A mis­un­der­stood mother-daugh­ter bond.

How Asperger’s syn­drome is redefin­ing one mother-daugh­ter re­la­tion­ship—for the bet­ter.

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - By Bri­anne Ho­gan

my mom and I have al­ways been close. Years ago Mom vis­ited a psy­chic, who told her that in a past life she and I were sis­ters— she was the imp­ish younger sis­ter and I the older, more re­spon­si­ble one. I can buy that. Through­out my life, I have of­ten felt like my mom’s big sis­ter. School­ing her in ac­cept­able so­cial be­hav­iour (like mak­ing small talk and eye con­tact) was nor­mal for me grow­ing up. I knew my re­la­tion­ship with my mom was unique, but I didn’t know just how dif­fer­ent it was un­til the end of my se­nior year at univer­sity in New York, when Mom called from Toronto to tell me she had Asperger’s.

Won­der­ing why she had felt mis­un­der­stood and lost for most of her life, my mom, at the age of 45, sought an­swers. A year later, she was di­ag­nosed with Asperger’s. I didn’t know what it was. And I didn’t know what to say (a first in our re­la­tion­ship). But I re­mem­ber hear­ing this tremen­dous sense of re­lief in her voice—like a weight had been lifted from her soul—that in­stantly soothed me. Fi­nally, I said to her, “That ex­plains a lot.”

I soon learned that “Aspies”—a nick­name for those who have been diag­nosed with the neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der—are gen­er­ally peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand so­cial cues and are eas­ily over­whelmed by out­side stimu­li. In 2013, the name of the con­di­tion was changed to autism spec­trum dis­or­der, but Mom and many other Aspies pre­fer the older term h

be­cause the di­ag­no­sis is con­sid­ered much more than a la­bel; it’s a source of pride be­cause it means that they have been sur­viv­ing in a world that, for them, seems chaotic and some­times un­invit­ing.

There are all sorts of sit­u­a­tions you grow up with that start to seem askew as you get older. Dur­ing my child­hood, my dad shoul­dered the financial re­spon­si­bil­ity of our fam­ily while I han­dled the emo­tional stuff. Like most Aspies, Mom couldn’t main­tain a job or many friend­ships, so it was up to me—my par­ents’ only child—to tell her when some­one was be­ing sar­cas­tic or re­mind her that she couldn’t al­ways be­have how­ever she wanted when­ever she wanted—like the time she lost con­trol of her anx­iety and lashed out at me in a crowded book­store. “Those peo­ple now think you’re a bad mom when you’re re­ally a good mom!” I told her.

And she is a good mom. “Al­ways speak your mind and be your­self,” she’d say to me. Mom can’t re­ally avoid be­ing blunt (a com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic of her dis­or­der), but her dir­ect­ness and au­da­ciously au­then­tic de­meanour have made me a straight shooter. I am con­fi­dent about ask­ing for a raise and ex­press­ing my feel­ings. Friends, boyfriends and bosses al­ways know where they stand with me be­cause I’m not afraid to voice my de­sires—or dis­plea­sure. (Al­though, over the years, I have also learned that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vine­gar.)

In spite of her own lone- wolf ten­den­cies, Mom en­cour­aged me to at­tend sleep-away camp, join sports teams and, when I was older, travel the world. My pass­port and week­ends are full be­cause of her self­less love. She also in­sisted I fol­low my dreams and do what I love, which helped me flour­ish as a writer. Be­cause Mom strug­gles to find her pas­sion in life, she didn’t want the same for me. Bed­time kisses were fol­lowed by the mantra “Find some­thing that makes you ex­cited to get out of bed in the morn­ing.” For me, that is be­ing able to write and ex­press my­self cre­atively on a daily ba­sis. So, af­ter fight­ing to find the “happy” in my full-time ed­i­to­rial job, I re­mem­bered Mom’s wise words and quit to go free­lance two years ago. It was the best de­ci­sion I could have made for my­self.

My mom re­cently told me that she needs me in her life to show her “how to be a real per­son.” But I feel the same way about her. And it’s that in­nate self-aware­ness of hers that in­spires me most. She might still have an “Aspie” mo­ment or two—like re­peat­ing her­self be­cause she’s wor­ried she’s not be­ing un­der­stood or when she has trou­ble rec­og­niz­ing sar­casm (“Mom, I’m jok­ing!”)—but she’s in­tent on learn­ing from th­ese mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions while wav­ing her Aspie flag proudly.

Mom works daily at evolv­ing into the best per­son she can be, in­clud­ing land­ing a dog-walk­ing gig, prac­tis­ing mind­ful med­i­ta­tion and writ­ing in a jour­nal about her ex­pe­ri­ence with Asperger’s. She has taught me hu­mil­ity and grace and what it’s like to love some­one for who they are—not for who you want them to be.

Os­car Wilde once wrote “All women be­come their moth­ers; that is their tragedy.” I have to dis­agree with Mr. Wilde just this once, though— I think it would be my great­est strength. n

The writer with her mother, Kim, in 2009

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