The public and professionals are becoming more aware of the impact of Aspergers on families. Aspergers (high functioning autism) is a subtle, almost paradoxical, disorder which is four times more likely to be diagnosed in men.
It was believed by some professionals that most males with Aspergers do not marry, but this is not the case and the more able people do form relationships, marry and have kids. They are often capable workers and are highly qualified but nevertheless have great difficulties in personal relationships.
Diagnosis is problematic because of disagreements about criteria, but also because of a convergence between "macho" male characteristics and many traits associated with Aspergers. There are obvious dangers in confusing the two.
Research supported by the National Autistic Society into the intimate relationships of couples where one partner is affected by Aspergers shows that males with the condition tend to choose spouses who are maternal, strong, and with nurturing qualities, often older than themselves. Females are attracted to males who appear to be kind, gentle and slightly immature, and who flatter with obsessive attention.
Although males with Aspergers can have relatively high status occupations, including engineers, computer specialists and university teachers, problems can arise when they are married. Attwood1 describes a spectrum of Aspergers behavior, from the passive to the arrogant and aggressive, and it is likely to be the latter who perpetrate domestic violence. Also, the whole responsibility for the relationship rests with their spouses, who report a feeling of "going mad", and who frequently become depressed and may take medication, yet are reluctant to separate because of concern about how the person with Aspergers will cope. Living with the condition is stressful for the family, particularly if both spouses work. It might be less so in traditional families with role differentiation by gender and greater overt control of kids.
Having a diagnosis can be helpful and whole family interventions can be developed to manage everyday life. Also, having Aspergers does not make a person abusive, but it can make them controlling.
However, if the partner with Aspergers is in denial, he may try to deflect his problems on to his partner and the kids, and there are anecdotal reports of stalking, intimidation, manipulation of kids, and domestic violence. There is an added danger that in such situations males may appear to be calm, in control, and shocked to be accused of abusive behavior when approached by the police or social workers. It is important to stress that many males with Aspergers do not harm their families, but some of the key features of Aspergers make it more difficult to address any such abuse.
Consequently, the syndrome presents challenges for service providers, because the psychodynamic model which underpins social work and mental health traditions does not help in understanding a disability which is organic. Also, there are still many misconceptions; for example, that autism is caused by poor parenting - although bad family experiences undoubtedly make problems worse.
Meanwhile, there are deficits in skills, training, and service provision. People with Aspergers are likely to present to mental health services, often through civil or criminal court action, and the condition is easily confused with psychosis or personality disorders. There has been criticism of the failure of psychiatry to learn about Aspergers, and although more progress has been made through the assessment of kids by special educational needs services, what happens when people get older?
Any serious strategy to assist families must start with the principle of protecting kids from significant harm, as well as the unacceptability of violence and intimidation. But what else could be done?
The National Autistic Society published Ignored or Ineligible, which set out the parameters of an effective service. This emphasized collaborative planning between statutory spouses, users, care-givers, kids and voluntary organizations. Also, educational models of the management of kids with Aspergers have been developed and could inform clinical practice and family counseling.
In addition, families affected by the syndrome have a special insight and can tell us about their needs. They must also be part of the solution. Meanwhile, local routes for assessment, diagnosis and clinical support should be established so that GPs and psychiatrists routinely consider Aspergers and can refer people to specialists who can confidently diagnose and offer management strategies. This service need not be medically-led and psychologists, caregivers of people with learning difficulties, and speech therapists have a significant contribution to make. There also needs to be a network of services available, from care management, family counseling and employment support, to help for spouses and kids as care-givers. Links between youngster and adolescent mental health services and adult mental health services are crucial. Then front-line domestic violence agencies, including the police, Female's Aid and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) need to build up their knowledge base, as should family lawyers.
Currently, social work awareness of Aspergers is poor. There is some knowledge in teams working with learning difficulties but they are highly targeted and most people with the syndrome will not receive a service. Also, the identification of Aspergers is undermined by the focus of social work assessment in kid's services on mothers rather than fathers.
Nevertheless, those in children's services should be able to screen, using the assessment framework, although the ability of people with the syndrome to camouflage their problems and of spouses to protect them should never be underestimated. The taking of a full history is essential. Similarly, listening to kids and spouses is crucial, though direct accounts in the early stage of a relationship may be hard to obtain. Schools, health professionals and extended family members might also give clues about parental behavior and its impact on kids. Because of the relationship dynamics, legal intervention to protect the kids (and the partner) might need to be undertaken at an early stage. Finally, practice managers should be trained so the possibility of Aspergers is considered during supervision sessions.
The danger of conflict also needs to be recognized. Anger, threats of violence and litigious complaints are features of the behavior of some people with the syndrome. Intimidation of workers is a real possibility. To deal with threats to families or workers, clear and consistent messages need to be given that this behavior is not acceptable, using the courts and the police to protect families and workers if necessary.
Aspergers presents gender politics in families and between social workers and users at their crudest, and a key question is whether there are educational interventions which can influence adult behavior in an intimate relationship. We would be interested to hear from any practitioner who has developed methods for working with kids or adults with Aspergers who would like to contribute.
- It is an autistic spectrum disorder.
- Special interests are often pursued obsessively.
- The key diagnostic features are social relationships, communication and imagination.
- There is a strong genetic link.
- There is no cure.
- It can be managed through recognition, support, medication and structured counseling.
Problems reported by spouses of people with Aspergers:
- Alcohol abuse
- Irrational blame of others
- Kids over-controlled and emotionally abused
- Lack of empathy
- Lack of executive control over life
- Problems in socializing
- Sexual problems
- Unpredictable outbursts of anger
I spent most of this summer seperated from my husband after enduring so much emotional abuse that I could no longer function well enough to care for our children on a daily basis. We have a two year old and a set of infant twins, all girls. There were several emotionally traumatic events that ocurred in the latter of part of my pregnancy. The emotinonal stress culminated and finally manifested as physical trauma when I fell after getting so worked up about TD just shutting down one night. I was throwing things, cussing him, anything to get some acknowledgement and help from him. And he didn't seem to even notice. He was too inconsolable about the furniture being rearranged. The fall left me unable to walk for two weeks. But he took care of me until I recovered and had his mom watch our two year old. I was back to normal before the twins were born, and luckily I was stil able to have them at home as planned.
But then the emotional abuse escalated after I recovered from having the twins. We slept in different rooms and I cared for two screaming babies by myself. He went days without talking to me except to say "The card board trash goes in this container to be recycled. I've told you that four times now." or "If you do your dishes as soon as you are finished eating, the food will not stick to them." Then he decided that the dryer used too much electricity and unplugged it so I couldn't use it. When I plugged it back in (it's not easy to move a dryer after having twins), he took the door off of it and hid it. And finally, after avoiding the discussion about my fall for two months, I finally addressed it. I told him how hurt I was, physically and emotionally, and how scared I was that I might lose both our babies just weeks before they were supposed to be born. He told me it was all my fault - that if I would learn to control myself it wouldn't have happened, and that he was mad at me for being so irresponsible. So the next day, June 27, I packed as much clothes and diapers as I could fit into three duffle bags, and I left. The twins were only 6 weeks old.
For two months, T.D. only saw his children two or three times. We both went to religious counselors in different cities. And we went together to see my counselor once. Being away from him, I was finally able to think clearly and review what was going on. The more I thought about everything that had happened the past year, as well as the entire five years we were married, the less sense any of it made. It was easy to see T.D. loved me and our children and took care of us, but why did he treat us so indifferently and not seem to care about anyone but himself? The only thing we could figure out from counseling was that we needed more of it, but it didn't seem like we could make any progress on any issue I brought up. At first TD didn't see any problem with our marriage and could not understand at all why I had left in the first place. Then he seemed to realize that he had hurt me, but said he had no idea his actions were hurtful, and didn't really seem to know what he should do differently. I felt like I'd hit a brick wall.
Then my aunt mentioned that she had seen a documentary about Asperger's Syndrome back in April or May and thought the symptoms fit TD well. So I started researching AS online and I found your YouTube video and then your website.
I downloaded your ebook, Living With an Asperger's Partner, a few weeks ago. I read it in shock of how accurately all the issues you addressed described my current situation. I began to use some of the communication techniques when I spoke with TD on the phone. It was difficult for me to rethink everything I said, but in the end, it was very productive. The more research I did on AS, the more I was convinced TD had it. So I wrote a 5 page letter to my husband reviewing our current situation and the events leading up to it. I told him about Asperger's and why I thought he probably had it, and I implored him to get tested so we could know for sure and get the counseling that we both needed. I emailed the letter to his counselor. On Monday, August 22, we went to see his counselor together. The pastor read the letter out loud as we followed along on another copy.
After that session, I went back to my mom's. T.D. called to ask for more online resources and I sent him some links. He took a few online self diagnosis tests. All of them said he may have a mild case of AS.but to go to a professional to be sure.
I have convinced him, at least in theory, that getting a diagnosis is necessary. He of course, doesn't care if he has it or not, but he concedes that it would be a waste of time to continue with counseling that doesn't help us. And we can't know what counseling would help us until we know if he has AS, another condition, or just bad communication skills.
I have been home with him for a week now, and we have gotten along very well. I just have to make sure the issues we had before don't overtake us again. In her book, Alone Together, Katrin Bentley called AS "Beauty and the Beast Syndrome". TD is being a prince right now, but I can't commit to moving back in until I know how to tame the beast.
So now I am looking for someone who can give us a diagnosis and possibly counseling, or at least resources.
We live in San Antonio, Texas. If you have any contacts or can make any recommendations for someone in our area, please let me know ASAP.
He misses me and the girls, and I miss him too. But I have to know what I'm up against before I can come back.
If you love a man with Aspergers, you might want to consider using word pictures to help him identify what’s going on inside. A word picture uses a story or object to simultaneously activate the emotions and intellect of the hearer. As a result, he experiences your words rather than just hearing them.
It’s important to realize that helping your husband learn to express his feelings will take time. You might have to use several examples or try for several days, weeks, or even months before he is able to feel and share with you what’s in his heart. And until he reaches that point, he won’t be able to connect with you on an emotional intimate level.
I’ve found that a woman’s definition of intimacy is very different from a man’s. Consider the following lists:
What women mean by intimacy—
A sensitivity to know immediately when feelings are hurt
Ability to cry easily and together at emotional moments
Closeness of the heart and soul
Daily time hearing the heart of the one you love
Daily time sharing your heart
Deep emotional connection
Understanding each other’s dreams and goals
What men mean by intimacy—
A sensitivity to know when physical needs are present
An ability to communicate physical needs
Deep physical connection
Hand-holding, hugging, kissing
Physical time alone together
Understanding each other’s physical needs
One of the reasons men may be more focused on physical closeness is that men aren’t as sensitive to physical touch as women are. In other words, it takes more physical touch to meet a man’s physical needs. In the same way that a woman has twice the daily word count, a man has twice the need for physical stimulation.
The point is this: Women often feel unloved because their emotional needs aren’t being met, and in the same way, men often feel ignored because their physical needs aren’t being met.