Forget Asperger’s, Is Being a Teenager a Mental Illness?

When a child turns 12, he should be kept in a barrel and fed through the bung hole, until he reaches 16…at which time you plug the bung hole. – Mark Twain

bungholeAfter my weekend with my nearly 15 year-old, I am in agreement with Mark Twain. There is much discussion regarding whether or not Asperger’s or high-functioning autism is a mental illness. My question is what about teenagers?

We are raising 6 children. When my husband and I moved in together, his oldest, Junior was just turning 13. I was unprepared for having a teenager in the house. While not overtly rebellious or disrespectful, he was uncommunicative, withdrawn and completely uninterested in investing in being involved with our family. It was clear that we did not have much to offer that he found valuable. He rarely said more than 1 or 2 word answers to questions. This wasn’t just the case with me, my husband’s family commented on it as well. Even, his mother bemoaned his disconnect.

Jr. is now in 19 and in college. This weekend, he came home from college and spent some time around a firepit with my husband and his cousins. My husband’s cousin remarked on how communicative he has suddenly become. He not only responds to queries regarding college and his major with more than one word answers, he voluntarily contributes to the conversation. He is able to tear himself away from his cell phone and interact. His personality is emerging. He is funny and interesting. It is easy now to have perspective on teenage behaviors that irritated and discouraged me before.

teenagebrain2Daniel is turning 15 this week. Like everything with Daniel, his teenage journey is louder and more in your face. He doesn’t just quietly disconnect, he rages. He is unreasonable. He hypocritically points out my flaws while expressing a complete lack of obligation to address his own. Most statements are exaggerations.

“You always…”

“You never…”

This weekend he informed me, “I just think that I don’t like you, Mom! You can be in denial of that if you want, but I can control my frustration with everyone else, but you just bug me and I lose it!”

broken heart mom

My initial response is emotional. Immediately, I remember all the time I have spent advocating for him, working on homework with him, and researching alternatives to help him navigate his personal journey.

Even more basic than that, I think of the breakfast I made him that morning and the laundry I am doing for him and the grocery shopping I will be doing later to provide healthy food for him. I want to scream. I want to cry. I am SO.BROKEN.HEARTED!


This is when I have to pull out an old album and remember the little boy in diapers playing SuperMario Brothers. This is when I have to look at Jr. and remember that there was a time I thought he would never speak to me. This is the time, when I have to disengage and wean myself from the need for emotional validation. This is the time to batten down the hatches and hold the course while I wait for the storm we know as “adolescence” to pass.
Yes, Daniel has Asperger’s Syndrome. However, he is also a teenager. I am beginning to believe that the challenges of raising a child with Asperger’s Syndrome pale in comparison to raising teenagers.

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About aspergersmom

I am a 35 year old woman. I am the wife of an amazing man, who keeps me sane. As a recent California/Florida transplant to the midwest and the mother to a combined family of 6 children; 3 boys, 3 girls, my life is an adventure. I blog and raise our family with my best friend.
This entry was posted in Challenges, Dark moments. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Forget Asperger’s, Is Being a Teenager a Mental Illness?

  1. jdavis35 says:

    Wonderful insights! And, YES! raising teenagers is not for the fainthearted. I especially appreciate your ability to stop & regroup your emotions around WHO Jr. is rather than how he is behaving just now. Bravo!

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