Family dynamics of autism

Growing up, we all had our roles. Even dysfunctional families find ways to function. As mentioned previously, my parents relationship was rocky before having 4 kids in 5 years. I would even go as far to say that my dad probably is within the Asperger’s spectrum himself. Now throw in the violently autistic child and a wife who was trying desperately to juggle flaming torches. 

As oldest, my main task was fixing. I also held the role of caregiver, decision maker, best friend, advisor, and emotional support. I aligned myself with my mother. It was my task to keep the flaming torches in the air. If there was a problem, it was my task to fix it. I was loyal to whatever cause was important to my mother. As an adult, it has been difficult for me to listen and empathize when everything within me tells me to fix. I had to suppress all feelings in order to use my head to fix. It worked a little like email. I kept deleting my feelings until finally my deleted items were full. Then anger, depression, and anxiety flowed forth like spring’s river. My email is working now, but my husband and I both lack empathy in order to survive childhood. I need reminding to listen and not fix all the time. It has been a bit of a marriage struggle, but as a team people have been hard pressed to take advantage of us by pulling on our heart strings or pull the wool over our eyes. So it is not all bad. 

Mark’s task was physically working hard and advocate for my dad. He aligned himself with my dad. If my mom packed up the car with all of her stuff and was heading down the driveway, it was Mark’s task to stop her. He would tell my mom that it was not my dad’s fault, that he was just not good at relationships. He also earned my dad’s love by working hard even though my dad was lazy. For example, my dad will take the lawnmower to the end of the driveway to get the mail (sometimes in his underwear, of course). Or that one time we got a couple of inches of snow, he was too lazy to clean off his windshield and ended up in the ditch instead. 

Mark worked so hard that he blew out his back as a teen. I have never seen anyone work as hard as he does. When I told him that I was running a marathon, he said he could outrun me. I think that I threatened his role as the family brawn. When Mark wasn’t working, he preferred to be invisible. Mark and Carla decided they are going to have a small wedding with no one standing up. Mark said that he was tempted to have our autistic brother Matt be his best man because Matt’s behavior is so bizarre that no one would notice Mark. That was very profound. 

Luke, the youngest, had the role of instigator, comforter, caregiver, and clown. He was a mama’s boy and my dad hated him for it. His main job was to make sure that Matt did not get all of the attention. He was the one who cut the wires on my dad’s electronics and kicked a hole in the wall. When he got older, he was the one who played strip volleyball with his friends in the front yard. Girls running around topless in the front yard.  He also wrestled with my dad in the front yard over car keys which resulted in an overnight stay in the ER for my dad with heart palpitations. After awhile my parents gave up, he started driving at 14. He was also the scapegoat and received the brunt of my dad’s anger, deserved or not. 

Somehow we all managed to function. We are survivors. We made it through with our sanity intact, held by a thread.  We are strong, but not without a few battle wounds. 

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