NEW How Useful is Couple Counselling? Family and school are partners in upbringing of the child Difference in the Therapy Room. Specialising in relationships affected by Asperger Syndrome.
Sarah was not the first member of her family who had found their way into my counselling room as I had been seeing Sarah’s parents for almost six months. Sarah’s mother had initiated counselling for herself and her husband, as she suspected that her husband was on the Autistic Spectrum but had not realised she was also affected. During one of my sessions with Sarah’s parents I raised the issue of their only daughter and asked if they would describe her to me. Her father felt she did not put enough effort into what she did and could have done better in her GSCE’s.
He also said that she played her music too loud and made a mess everywhere. He went on to describe how she would walk around eating a piece of toast or cracker bread without using a plate, dropping crumbs on the floor. As I listened to Sarah’s parent’s describe their daughter, I realised they had not told me anything about who she was, only about what she did that they found frustrating. How do you think your Autism had affected Sarah?
This question was met with total silence. Sarah’s mother was the first to reply by asking what I meant. Sarah’s parents struggled to understand this concept and it was becoming clear that they did not truly comprehend their daughter’s world or what it consisted of. They asked if I thought it would be useful to see their daughter.
I said I would be happy to see Sarah, but it was important that she was also happy to see me and we agreed that the sessions would be confidential to Sarah unless she gave permission otherwise. So now, with Sarah in front of me, she was aware of her parents’ diagnosis but not aware of what it meant. I explained AS to Sarah and its potential effect on her upbringing. It was not long before Sarah was in a flood of long overdue tears. I have spent all these years believing it was me. At times, I thought I was going mad. I knew my parents loved me, but could not understand why I never felt it!
AS does however cause difficulties in communication, social interaction and the ability to comprehend another person’s state of mind or perception, in other words, empathy. It is this difficulty with empathy that has the biggest impact on the parents’ ability to understand their children and to recognise that their thoughts, needs and perceptions are different to their own. The fact that some parents of children with HFA and AS themselves have autism-associated features begs the question of parenting skills in such individuals. Gillberg points out that poor empathy skills, part of the core affects of having AS, could have a negative effect on the child’s mental health and outlook. If the child, too, is on the Autistic spectrum, the AS parent may have a better understanding of their child. In some cases, this is undoubtedly true. Liane says: I worry a lot about the influence I have on my daughters’ self esteem and happiness.
I do not want to fill their lives with anxiety or shame. My concern for them pulls me toward the mainstream even if I bruise along the way. I regret that small talk with the parent’s of my daughters’ friends is not easy for me. I am shamed when I do not know how to act.