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Autism

Adult Son with Aspergers Felt Like Burden

12/29/2011

Question:

For the past several years he has attempted suicide, in part it was because he felt he was a burden on us and if he ended his life it would end our burden. He was put in a institution for a short period of time. He told us once he got home, he knew what to do and what to say in order to get out and return home. He still was depressed and continued to see his therapist and talked of ending his life. He starved himself, took over the counter drugs and stole a gun, in which he never used, but thought about it and ended up hiding it from himself. About 8 months ago, he said he was no longer suicidal. He told me he was still a burden to us and we would be better off without him. I tried to explain how much his dad and I love him, but he didn`t seem to understand. We were planning a move to a different state where we felt that services for those with aspergers were better then where we currently live. He told me that it was to much of a hardship for us to pick up and move and he didn`t want us to make such a sacrifice for him. We again tried to explain that as his parents we would do anything for him, including moving so he could have a better quality of life where there are support groups and other services to help him with his aspergers. He told me that he was going to leave and cut off all communication with us as well as do everything wrong that he could, this way we wouldn`t worry about him and wouldn`t know if he were dead or alive and we wouldn`t care either and because of him doing wrong we wouldn`t want him to ever come home and wouldn`t care what happens to him. One day we, his dad and I went to church, came home to find that he had packed some of his things and left. His therapist put out an APB on him. The next morning he contacted us, he had stopped on the side of the road to sleep. We told him of the APB and explained what that meant. He decided he would go to his Grandparents home in AZ, we live in WY. He did go there, for a few weeks, he left their home as well. He has cut off all communication with us and all family, including aunts, cousins, grandparents. He is doing just what he said he was going to do, break off communication so we wouldn`t worry about him. Unfortunately it has caused great concern for us and other family members. He will be 26 in January. Is this just another way of them trying to find their place in life? Is this another way of not being able to handle things? He is renting a room in a home in the same small town in AZ as his Grandparents, he is still on disability and gets a good size check every month, he is also working at Walmart in the produce department part time. He is taking a PE and math class at college. Those are good things that he is accomplishing. He still ignores bills as bill collectors call me looking for him. We have talked to him very little since he left and he will only text sometimes. There was an issue with his auto insurance, he had decided that he was going to buy a new car in a few months and therefore did not what to pay insurance on his current car, he did communicate some with us regarding the issue of not paying your insurance and what can happen if you don`t. I need some help to try to understand why he would leave and stop talking to us. This is a difficult thing for us as his parents. The suicide attempts were about all I could handle, this isn`t any easier to deal with. Someone said go get him and bring him home. What would that accomplish? He would take his life if we were to drag him back. Any help you can be will be greatly appreciated.

Answer:

A child with any kind of disability multiplies the angst that any parent goes through with any child leaving the nest. If the adult child is obviously incompetent, a parent might apply for guardianship. In this case it sounds like this young man is making some positive moves to take responsibility for himself, albeit with many mistakes. One of the difficult tasks any parent faces is to allow the child to make enough mistakes to learn from them. 

And at some point, the parent has to let go. This is taking a chance, of course; he might do something disastrous, e.g., resulting in death, jail, or other undesirable outcomes. But attempting to hold on and protect carries its own risks, as you point out. 

Parents in situations like this should seek some professional counseling for their own grief, disappointment, anxiety, guilt feelings,and worry. Only after resolving some of those emotional entanglements will you be able to decide on a reasonable course of action --or decide that it might be better not to act. 

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Response by:

L Eugene Arnold, MD, MEd L Eugene Arnold, MD, MEd
Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University