Poor Kristina! She just wants her family to get together for a family outing - a time for them to all bond as a family - yet she ends up having to contend with the various and sundry personalities and activities that make up that family. She loses her patience big time and melts down. Would this be any different for families that don't have a child with an autism spectrum disorder? Not at all! Kristina and Adam have the added difficulty of having children that are widely separated by age, from Haddie who is 17 to Max who is 11 to a brand-new five-week-old baby. This makes it harder to get them all together at the same time, enjoying the same activities and sharing the same interests. Welcome to the modern, 21st-century American family! In today's world, getting all members of a family together at the same time can be a bit like herding cats! Adding Asperger's syndrome to the mix makes it that much more difficult, since Max has very definite ideas on what he does and does NOT want to do.
But Kristina is right to fight for family time together; it's very important for all families to occasionally escape the myriad stresses of today's high-tech, fast-paced society and come together to maintain relationships in a world that pulls everyone in different directions. Sometimes, that pulling gets to the point that families fall apart, and the members have no lasting connection with one another. Kristina wants what every mom (and dad) wants - to have the children have a close connection to one another and be able to support each other through the years. This is even more important for Max, who, because he has Asperger's syndrome, doesn't see the importance of family relationships to the same degree as those without Asperger's.
So Max is not likely to initiate get-togethers, plan family birthday parties and invite everyone, call to check up on his sisters to make sure they are okay, etc. He may remember the birthdays of his sisters, but will he remember to send them cards, presents and flowers through the years? To call them when they have surgery or when nieces or nephews are born? Will he remember their wedding anniversaries or invite them to come over and watch a movie with him because it's one of their favorites? Will he try to be there for them if one of their pets dies or if they suffer a setback with their job?
Max will model what he knows, and thus he needs to see and experience an example of a strong family directly - so it will become his "norm" for what a family truly is and help him to build his own someday. Kristina, of course, is desperate for her brood to be a strong family and have strong connections to one another. Adam most likely feels it too, but he's wrapped up in his new business and keeping the household financially stable. So it's left to Kristina's "mom" role to lay the foundation that her children will remember and use as the model for their own families when they are grown. (This doesn't only apply to moms but to dads too and all primary caregivers - grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins - anyone who has a role in raising children.)
As an individual with Asperger's syndrome, Max will need a very strong connection to his sisters and parents, since he is likely to need their help and support for the rest of his life. Many families who have children with ASD disintegrate over the stresses that this disorder creates. But who will guide and assist Max if his family falls apart? Who will make sure he's eating a balanced diet, make sure he's nicely groomed and on time for a job interview, that he gets regular medical check-ups and fights off the vultures that surround vulnerable people? With Asperger's syndrome, Max may not make the best choices in his life - and will need caring, loving family members who will watch over him.
So is Kristina right to have a tantrum because no one in the family is respecting her wish for a family outing with everyone present? Absolutely! Get them together, Kristina; make them attend, make them talk to one another and make them listen to each other. Make them respect each other, help each other, share, take turns, play with and even debate and argue and identify and solve everyday problems with each other. Above all, get them to build a deep and abiding love for one another that will last throughout their lives. Max will definitely need his family; but they will need Max, too.
Kristina - do what you have to do. You go girl!!
Written by Sheila Wagner, M.Ed.