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Is Your Asperger’s Partner a Jerk – or is it a Deficit in Reciprocity?

“Why is my Aspie partner such an inconsiderate jerk?”

Unfortunately, people with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are often accused of being inconsiderate, selfish, uncaring or insensitive. It’s a cross many of these individuals have to bear.

The main trait associated with of Asperger’s and HFA is the problem of human connectedness. The term used to describe human connection is “reciprocity.” This refers to a person’s ability to engage others in a way that makes them feel connected. People with Asperger’s and HFA often lack reciprocity to one degree or another. For example, they may (a) seem either distant, stiff, or in other ways unconnected; (b) have difficulty reading subtle gestures and facial changes; (c) have difficulty interpreting subtleties in language, such as irony or sarcasm; (d) not read or respond as most people do to small changes in body posture or gestures; and (e) have difficulty maintaining eye contact in social conversations.

Some people with Asperger’s and HFA not only “seem” detached, but come across as being uninterested in having relationships with others. For example, they may (a) wish to connect with others, but simply don’t know how; (b) lack empathy; (c) have very little interest in the feelings and experiences of others; (d) have feelings for others, but can’t convey those feelings effectively; and (e) have difficulty deriving pleasure from connecting with others, learning about them, talking with them, or sharing experiences.

At first, the “neurotypical” (NT) partner may see the “Aspie” as shy, quiet, stiff or withdrawn. As the NT begins to talk with the Aspie, it may appear that he or she responds robotically, has a monotonic voice, appears rather eccentric, and/or lacks warmth. There can be a sense that the Aspie just isn’t there when he/she is interacting with the NT partner (e.g., may seem overly interested in his/her topic of conversation and not the NT partner’s interests, may not know when to stop talking, may not know what to do when someone has finished making a point, etc.).

In conversation with an Aspie, the NT may find himself/herself asking most of the questions, waiting for obvious follow-ups that don’t occur, and otherwise doing most of the work in the exchange. The Aspie’s frequent robotic language and responses “seem” to suggest that his or her partner may as well be inanimate.

It’s not just a question of an inability to read social cues – there is an output problem (i.e., not knowing how to engage and maintain relationships with others) and an internal problem (i.e., he/she has no labels for feelings, and social/emotional information is confusing, undeveloped, absent, or not valued).

All too frequently, people on the autism spectrum seem not just disconnected, but preoccupied with one or two subjects that they may talk about endlessly. Some may even become upset when others do not share their enthusiasm for a given area of interest. There is a kind of immaturity (or fixed developmental delay) in which the feelings, interests, needs, perspectives and thoughts of others just aren’t important to them (or so it appears).

The simplest conversation among NT individuals is kind of a social dance – a flowing exchange of words, nonverbal cues and appropriate responses. Because there really is quite a lack of tolerance in society for not being able to engage in this kind of social behavior, an Aspie can soon become grist for the gossip mill and find himself or herself ostracized for ambiguous reasons.

So, this is why some people with Asperger’s and HFA can come across as jerks: their lack of reciprocity. I’m not saying Aspies never behave like jerks – some do. But in most cases, they are not trying to be an asshole, they simply struggle with connectedness-skills in the social arena.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the NT partner to think that his/her Aspie partner “should be able to do better” … “should try harder” … “has the ability to improve, but simply doesn’t want to” …etc. This, too, is a cross that people with Asperger’s and HFA must bear.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples


Comments:

•    Anonymous said… Before I knew my son was an Aspie, I would actually ask him why he was being such a jerk  😞. Now I know why! It is normal for him.... sigh
•    Anonymous said… Deficit in reciprocity...perfect wording!
•    Anonymous said… Does anybody know of a good treatment center in N.Y. Florida or N.C.my son is Aspie but has too many traumas.
•    Anonymous said… He is able to show affection to his family and friends giving them compliments but when it comes to me he can’t say he loves me or show spontaneous affection. It’s hard if you are a NT that is affectionate and craves affection. He seems disconnected.
•    Anonymous said… I divorced one....it was difficult but stayed with my son:Aspie
•    Anonymous said… I hope if my grandson ever gets married it's to someone familiar enough with Aspergers that she never calls him names for behavior that is typical to his disorder.
•    Anonymous said… Love this. Thank you.
•    Anonymous said… Mine can be from time to time but I am sure I can be an ass too lol....my 22 year old son is very difficult generally
•    Anonymous said… Mine is a jerk now but wasn't at first, but not just to me, to all he interacts with. Very low empathy or none, just found out he has BPD and OCD apart from AS but was much better until 2 years ago then he started taking Keppra for his epilepsy and something changed in his behavior. Even he has noticed and tells me that something doesn't feel right in his mind and has more insomnia too but the neurologist won't change his prescription..  :(
•    Anonymous said… Mine was a Jerk! Lol
•    Anonymous said… So interesting...having a child with ASD sure makes you look at the world and others in it in a different perspective! God makes all of different some days it is a blessing...some days it is not  :)
•    Anonymous said… Some have to be reminded to reciprocate. Others do a good job of it.

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