One frequently observed trait of Asperger’s (high functioning autism) is inflexibility in thought and behavior. Inflexibility seems to pervade so many areas of the lives of people with Asperger’s. As a result, many get labeled as “stubborn” by their significant others (e.g., family members, partners, spouses, co-workers, etc.).
Here are some of the reason why people with Asperger’s may come across as stubborn:
1. Some “Aspies” can be moralistic (i.e., a self-righteous and inflexible adherence to nonnegotiable moral principles that is usually out of context with practical reality). An example might be the Aspie who criticizes his wife who has run a yellow traffic light when she is on the way to the emergency room for treatment of a burn or cut.
2. Novel situations often produce anxiety for these individuals. They may be uncomfortable with change in general, which can result in behavior that may be viewed as rude and insensitive.
3. Routines and rules are very important to people with Asperger’s in providing a sense of needed order and structure, and thus, predictability about the world. When routines or rules are disrupted, anxiety often follows.
4. People with Asperger’s may have some fears in addition to those related to unexpected changes in schedules (e.g., large groups of people, complex open environments such as bus stations, an unexpected academic challenge, having too many things to remember or too many tasks to perform, etc.). Such highly-stimulating situations tend to overwhelm these individuals.
5. Many people with Asperger’s have sensory sensitivities, and therefore may refuse to do certain things or go certain places (e.g., refusing to go with his or her spouse to a family function in order to avoid the over-stimulation of a large group of a people – all talking at the same time).
More reasons behind perceived stubbornness may include:
- the Aspies’ misunderstanding or misinterpretation of another's action
- other people changing something from the way it is “supposed to be”
- anxiety about a current or upcoming event )no matter how trivial it might appear to others)
- lack of knowledge about how something is done
- the Aspie’s need to avoid or escape from a non-preferred activity
- transitioning from one activity to another (often a problem because it may mean ending an activity before he or she is finished with it)
- the Aspie’s reluctance to participate in an activity he or she can’t do perfectly or an activity that is too difficult
- difficulty “taking in” what is going on around him or her
- problems “reading between the lines”
- the inability to fully understand social cues
“Facts” are what people with Asperger’s learn and feel less anxious about. Since they have a hard time with all the normal rules of society, having strict rules and routines has a calming effect on them. Unfortunately, this coping strategy can be perceived by others as severe inflexibility.
Understanding what causes so much anxiety and inflexible behavior may help “neurotypical” partners and spouses to know where their Aspie is coming from. In other words, his or her “stubbornness” can be viewed (at least some of the time) as a coping mechanism to reduce anxiety rather than willful and malicious conduct.
Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples