Fortunately, adolescence and young adulthood have a plus side too. By this time, some people with AS-HFA, especially those who have received appropriate treatment for several years, have a solid set of tools for navigating social situations. Greater familiarity with the "rules" of social discourse can help them fit in and draw less negative attention from their peers than during childhood. At the same time, the typical adolescents and young adults around them are maturing too, which often means they are developing greater acceptance of differences in others. You can't count on tolerance, of course; cruelty among teenagers is widespread and well publicized, so you as a parent will want to continue to deal with any teasing and bullying of your child that does come up in the ways suggested in Chapter 8. But, in general, these sorts of problems do decrease in high school and drop to very low levels in adulthood.
There are no guarantees that this will work for your son or daughter, but eccentricities and idiosyncrasies can actually be a social asset in high school. Take Charles, for example. In grade school, his tendency to question authority and challenge the logic of rules frequently landed him in the principal's office. His constant disruptions of class to argue about a seemingly arbitrary rule or assignment annoyed his classmates and earned their scorn. But when Charles got to high school, he was suddenly surrounded by others who felt it was their duty to point out to authority figures the errors in their logic and the injustice in their expectations concerning students. Charles was still viewed as odd by his peers, but he was also a bit admired as the class maverick.
Another advantage of maturity is that in adulthood it becomes more acceptable to arrange one's social life around certain interests. Many typical adults socialize largely with coworkers, for example, and conversation often centers on office happenings or the subject of the work that they all have in common. For people with AS-HFA who have chosen occupations dealing with their particular interest, this means less talk about unfamiliar or uninteresting topics and therefore less social anxiety or discomfort. Because adults have limited leisure time, it's also very common for them to seek out people with similar interests, whether through clubs, over the Internet, or via other avenues. This, too, can help people with AS-HFA maintain a social life that is more rewarding than daunting.
Perhaps the most important advantage of maturity in adolescents with AS-HFA (as well as many typical teenagers) is that increased autonomy brings a greater opportunity to shape their own experience and seek a "niche" in the world that is more compatible with their own strengths and interests. Robin, a young woman with Asperger syndrome, was frustrated throughout childhood by others' lack of appreciation of her interest in photography. Her parents and teachers would continually try to get her to set aside this fascination to do schoolwork, and kids were always trying to escape her long speeches on photographic techniques. But in high school Robin gained both social stature and self-esteem when she joined the yearbook staff and found everyone hounding her for a chance to occupy some space in her viewfinder.
Because maturity brings the freedom to choose your own level and type of socialization, teens and adults with AS-HFA also have a wider range of social options than they did as children. Some—especially those who have had some social success and learned to find interpersonal interaction rewarding in itself—choose to socially "mainstream" themselves and stick with the path of "typical" socialization. For others, social activities still feel more uncomfortable than rewarding, and these young men and women may continue to favor solitary activities. If, after years of coaching in social skills, your child chooses a solitary path in adolescence, you may feel as if you've failed. Or you may worry that the happy adult life that was your ultimate goal for your child may never be reached. In that case, try to remember that whatever level of socialization your child is most comfortable with is the one most likely to make him or her happy. As a parent your job is to help provide your child with the skills to socialize, but ultimately it is his or her decision how to use these skills. All parents face the challenge of balancing what is best in their own eyes with the personal needs of their child. Most parents hope their child will lead a happy and productive life. It's important to remember that your definition of a happy and productive life may not agree with your child's, particularly in the area of amount and type of social contact.
Lauren, whom we first discussed in Chapter 1, had very little desire to socialize in high school. Her mother was terribly disappointed when she declined an invitation from a classmate to the prom. But when Lauren entered college, she met a "soulmate," another loner who was also majoring in physics and who shared her love of movies. She and this young man spent many weekend evenings together in the movie theater. When her mother asked what she and her friend talked about together, Lauren said, "Nothing." When her mother asked if they had ever gone out for dinner before the movie or if she had ever asked her friend in for a cup of coffee, she answered, "No." Lauren's mother tried to give her scripts and other support to take the relationship to another level. But over time it became clear that Lauren derived a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure from the relationship as it was. Her mother eventually could see, somewhat wistfully, that even though Lauren and her friend did not have a typical adult romantic relationship, she was content and far more social than she had ever been.
Another bit of good news about adolescence is that it may well be easier for your child with AS-HFA than you fear—and it may even be easier than it is for a typically developing child. Many individuals with AS-HFA are so comfortable with adults and so agreeable to rules that there is little of the rule breaking, limit testing, dangerous behavior, and questioning of authority that are so much a part of typical adolescence. We aren't saying that there won't be challenges, but it is fairly rare for the parents of teens with AS-HFA to have to face issues of green hair, body piercings, and drug use.
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Although nobody gets a parenting manual or bible in the delivery room, it is our duty as parents to try to make our kids as well rounded, happy and confident as possible. It is a lot easier to bring up great kids than it is to try and fix problems caused by bad parenting, when our kids have become adults. Our children are all individuals - they are not our property but people in their own right.