm right and you're wrong to feel this way, but suspect your mum might see it more the way I do than the way you do iyswim" Yes i imagine you may well be right!

"And do you not think she might already 'know'?" I really don't know. The family members who talked to me about it - did they also talk to my mum? I have no idea. is it obvious to her? I guess so. But she doesn't cut him any slack. She finds him very irritating, and only sees him if she has to. (once a year if that). He's tried to commit suicide twice. She wasn't particularly supportive I thought. I felt she could have done more to help once she discovered he was feeling that low.

He's never been formally diagnosed. it just seems obvious IMO - and that of my a family member who was a psychiatric social worker.

"Also maybe worth thinking about what if you try talking to her about this and it doesn't go well, she doesn't respond the way you want? Would it mean more upset for you, and maybe damage your relationship further? " it could I suppose. We don't see each other much, but we do have a good relationship these days compared to before. I wouldn't want to lose that.

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