"My 29-year-old wife was recently diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. This is all relatively new to me (although I have recognized some behavior that seemed rather odd to me over the 2 years we have been married). They say that Asperger syndrome is just 'a different way of thinking'. How can I understand the way she thinks? I love her dearly, but we are definitely not on the same page much of the time!"
People Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism have some deficits in the brain that cause problems in certain areas. For example, communication, focusing on “the real world” as opposed to becoming absorbed in their own thoughts and obsessions, learning appropriate social skills and responses, and understanding the thoughts and feelings of others. In addition, they are very literal in their interpretation of others’ conversations, and have difficulty recognizing differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of what others’ say.
Non-verbal communication is particularly problematic in that these individuals have difficulty understanding the appropriate distance to stand from another person when talking, how to tell when someone does not want to listen any longer, and how to interpret facial expressions. Also, they tend to be highly aware of right and wrong – and will bluntly announce what is wrong. They often recognize the shortcomings of others, but not their own. Thus, some of their behavior seems rude or inappropriate (through no fault of their own, in most cases).
Most people on the autism spectrum need routine and predictability, which gives them a sense of safety. Change often causes anxiety, and too much change can lead to a meltdown or shutdown. Routines and predictability help these individuals remain calm.
Other interesting (and sometimes problematic) features of Asperger’s include the following:
- “Aspies” notice details, rather than the “whole” picture. The importance of the detail prevents them from understanding the bigger picture, so instructions may get lost in their focus on a single detail.
- They are not able to access their frontal cortex or prefrontal lobe efficiently, so they must call on social skills from their memories. If a particular social skill was not taught when they were younger, they won’t have it. Thus, imagination, conversation, and other people’s points of view cause great difficulty.
- Anger in Aspies often occurs due to over-stimulation of the senses or a change in routine. It is often the only response they know. Anger-control presents problems, because these individuals only see things in black and white, which can result in offensive behavior when they don’t get their own way or when they feel threatened or overwhelmed. Some Aspies bottle-up anger and turn it inward, never revealing where the trouble is.
- One of the most difficult thinking patterns for people with Asperger’s is mind-blindness, which is the lack of ability to understand the emotions, feelings, motivations, and logic of others – and not care that they don’t understand! Therefore, they sometimes behave without regard to the welfare of others. The only way some Aspies will ever change their thinking or behavior is if it is in their own interest to do so. Even then, convincing them to change their mind may turn out to be an uphill battle.
But, so much for the “bad” news. People on the spectrum also have many positive qualities, for example, most are:
- respect authority
- gentle and somewhat passive
- especially talented in a particular area
- amazingly loyal friends
- able to adhere unvaryingly to routines
- perfectly capable of entertaining themselves
- able to remember a lot of information and facts
- able to notice fine details that others miss
…just to name a few.
Everyone has a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses. People with Asperger' are different – but they are not flawed. We need all different kinds of minds – including the Aspie mind. The way a person on the autism spectrum thinks should be viewed as a positive trait, which the rest of us can learn from. When our differences are embraced, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples