My childhood was amazing, from an early age I was acutely aware that my parents were only interested in going to places which were suitable for me to go with them. They aren't big drinkers anyway, but they had no interest in sitting in a smoky pub with me by their side. Equally they never forced me into activities that I obviously caused me distress.
I think my dad avoids family parties to avoid his own distress but equally because he recognised that group situations caused me great distress, so he protected me from it. Growing up I never hugged either of my parents that I remember, and I would shake my dads hand when I became a teenager. Hugging just makes me feel physically uncomfortable. To this day it seems so alien to me and when I'm going away on holiday or when I recently got admitted to hospital I have to make a conscious effort to give my mum a kiss on the cheek to reassure her.
I've been asked to comment on the following article by Ailin Quinlan (Monday January 31 2011) very interesting and my comments as usual are in red.
IMAGINE if your dad insisted upon meeting you at the school gate and walking you home every day - even though you're a second-level student.
Or suppose he loses the rag every time your mobile phone rings or is outraged if somebody moves a favourite ornament a few inches?
On top of all of that, he may be pedantic, distant and extremely controlling -- his way to do something is the only way. I know that I can be this way, particularly on the subject of nutrition and health. The moment someone criticises all my research and effort I shut down and become distant. I guess when something is such a huge part of your life its a personal insult. My dad is very much the same and has always been very controlled, luckily my mum is the perfect match and just goes with the flow.
We've heard about the difficulties faced by parents trying to cope with Asperger syndrome in children but what must it be like to have an Asperger's parent? I'm not sure what its like for a non aspie but for me my dad was perfect. He had an innate understanding that I didn't enjoy social outings and often we used the same excuse to avoid them. Every boxing day my Auntie used to have a xmas party and we always delayed our arrival due to being out riding our motorbikes. Mum went early with another relative.
A developmental disorder which can cause severe difficulties in terms of social interaction, communication and flexible thinking, Asperger syndrome affects an estimated 16,000 people in Ireland, most of them male. It's believed the ratio can be as high as nine males to every female.
However, it's also increasingly accepted that many women may have gone undetected, possibly because of different cultural attitudes and expectations -- society approves of little girls who are quiet-spoken and introverted, for example, whereas boys are expected to be more boisterous and outgoing.
Having a parent with Asperger syndrome can make for a tough upbringing which can leave a child with psychological scars
"You would see the impact on the normal child -- it can make a child withdrawn, angry or depressed. They may react by withdrawing from the father. It can have very significant effects on children," says consultant psychiatrist Michael Fitzgerald, who recently retired from his post as the first professor of child and adolescent psychiatry in Ireland at Trinity College. He is director of two courses on psychotherapy at the university.
As I wasn't a normal child I can't really comment on this except to say my fathers actions felt perfectly normal to me. When I've been upset he hasn't hugged me (which would make things worse anyway) but he's always been there and has always gone out of his way to steer me the right way.
"Asperger's people can be extremely rigid and controlling, which is very difficult for the child," says Mr Fitzgerald.
"They can be dominating and dictatorial and they have difficulty tuning in to the child's feelings -- they can be puzzled by the child's feelings and miss cues on the child's face.
"They may have difficulty knowing what the child is thinking and feeling and have difficulty putting themselves into the shoes of the child."
As a result, he says, the child may be left feeling bewildered and believing the parent to be insensitive, cold and even cruel.
"These parents are very black and white -- a thing is either right or wrong and there is no in-between," he says, adding that the condition can make for an upbringing that is puritanical, even Victorian.
I had a strict upbringing which was always attributed to my dads army life, however its quite clear that my dad has the attitude of right or wrong like I do. So once again it just added to making life easy for me. I don't understand all the social expectations so having strict expectations led to a plainer more simple life. I do the same to myself now, setting strict rules of what's healthy and right for myself to stick to.
Asperger parents also often have very high moral and ethical standards and the family is expected to live up to these standards, which are very inflexible.
"This phenomenon of an Asperger parent rearing a child who does not have the condition is quite common and I see it regularly," he observes.
Kirsti Evans has just written a guide for children about how to deal with an Asperger parent.
She got the idea for the book when, as an Autism Development Coordinator in the UK, she was asked to visit the family of a child exhibiting behavioural difficulties.
Evans quickly realised that the problem lay not in the child but in the father, who had undiagnosed Asperger syndrome.
"He was extremely controlling and inflexible. He did all the food shopping and they had to eat exactly the same thing for dinner every day."
I know I do this and I do know that my dad likes to eat his usual food and doesn't want to try anything exotic (he first tried pasta in the 90's and was over the moon when I said it wasn't good for him). I on the other hand, will not eat anything that I don't consider healthy or worth eating.
Kirsti searched unsuccessfully for material which could help the child understand the situation, but what she wanted wasn't available.
So the concept for 'Something Different About Dad', was born. The book, which was published at the end of last year, offers child-friendly information in cartoon format on how a parent with Asperger syndrome can affect a family.
Asperger parents often don't understand the social impact of what, to their children, are highly irrational rules, says Ms Evans.
They may not grasp the importance of independence for a growing child and they often dislike big group activities -- the social side makes them uncomfortable, while too much sensory stimulation is a problem.
"People with Asperger's can find it difficult to process new sensory information such as being in a new environment or dealing with a lot of sensory stimulation at the same time." All of this can cause problems, she warns.
"It will impact on the child's self-esteem -- they may feel the parent does not have time for them or finds them to be a source of irritation.
"The child can also be made to feel second best because the Asperger parent can often appear to put his own needs first.
"The control mechanisms used by them can appear to be unreasonable to a child and may spark defiance and eventually push a child out of the home, while still at quite a vulnerable stage."
Once again this wasn't an issue for me, my dad did encourage me to try things. In particular he wanted me to ride a motorbike at a village fete, something which I was good at. However, due to the large crowds and other children playing I refused and it wasn't pushed. When I got home I happily rode my own motorbike alone.
Evans gives the example of another Asperger dad who couldn't stand the sound of a ringing telephone. On occasion, she says, he threw away or even destroyed the family's mobiles. To his child, this behaviour seemed completely irrational. In the end, the family put their phones on silent.
There can be severe implications for the child's relationship with the parent, agrees Des McKernan, honorary secretary and a founding member of Aspire, the Asperger SyndromeAssociation of Ireland.
"A parent with Asperger's could be quite distant where the child is concerned and the child could see them as cold and lacking in affection or not interested. It could leave a child feeling neglected or resentful -- you could have a parent who is very pedantic and very rule-orientated -- if a child moved a flower vase a few inches, for example, the parent could get quite upset."
So what to do? It's not enough for the other parent to explain the problem away by saying, 'oh that's just your Dad' believes Evans.
At the age of 20 I visited my dads office and found a poster of me riding my bike in world championships and that was the only sign I needed to see that he was immensely proud of me despite never telling me. My logical brain had also told me that if he wasn't proud of me he wouldn't of watched me ride or take me across europe.
As the child gets older, they may become ashamed of what goes on at home.
"It can make for a difficult atmosphere in the house. It can affect the relationship between the parent and the child because the child thinks the parent doesn't care about him.
"The parent may not be physically affectionate for a number of reasons such as sensory issues."
Creating awareness of the condition and its implications for the family is crucial she says.
Getting a diagnosis can be a helpful first step. "It will highlight the issue and encourage them to research it and possibly seek out appropriate treatment. This is important for the family so they know what they're dealing with."
However, if the situation is not too difficult, it is possible to adapt family life to the needs of the Asperger parent in a more informal way as long as everyone is aware of the effects of Asperger syndrome.
"How the family adapts is what is important," she emphasises.
The Asperger's parent also needs to understand his or her condition and take on board some responsibility for how they interact with others, she cautions, for example, removing themselves from a crowded room when they can feel a sensory overload coming on.
'Something Different about Dad' by Kirsti Evans and illustrated by John Swogger (Jessica Kingsley Publishers), €14, is available from good bookshops
I haven't read the book yet but it sounds interesting and would be a useful exercise to see what methods our family used to adapt to both of our undiagnosed Asperger's tendencies.
For me the answer was and still is pure bliss, I'm aloof and distant but they always knew that it was and is just the way I am.