This guide aims to help young people to understand a parent who is autistic, or who they think is autistic.

There are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK - that's more than 1 in 100. Many autistic people aren’t diagnosed until they are adults. Some may have sought a formal diagnosis, others will have read about autism and decided they probably are autistic but feel they don’t need a diagnosis. No two autistic people are the same. They have their own personalities and life experiences, and autism affects people in different ways. 

Find out more about autism, including Asperger syndrome and demand avoidance.

How will my parent's autism affect me?

Having an autistic parent could affect you and your family in several ways. Here are some situations we hear about.

My mum doesn't seem to know if I'm feeling a bit down. Why is that?

Your mum might not notice that you're upset if she finds it difficult to interpret facial expressions and body language. If your mum knows you're upset, she might not be sure of the best way to comfort you. You might need to say that you need a hug. An autistic parent might not realise that you need to be told that they love you. They may expect you to already know that they love you.

I get a bit confused at times, as I'm not sure when dad's actually speaking to me

You may find that your dad doesn't look you in the eyes when talking to you. Some autistic people can find this hard to do. Or he may seem to stare and this can feel awkward and embarrassing. Neither of these mean that your parent isn’t listening to you or considering what you are saying.

Read our communication tips.

Why doesn't my dad seem to understand what people mean?

Autistic people can take longer than others to take in what people are saying. They may need time to think about what's been said before answering. Your parent might find it helpful if  you speak to them in short, clear sentences and allow time for them to process the information before expecting a response.

Read our communication tips.

My dad is obsessed with trains and talks about them all the time

It's quite common for autistic people to have an intense interest. Some people will love the same thing all their lives, while others will have phases of different special interests. If you don’t share their interest, it may be useful to your parent if you could tell them clearly when they can and can’t talk to you about their intense interest. You can explain that you have other things you need to do, such as homework.

Read more about obsessions.

Mum keeps on at me about school all the time and shouts at me if I don't do things straight away

Lots of young people feel pressure from their parents about school as their parents want their children to get a good education. They may also expect their children to help out around the house. However, if they spend a lot of time talking about how hard you should study or asking you to do chores, it can be stressful.

Try explaining that, whilst you know these things are important, you need to do other things and have some free time. It make take time for them to understand this. You can help by giving examples, keeping what you say short and clear or writing it down so they can refer back to it.

Autistic people can have a literal understanding of speech, so if you say you will do something "in a minute", meaning "quite soon", your parent may be expecting you to do it in one minute’s time. Be clear and exact when answering your parents.

Read our communication tips.

My dad's really cross when I play the music I like

Like anyone, some autistic people love music, some don't. Your dad's taste in music might be different to yours.

It’s important to think about any sensory sensitivities that your parent may have when you play your music. If your dad gets really cross about it or puts his hands over his ears, even when it’s not very loud, it may be that he has very sensitive hearing. This can be very painful. 

Try to compromise, perhaps only playing your music loudly when you know they are out of the house or listen to it through headphones.

Read more about sensory matters.

Dad gets really stressed about me socialising. What can I do?

It's possible that your dad doesn't see the need to socialise, so finds it strange that you want to have a group of friends. You bringing friends home could make a parent anxious as they may not find it easy to have strangers in the house. It will be a break from their routine and hard to deal with.

Try talking to your parent about what you get out of friendships such as companionship, a chance to talk, laugh and share common interests. It can also help to: 

  • check with your parent that it's OK to go out, giving them clear details of where you're going, who with and when you'll be back
  • prepare your parent for your friends' visits by telling him when they're coming, for how long and what room you will be in
  • tell your friends beforehand that your parent is autistic - this can help them understand some of the things that they may find a little unusual in their behaviour and why they may be really strict about you being home when you said you would be.

Read more about routines and preparing for changes.

Mum gets stressed if something unexpected happens

Autistic people have a need for routine that helps them make sense of the world around them. They can become anxious if there is a break or a change to their usual routine. Your parent may have rules they need to stick to and will find it easier to cope if they have warning of any changes. This can be hard, as you may like to be spontaneous.

If you break one of their needed rules, wait until your parent is calm before talking to them about why the rule was broken. Explain that some things are out of your control, for example being late home due to a late bus or car breakdown.

If you know that something different to the normal routine is going to happen, tell you parent, say why this change is happening, and when things will go back to normal.

Read more about routines and preparing for changes.

Acknowledging your needs

Growing up with an autistic parent can sometimes be lonely, confusing and scary, especially if your parent sometimes has meltdowns. You may be angry that your friends' parents are different to yours and feel that this is unfair. You may be the only person in your family who isn't autistic, leaving you feeling isolated.

It’s important that you talk to other people about your experiences. Confide in an adult such as a friend, family member, teacher or pastoral support worker about what is happening at home and ask for their support, or contact childline. Remember to explain that your parent is autistic.

More help and information

Our Autism Helpline

Carers UK

Caring for a parent 

Mothers with autism: 'I mothered my children in a very different way'

My Parent has an Autism Spectrum Disorder A Workbook for Children and Teens by Barbara R. Lester

Something Different About Dad by Kirsti Evans and John Swogger

Teenissues website offering advice for teenagers about lots of different issues, including school, family life and friendships 

The unexpected plus of parenting with autism by Sarah DeWeerdt

 

Last reviewed 3 August 2017