Dear Annie: I’m in my 30s. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome after a two-year career ended in disaster. It was my mother who suspected what was wrong. It explained the problems I’ve had – no friends, no social life and the inability to hold down a job, among others. I knew there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t figure out what to do at parties or dinners, or why I never had a girlfriend, and I stopped getting invited to get-togethers because I would sit by myself. Even my one friend thought I was weird. Eventually, she stopped speaking to me, too.
Since the diagnosis, I’ve hated myself less, but I have a lot of regret for not having been a better friend. I may have appeared apathetic, myopic, hostile, selfish or self-absorbed. I regret that my grandparents may have perceived me as uncaring and ignorant. I know it wasn’t my fault.
I’ve joined some autism support groups and have met people, but a lot of us are constrained by phobias, tics, medications, etc. Nowadays, there’s a lot more that’s known about Asperger’s, and we’re no longer seen as freaks. But it’s still hard. I haven’t told most of my family about my diagnosis. My grandmother often makes nasty remarks about me. I’m tempted to tell her the reasons for my behavior, but why should I have to explain? She shouldn’t say such things to anyone. — New York
Dear New York: We agree that Grandma shouldn’t say unkind things, but don’t you think you’re being a bit unfair to her, as well? You are withholding information that could make her more understanding and could improve your relationship. It sounds as if you have been angry with her for a very long time. This could be an opportunity to get past it, which would help both of you.
Dear Annie: For six months, I have been mother to the most wonderful three children through our state’s foster care system. “Sharing the News in Pa.” inspired me to write down the “dos” and “don’ts” for adoptive and foster moms.
Don’t ask, “Do you have any children of your own?” Likewise, do not refer to the biological parents as the “real parents.” It’s a little jab to our hearts.
Never ask why the biological parents lost custody. It’s none of your business. Those parents are suffering. And without them, these terrific kids would not exist.
Please don’t expect your parenting techniques to be applicable to children who have been traumatized, destabilized and neglected.
Please don’t assume that we are doing this for financial reimbursement from the state.
Please do not be judgmental if the parents don’t know more about the child than you think they should. One month before our children were placed in our home, we were presented with 600 pages of medical records, and that didn’t include everything.
Do consider hosting a shower. Not for the gifts, but for the ritual that recognizes the couple as excited, expectant parents.
Do be patient with us. Our three school-age children moved in all at once. It was a tremendous adjustment.
Do offer to babysit or help as you would with any new parents.
Please recognize these children as the strong, resilient, resourceful and intelligent kids they are. Ours have survived circumstances that would throw most adults into a downward spiral. — Massachusetts
Dear Massachusetts: Thank you for your excellent advice. People often don’t know how to respond to those who adopt or take in foster children. Your suggestions will help them out tremendously.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to [email protected], or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.