Why are autistic adults estranging their parents?

I’ve noticed a lot of burnt out and/or late-diagnosed autistic adults estranging their parents, and I’ve some theories on why this is happening.

From where I stand on a grey kitchen mat wearing green, gold and grey foot booties. Floor is brown linoleum.
If I can’t comfortably wear short shorts around you, I won’t spend time with you.

1. Trauma

First and foremost, autistic masking is a form of trauma. Burnout is theorized to be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which puts a person’s trauma front and center.

Oftentimes, adults confront their parents with that trauma and are dismissed or invalidated because the parents don’t like what they hear or are told. No one wants to hear or know they were a villain in someone else’s life, let alone their children’s lives.

Secure parents will accept that they have caused trauma in their child’s life, while insecurely attached parents will reject any trauma happened or be confused and wonder what they did wrong.

I didn’t understand this until I began learning about attachment styles.

But it explains why autistic adults in autistic burnout are cutting ties with their parents:

Their trauma and life experience is being dismissed and invalidated by the people who caused it.

This is a form of gaslighting, which is emotional abuse. In other words, burnt out autistic adults are breaking up with their abusers — usually after unlocking their trauma and learning about boundaries.

The proper way to respond when your child tells you that they were traumatized and wished you had parented them different is by holding yourself accountable and focusing on them — not making it about you and your feelings.

2. Boundaries

There comes a time in autistic burnout recovery when you realize how boundaries could have possibly prevented this whole catastrophe.

Of course, this epiphany is all in vain, because we probably didn’t have the autonomy to establish and maintain boundaries in the first place.

Parents with insecure attachment styles with their children will view boundaries as abandonment or retaliation.

They do not respect boundaries; to them, boundaries are guidelines/rules set by authority figures and children are obligated to “respect” (i.e. follow) those rules at any cost, simply for being children.

For those with insecure attachment styles, a lack of boundaries are synonymous with respect. Enmeshment is a frequent unhealthy family dynamic wherein the family is expected to have a hive mind if sorts, like the same things, and engage in the same activities.

Examples of enmeshment include families where everyone plays a sport or wears matching clothes for every. family. picture. There is no opportunity to be oneself, have privacy, or feel a different way about anything.

Mothers often enmesh with their children, regardless of neurotype.

The complete opposite family dynamic is disengaged families, who seldom spend time together when they don’t feel obligated and attempt to maintain appearances.

Expected only to be happy

An example of my enmeshed family is how my relatives sought to keep me happy. I was raised by anxious people, and I’ve learned that people with severe anxiety often gaslight themselves and insist on positivity.

Any time I felt sad, I was told I had every reason to be happy. Every time I was upset, I was told they “didn’t mean to” and expected to accept their good intentions as justification for bad behavior or actions that didn’t live up to those intentions.

Through therapy, I learned that this helped condition me to accept abuse in childhood and well into adulthood as the norm, and I’ve struggled to dismantle this conditioning.

I’ve also discovered it is generational, because my aunt’s mom did it to her, and my grandmother’s mom did it to her, and my great grandmother’s mom did it to her.

Generational abuse doesn’t make the abuse okay. It doesn’t matter what the abuse. Abuse is abuse.

A child whose parents and family seek to keep happy has neglected needs. It’s a sign of insecure attachment, as secure parents and caregivers are attuned to the children’s needs.

Children don’t need to be kept happy. They need their needs met. They need their feelings to be validated.

It’s good to feel happy, sad, upset, joyful, etc. All emotions should be embraced, not stifled.

I was conditioned to smile “even when you’re not happy, so others think you are”. Because “that’s what girls and women do”.

“They put on a happy face and pretend like everything is okay.”

Childhood me learned that she only received love if she was happy and complacent.

As an adult, I realized my family loved me when I didn’t have high support needs — when I appeared and behaved more non-autistic, before I embraced my autism. They were there for me as long as I didn’t need them beyond baseless statements.

The moment I did need them in a way that was not typical in society, I only received criticism and intentions with contradicting actions and behaviors.

That’s when the rose-colored lenses broke.

3. Conditional love

Love feels synonymous with success and assimilation, or whatever value is brought to the world.

The moment I stopped masking and started embracing who I am is the moment everything began crumbling. My family was more critical, asking why I’d “suddenly” changed and telling me that I was not behaving like myself.

But I was behaving like myself, never mind my DID. I was living my life, and I was loving it. I was in love with being alive.

Meanwhile, they were disappointed and continuously insisted that I needed psychiatric care.

I came face to face with my greatest fear — that my family would never love the real me — while also realizing my greatest caveat:

I don’t want to wait until my family dies to start living my life the way I want to live it.

I used to think that this was the only way I’d be able to live MY life, but it has since been pointed out to me that waiting around to live MY life isn’t a life worth living at all.

It leads to stress and illness, including mental and physical illness.

It is why my eating disorder developed in the first place.

Ultimately, I felt like a doll that everyone dressed up and told what to do. I wasn’t a person, but a puppet. My life didn’t feel like a life; I felt like property.

And the moment I dared act like I wasn’t property was the start of losing my independence all over again.

4. Emotional immaturity

None of these things are unique to autistic people, beyond autistic burnout. Rather, these experiences are most common in survivors of abuse.

More than likely, the parents/relatives fit one of the following:

  • They know and don’t care
  • They don’t know and don’t care
  • They genuinely don’t know, but don’t seek therapy for help figuring it out

Educating parents about the double empathy problem is not the adult child’s responsibility, but learning about it and learning how to bridge the gap is the key to repairing relationships.

Parents have to get out of their heads and their own experiences, and realize that this whole person they raised lived a life different from their perceived life experience.

Parents DON’T remember what life was like when they were children, and often struggle to empathize with their kids already, due to the curse of knowledge.


It is no one’s responsibility to help you solve the problems of your interpersonal relationships except your own and that of your therapist’s. That’s literally what they went to school for and a big reason they exist.

Screenshot and print out every chat, take it to a therapist, and do the work.

In the “I’ve been to therapy” community, there is an oddly high common trait among us: we are no-contact with parents/relatives.

Communicating interpersonal relationship issues to emotionally stunted people is worse than trying to convince a toddler the toilet is not their enemy.


If they don’t go to therapy, don’t put in the work required to develop emotionally, they don’t care and aren’t worth your presence. Charge more for your energy.

You are NOT responsible for their comprehension, and they are NOT entitled to an explanation.

But above everything, do what is safest for you in your situation. Be safe. Unmask carefully.

Creating boundaries with abusers can be dangerous, so I recommend seeking a therapist or trauma coach to help you. 💖

5. Walkaway child syndrome

I’ve been thinking a lot about estrangement in relation to walkaway wife syndrome, an occurrence wherein wives seemingly leave their spouses “out of nowhere” — mostly with husbands.

The husbands don’t recognize the signs of the wife’s trying and ultimately giving up — whether because they’re that ignorant and dismissive or because they feel that entitled and superior — and only realize once the wife leaves.

A similar experience happens between adults who go no-contact with their parents, autistic or not. Parents of adult children either ignore or don’t recognize the signs of their adult children attempting to maintain the relationships…

There comes a point in life and relationships when trying is too tiring and painful. Therapy taught me that I held onto ideals and wanted what my family wasn’t interested in providing.

The family dynamic where family is family “no matter what”, regardless of your uncle’s comments on your body or your dismissive, invalidating parents is meeting its end — for good reason.

Recent generations are demanding better, raising the standard, learning emotional intelligence, and healing from the trauma while seeking therapy for that which their parents needed therapy and never went for.

Of course a “walkaway child syndrome” would happen in droves.

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Comments on this post

I am estranged from my adult autistic son. This is partly my fault, and I could not possibly regret more the outburst that led to our estrangement. I look back, though, and I wonder what I must have done wrong, because I know I tried to be the best parent I could be.

Apparently, I failed. However, I’ve been reading about adult autistic children cutting off their parents — it seems to be common. I wish my son were capable of close emotional attachment, but he isn’t — and not just to me.

I wish my son had enough theory of mind to empathize with others and their feelings. I wish he could see things not so much in black and white terms, in which I am the only one who has made mistakes or done something wrong.

So when I read about adult autistic children cutting off their parents, including parents who were never abusive in the ways your parents apparently were — one girl never got over her fury at her father making her learn to play violin, for example — I just feel so sad for these families.

On this page, I also see no attempt by the autistic children to put themselves in their parents’ place, no empathy for their parents, no concern for the parents’ feelings.

I don’t think I will ever see my son again because I don’t know if he was ever capable of loving me.

Of course I can’t speak to the way you were treated as a child, but I do know that it might help you to forgive your parents someday if you tried to see events from their perspective, to have compassion for their weaknesses and flaws and mistakes, to see them as human beings.

At least, I wish my son could do that for me, and for himself. I am merely offering another perspective here, not telling anyone what they should do in their particular situations.

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I am a parent in the same boat and have read similar information on ASD1 and estrangement.

Black and white thinking and a lack of compassion for imperfect, and often autistic, parents, coupled with communication challenges creates a mess. I agree with your comments wholeheartedly.

I also believe that therapists who diagnose parents without meeting them, have a limited understanding of ASD and it’s heightened incidence of PTSD and who neglect the second reality in every relationship are doing a huge disservice to their autistic young adult clients and their parents. Frankly, it’s unprofessional and grounds for malpractice in my opinion.

Estrangement is rarely the answer, and both the child and parent suffers. We heal in connection with each other, not hiding behind “boundaries” that are instead walls erected to avoid discomfort and assumed rejection.

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The lack of actually reading my post is so obvious with this thread.

This post focuses on autistic adults, but also acknowledges that even non-autistic adults are estranging their parents.

Therapists don’t “diagnose parents without meeting them”; not all narcissists have narcissistic personality disorder; narcissism is not in and of itself its own “diagnosis”. “Abuser” also isn’t a diagnosis.

Estrangement is the answer after all other attempts at communicating issues and boundaries have been exhausted. Estrangement is the last resort option.

Read #5, specifically:

The family dynamic where family is family “no matter what”, regardless of your uncle’s comments on your body or your dismissive, invalidating parents is meeting its end — for good reason.

Recent generations are demanding better, raising the standard, learning emotional intelligence, and healing from the trauma while seeking therapy for that which their parents needed therapy and never went for.

Your comment is giving “parent who can’t stand being held accountable”. 🤷‍♀️

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I want to respond to Shannon Low and Freya.

Shannon, I could not agree with you more about therapists diagnosing people they have never met. They do a great disservice to both the parents and children by encouraging estrangement instead of greater understanding — which is not to say that estrangement should never happen, because sometimes it is necessary. But in many cases, “boundaries” do turn into walls because the therapist encourages either the child or parent who has chosen to estrange themselves to cut off all contact.

There is no effort to ever see the perspective of the other person in the relationship, or to communicate one’s own feelings at all — both rather important for people on the spectrum to learn better interpersonal skills, while of course the non-ASD person should do the same. Family shouldn’t be forever in some cases. That goes without question. But alienation from one’s family shouldn’t necessarily be forever either, especially when miscommunication, lack of communication, or misunderstanding are seen as unforgivable and impossible to overcome.

Freya, I obviously read your post, and responded by giving a different perspective. I am not neurotypical, but I am neither an abuser or a narcissist. Parents can make mistakes without being “abusers.” I acknowledged my own mistake that I made with my son that resulted in total estrangement in my first post, so I am hardly evading responsibility or accountability for my own part in it.

Responding to a different perspective with unfounded insults (you really don’t know me) is really not helpful. I do wonder if this post will ever see the light of day.

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I think this is the best counterpoint response to the original post. I have a 30 year old daughter with Asperger’s, who estranged us, though we still meet with our son in law to see the grandkids. I believe my daughter has many of the complaints in this post. She demanded we (husband and I) go to therapy before she would engage with us again, and then when it was her turn to join us, she dropped out, with no real answer as to why. This is not an adult way to handle interpersonal issues.. If both parties are not able to speak, there is nothing to resolve, and also no incentive to see another point of view. The message becomes rather childish, I’m pissed and I dont want to talk about it.

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Your children don’t owe you anything 🤷‍♀️

Adult children who estrange their parents never join their parents’ therapy sessions, though parents may be invited to join their child’s. If you don’t understand why this isn’t a double standard and why it’s a standard practice in trauma therapy, then you still need therapy.

Ending estrangement ISN’T about taking turns, but figuring out whether you’re on the same page. Going to therapy with the expectation that she join you in yours makes your going to therapy a transactional behavior devoid of self-development.

This list of questions about estrangement and relationships may provide insight to what happens in trauma therapy.

While I wrote this article to specifically cover reasons autistic adults estrange their parents, being autistic has little to do with why adults estrange their parents.

You’re allowed to feel angry; your daughter isn’t responsible for helping you manage your feelings about this experience, however.

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Freya, I read your list of 11 questions before deciding on estrangement. They are excellent points, and they have not happened because our daughter cut us off suddenly, and with no explanation. We dont have lifestyle or political differences, we were supportive of her in getting her through college when she nearly flunked out….and didnt recognize it because she was fooling herself. She demanded we get therapy, with no explanation of why, which we did, but its kind of hard to get effective therapy without being able to say more than our daughter cut us off. It was implied that after our therapy we would then all enter into family therapy. She entertained one zoom session, and then dropped out. We have told her we were willing to attend any sessions with a therapist of her choosing. When our therapist tried to contact her therapist, she found out our daughter had not been a patient there for over a year. So its looking more and more as if our daughter has been acting in bad faith. Family, family friends, even her friends are stunned by her behavior, because there is no reasonable explanation. I dont think she owes us anything, including the $125,000 her education cost us….but I think she has guilt that she doesnt want to account for, and is finding this fad of ditching your parents as a way out of doing the work and justifying it. There are more kids out there doing just that, and they are hiding behind the mask of calling their parents the abusers. So it cuts both ways. The only deciding factor is having a joint therapist. Its been nearly 3 years. My husband and I have had our time for therapy, and been spending time with our son in law and grandchildren while our daughter absents herself. My husband finally understands the “toxic positivity” comment my daughter accused him of, I’ve hammered it into his head. A by product of that epiphany though has also been that our daughter was an asshole the entire time she lived with us. We are rwalizing we are actually happier with her not around so we dont have to walk on eggshells. Maybe she has done us a favor so we dont feel obligated to be parents anymore.

our therapist

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This comment is extremely telling of why she cut you off with no explanation. 🥴

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Check out comments 1-6. This started when she was about 3rd grade. We went for family therapy, she went for single therapy, none helped because she just wanted to game the system because it pissed her off. Thete has been a deep anger in her ever since she was 2, and this is what it finally morphed into.She is very smart, and manipulative, and reads on-line psych stuff to find the labels she wants to
attach to people to justify her treatment of them. I read her old psych evaluation notes, which
3 different psychiatrists had the same observations. And yes, I do understand why she cut us off, because adults cant get away with the behavior of angry adolescents. Best to distance herself.


This is a great post. Im an autistic single mom who estranged my own three adult children. This goes both ways.
Its been heartbreaking but necessary for my own survival at this point.

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Hi I stumbled onto your blog a couple of days ago, and I just wanted to thank you for helping me getting answers about myself and my toxic family. I am on the autism spectre and am an adult. I have been overprotected by my ,parents” for the past 22 years. They put a safety net around me and now I’m finally disengaging with them today. Trying to live my life like I want to. So thank you again for this website/blog.

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