Care and Feeding

Come Over and Play With Our Adult Son!

Our 19-year-old son has Asperger’s syndrome and happily hangs out only with us. How do I help him get more friends his age?

Parents sit on the couch with their adult son behind them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the mother of a young man with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s a good kid and always has been. He is 19, an only child, and lives at home. He had lots of therapy (speech, OT, social skills) through the years, made it through middle and high school with the help of some wonderful guidance counselors, and is a fully functioning young adult and a freshman at our community college.

The problem is lack of friends, and I don’t know whether the problem lies with me or with him. Except for a select few, he considers kids his own age to be mean and uninteresting, and he has no desire to make friends—either male or female. Also, he doesn’t make any effort to spend time with the kids he does like, even though our families have been friends for years. He is content hanging out with us (his parents) and our friends, and doing his volunteer work (mostly with older adults) in a field about which he is passionate.

Here’s where I come in: I have a wide circle of close friends, and I value them, and they enrich my life. I know my introverted son will never want what I have, but it saddens me to think of him never having a friend. It also frightens me, because I had him when I was 40 (and my husband is even older), so we won’t be around forever to be his social life. So even though he is long past the age where I can set up play dates for him, I still try to engineer events where there will be other kids his own age that he likes. The most recent one was a birthday gift—I paid for four tickets for him and three friends to see our local orchestra accompany Star Wars. The day of the event arrived, and one of the three friends was sick so couldn’t attend. The dad of the other two decided to use that ticket and go along with the kids. I was gracious; said, “How nice”; saw them out the door; and burst into tears! I was so looking forward to my son having his first true outing with kids his own age, and once again, he was going out with an adult in tow. He had a great time, possibly even a better time because he converses more easily with adults than he does with kids, and I was happy for him. But so, so sad.

So the question is: Should I keep trying? Or should I back away and let a social life for him develop on its own, realizing that it may never happen? Am I too involved? One more point: We take weekend trips and have traveled for up to a week at a time without him. He is comfortable staying alone. Just wanted to point that out so that I don’t come across as a clinging mom. I’m actually the opposite—I want him out and about in the world without me!

—Come Over and Play With My Adult Son!

Dear COaPWMAS,

As someone from an extreeeeeemely neuro-atypical family with a notoriously weird and woolly way of getting along with our peers, with one autistic kid and my own set of traits, I am so excited to get to reassure you a bit, while also helping you back off.

Your son is doing great. He’s happy, he’s got lots going on, you’ve helped him develop valuable life skills, and he knows how he wants his days and weeks to look. He just doesn’t want the same things that you do. I was damn near 30 before I got good at hanging out with my peers instead of my parents’ friends, and my father is 67 years old and has exactly one friend (his name is Terry; he lives in Vancouver).

You need to talk to him. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you would have a gulf in your life without your friends, he feels the same way. Stop trying to set him up on play dates and outings, and start asking him about what he did that week and what’s interesting and if there’s something he’d like to do to shake up his life any. My guess, based on your description of your son, is that he is a contented homebody who surrounds himself with people he knows and trusts, but is also very happy to be alone. Being happy with being alone puts you on the varsity squad of life.

Some of this, I think, is because you are on that cusp of empty-nesting (I assume his plan is to live independently after graduation, but either way it will be a transition) and because the phase of your life that has been engrossed in the unbelievably demanding task of active parenting is about to come to an end. Much like writing a novel or painting a picture, the hardest part (this is a gross exaggeration) is deciding when no more tinkering is required and you’re ready to release your baby out into the wild. Parenting is a lot like that.

He’s going to find his way. Hand him a few printouts about local autistic adult groups and meetups (ask your developmental pediatrician or peruse ASAN’s resources for recommendations and numbers), pour yourself a glass of wine, and watch a bit of the Food Network. You did good, lady.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m not a parent. I work retail and have done so for years. I am routinely asked for stuff like stickers and balloons by customers’ kids, and it annoys the living daylights out of me. I have to bite my tongue so I don’t say, “The idea is that someone offers it to you because you’re being a very good girl/boy” and “what was my answer last time? No!” I don’t know if this is a situation where you ask the parents to get their kids to stop or if it’s best just to ignore it. I distinctly remember it as something that was offered because you were being quiet and letting your parents get groceries without making a fuss. Please help before I lose my mind!

—Are They Raised by Wolves?

Dear ATRbW,

They’re asking, which is not grabbing. Look, one of the most rewarding things about not having kids is that you don’t need to get emotionally invested in how they’re being raised. Lean into that feeling. This is not your problem, it doesn’t matter, you do not need to instill restraint in them, just give them the sticker unless their parents are frantically making gestures behind them—and be free.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a single mother to an awesome 8-year-old girl. I have recently been referred for a fantastic career opportunity that would make this single mother’s financial worries lessen a great deal. The catch: It’s in another state and requires moving. I don’t have the offer yet, so this may be all conjecture, but my big worry is uprooting my kid and starting over somewhere else. I feel like she has had a lot of upheaval in her life, and I take very seriously being the parent she can count on for stability. Am I overworrying? Kids are adaptable and all that? Or should I stick it out where I am with the wonderful village I’ve created here to support us and keep working with the little budget I have?

—Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dear SISoSIG,

Take the job, if you get it. You’re a single mom, so you’re already playing the game on hard mode. You are also your daughter’s sense of stability and continuity, and prioritizing your financial future will yield dividends in both of your lives for years to come.

I am assuming that there is no dad in the picture, based on what you’ve shared, which makes this an absolute no-brainer for me, but if she currently gets to see him at all, that’s something you should incorporate into your thinking.

Please enjoy movin’ on up to the east side.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a single, 34-year-old queer person, and I’ve recently decided that I want to have a baby! I’ve always known I wanted to be a parent, but for a long time, I assumed that I would meet a partner and marry first. That didn’t happen, and I’ve seen the chart about how your eggs drop off after age 35, and also I’m just plain ready! I love kids, I have endless patience for the shenanigans of toddlers, I have stable housing and employment, it’s just … time.

But!

As there is a serious lack of available sperm in my life, I’m a little bit stymied on where to start. Looking around at my friends and loved ones, I realize that I’ve somehow managed to collect literally no close adult friends who are in a position to donate sperm. I may have to end up buying it, and I know that can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. My savings are meager, although my parents want to help. I’m assuming insurance won’t cover reproductive services like buying sperm as a single person. And even if I do drum up the money, I’m not sure where to start. I’ve always gotten my annual exams from my family doctor. Do I just call up a local gynecologist and tell her my plans? Does she refer me somewhere? I’ve browsed the online sperm banks, and they’re honestly a little bit terrifying. Beyond being a little frightened of how my child might eventually feel about having a biological parent who is not a part of our lives, where do I even begin with the practical part of having a child?

—How Do I Baby?

Dear HDIB,

First of all, a hearty congratulations! I am delighted for you to bring a child into this world, and anyone who sits down and thinks about it this carefully is better prepared than 80 percent of new parents.

Second, I am even more delighted to tell you it’s decidedly better not to go down the road of DIY sperm donation and insemination, which can be an absolute legal minefield depending on your state. In the vast majority of places in the United States, any insemination that occurs outside of a clinic or other licensed medical facility opens you up to a series of very sticky possibilities: The donor can request visitation or custody regardless of what contracts you (or a lawyer!) can draw up; if you ever go on government assistance (it can happen to any of us), they will absolutely track the donor down and make him cough up his share, etc.

Does it work out sometimes? Absolutely! Are there people who trust the other parties enough to plunge ahead? Yes. Am I your mom? Decidedly not.

Look up your state’s specific laws and regulations around sperm donation, and if you are in any doubt, it’s worth getting a legal consultation to make sure you (or your doctor) are jumping through the correct hoops. There are, blessedly, many insurance carriers who will at least chip in for office visits and testing costs, and a variety of clinics of whom you can ask very specific pricing questions. It won’t be cheap, but it also should not be totally ruinous to someone who can otherwise financially afford to raise a child. Price-shopping is just fine, and don’t get suckered into paying a premium because the guy who jerked off into the tube went to Princeton.

Please keep me posted!

—Nicole