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Easy Ways for Adults with Aspergers to Develop Conversation Skills

One of the best ways to connect with others and build quality relationships is through making conversation. Although most "Aspies" can hold a conversation, only a few are smooth and charismatic when they talk. Working as a “life coach” for teens and adults with Aspergers, I have explored and tested many techniques for improving their conversation skills.

I have come up with 15 simple – but effective – ways to be a good conversationalist. Here they are:

1. Ask good questions. A routine question will evoke a routine response. Thus, "How's it going?" will generally get a "Fine, thanks," or perhaps a "I can't complain." If the purpose of the question is only to acknowledge an acquaintance briefly and move on, your purpose is served. This is the social function of language that the anthropologist Malinowski called "phatic communion," which is nothing more than a brief and superficial verbal connection, the smallest of small talk. However, if you'd prefer a more substantial conversation, you'll need to use a different question to evoke a different response. A deeper and more detailed conversation will certainly be less predictable and probably more interesting, and it will likely have the effect of enriching your relationship.

2. Balance the energy. Think of a conversation as an exchange of energy. Whenever such an exchange takes place, balance is always important. You want the energy going one way to match the energy going the other. This balance is often the missing ingredient in conversations between an Aspie and a neurotypical. To get around this, when the other person is talking, you should be listening. Then, when the other person has stopped talking, it’s your turn to respond. Good conversation implies balance. It is through balancing the energy in conversations that you become able to make them fruitful for the both you. The scientific evidence suggests that balancing our conversation so that everyone gets a turn (who wants a turn) is supportive of social relations. In informal conversation, balance requires that speakers monitor themselves so that they do not dominate by talking too much. It is also important for more quiet people to speak up from time to time so that the talkative ones don't think you are giving up any interest in sharing your ideas. Balancing the talk doesn't require a strict 50-50 distribution. The ratio can be 80-20 and still be balanced, as when one person is mainly interviewing the other who of course will do most of the talking. The key here is not so much the actual time each one talks. It is the taking turns that matters. One person may ask a brief question that requires a long, detailed answer.

3. Be patient with yourself as you go through a “trial and error period” in which you have some good conversations some of the time, and maybe some not-so-good ones at other times. Don’t keep score, just keep trying.

4. Conversational skills don’t improve over night. It takes time, practice and the ability to learn from your own experiences. Additionally, these skills have virtually no limit to how far they can be developed. Considering your relationships constitute one of the fundamental components of your life, it is worth mastering your interpersonal abilities.

5. Express your emotions. It’s very rare to meet people who are comfortable talking about their emotions and how certain things make them feel, especially with strangers. But, this way of talking has real quality. Don’t just present the facts – you’re not a newspaper. Express your feelings about those facts. Keep in mind that it is at the emotional level that others connect best.

6. Give unique compliments. Anybody can pay a generic compliment to try and get another person’s approval or appreciation. Charismatic individuals, on the other hand, are able to really pay attention to the people they are in a conversation with, to look beyond the facade and thus, pay unique compliments. Do the same, and besides encouraging others, you may even help them find out things about themselves they didn’t know. Some people have trouble giving compliments. Others have trouble receiving compliments graciously. Most of these troubles are caused by upbringing and culture. All of these old habits can be eliminated and replaced with kinder and more generous behavior that fosters better relations between people.

7. Have fun. Don’t make talking to others a “chore,” rather make it an enjoyable way to spend your time and energy.

8. Hold more eye contact. Most Aspies tend to keep eye contact about 2/3 of the time or less when they talk. Change that temptation to look away from the listener. It’s a very good idea to hold eye contact just a bit more than ½ the time. This will convey confidence and interest in interacting with others.

9. Keep your positive energy up. When we interact with others, we exchange not only words and bodily expressions. We also give off - exchange - our vital energy. If our energy is high and vibrant, we lift the conversation. If it's low and sluggish, we sap energy from the encounter.

10. Notice the details. Individuals with good conversation skills tend to (a) notice details that the average person misses, and (b) pull details into the conversation. They may notice and point out an interesting ring on the other person’s hand, a certain foreign accent, or a certain voice tone they use when saying a name. Thus, such people impress others in a very graceful manner.

11. Offer interesting insights. Anybody can talk about the news or express basic opinions. But good conversationalists can frequently tell you things you didn’t know and that you’ll find fascinating. This is why it’s good to have knowledge in certain fields (e.g., psychology, sociology, etc.), and bring such knowledge out at the right moments in a conversation.

12. Show interest in - and be curious about - those you talk with. In conversation, to be curious is a definite plus. Being curious about another person helps to engage us and to validate that person as interesting. On the other hand, if we seem bored by or indifferent to the person, they feel invalidated, as if we are saying "You hold no interest for me. You are not interesting."

13. Smile. Smiling is a powerful tool, try it right now. Let a big smile stretch across your face. It feels good doesn’t it? A smile makes you look and feel friendly and approachable. It keeps the mood warm and disarms people. Not only that – it is contagious.

14. Talk slowly. Typically, good conversationalists don’t rush into a conversation. They take their time when they reflect on something and when they say it out loud. They act as if they have all the time in the world. This makes them appear centered and collected. Model this way of talking, and you will create the same effect.

15. Use the right words. The ability to be a good talker has a lot to do with choosing the precise words to convey your precise feelings or thoughts. Constantly develop your vocabulary and practice communicating as accurately as possible. It will help you develop a way with words and allow you to express yourself more easily.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Counseling Adults with Asperger Syndrome and HFA: Musings from a Therapist

One of the more humbling things for therapists is realizing the cases where they missed the diagnosis of Aspergers (or high functioning autism) in working with their clients, and perhaps came up with something else like Narcissistic Personality Disorder because they didn’t have adequate training at the time.

Although named by Hans Asperger in 1946, Aspergers didn’t get codified in the DSM until 1994. For many years thereafter, it was seen as a childhood disorder and not something to consider when working with troubled grown-ups. But more and more, therapists are finding – and diagnosing – Aspergers adults who fell through the cracks as a child (i.e., they would have been diagnosed earlier if we knew then what we know now).

Fortunately, training in the treatment of adult Aspergers is becoming more prevalent in graduate programs and professional in-service opportunities. The diagnosis has now become part of professional discourse and the popular culture. Also, books and materials are emerging to help the experienced therapist (as well as the novice) become familiar with diagnostic issues and treatment options.

While many therapies are appropriate for Aspergers adults, treatment really depends on the person’s response to the diagnosis (and responses can run the gamut from joy to anger and everything in between). Some people are overjoyed, because finally everything makes sense to them (e.g., why they can't hold a job, tolerate noisy children, stay in a relationship, etc.). They have blamed themselves - or others - all their lives. Now they have a framework in which to understand their weaknesses – and their strengths. For a lot of adult “Aspies,” it's a relief!

Of course, there is no obligation to do anything about an Aspergers diagnosis, and some adults simply stop the diagnostic process and walk away. Conversely, for those individuals who are interested in exploring their Aspergers further, the therapist does a debriefing and exploration focused on what the client feels now that he knows about the condition. The therapist (a) does a diagnostic “life mapping,” (b) explores the life map, (c) talks about how all Aspergers adults are different from one another, and (d) creates a treatment plan (e.g., “You came to therapy for a reason. Where would you like to go next?”).

Some of the issues that are explored in treatment include "quality of life" concerns (e.g., leisure interests, social activities, health, employment, family, etc.). The therapist will look at all the different areas that make up quality of life, see how the client is doing, and where the client wants to make some changes.

In addition to working on personal goals, “family work” is often indicated. For example, there are often rifts that have occurred where siblings are no longer talking. The therapist explores questions like, “What do you want to tell your family?” “How would you like to repair relationships?” Sometimes the family members come in to work on issues together.

Beyond cognitive-behavioral therapy, adults with an Aspergers diagnosis have a number of other treatment options. They can request that their therapist write a report that clearly outlines diagnostic issues, IQ, adaptive behaviors, etc. With that report, the Aspie can often qualify for services provided by state and/or federal agencies. Such services range from cognitive therapy to vocational training, job placement, health insurance, and, in some cases, housing.

Some of the therapies that are useful for children are also helpful for adults. For example, sensory integration therapy can be helpful in alleviating hypersensitivity to sound and light, and social skills therapy (often in the form of life-coaching or job-coaching) can improve job situations, friendships, marriages, etc.

Perhaps most important is a "do it yourself" therapy. Aspergers adults have access to books, support groups, conferences and other resources that provide insight, ideas and information on all aspects of life with Aspergers.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

55 Ways to Beat Depression: Tips for Adults with Aspergers and HFA

Many, if not most, adults with Aspergers (or High Functioning Autism) will experience some significant bouts of depression from time to time. So if that has happened to you – you’re not alone. Depression drains your energy, hope, and drive, making it difficult to do what you need to feel better.

But while overcoming bouts of depression isn’t quick or easy, it’s far from impossible. You can’t beat it through sheer willpower, but you do have some control—even if your depression is severe and stubbornly persistent.

You can make a huge dent in your depression with simple lifestyle changes (e.g., exercising every day, avoiding the urge to isolate, challenging the negative voices in your head, eating healthy food instead of the junk you crave, carving out time for rest and relaxation, etc.). Feeling better takes time, but you can get there if you make positive choices for yourself each day and draw on the support of others.

Recovering from depression requires action. But taking action when you’re depressed is hard. In fact, just thinking about the things you should do to feel better (e.g., going for a walk, spending time with friends, etc.) can be exhausting. It’s the Catch-22 of depression recovery. The things that help the most are the things that are most difficult to do. But there’s a difference between difficult and impossible.

For all you Aspies out there, below are some very important tips for dealing with – and ridding yourself of – depression. Pick one or more (preferably several) of these techniques. Some will work – others won’t. So you can expect a short trial-and-error period until you find the right combination of techniques that work for you.

Let's go...

1. Accompany someone to the movies, a concert, or a small get-together.

2. Aim for 8 hours of sleep. Depression typically involves sleep problems. Whether you’re sleeping too little or too much, your mood suffers. Get on a better sleep schedule by learning healthy sleep habits.

3. Allow yourself to be less than perfect. Many depressed people are perfectionists, holding themselves to impossibly high standards and then beating themselves up when they fail to meet them. Battle this source of self-imposed stress by challenging your negative ways of thinking.

4. Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly.

5. Avoid all-or-nothing thinking: Looking at things in black-or-white categories, with no middle ground (“If I fall short of perfection, I’m a total failure.”)

6. Avoid diminishing the positive: Coming up with reasons why positive events don’t count (“She said she had a good time on our date, but I think she was just being nice.”)

7. Avoid emotional reasoning: Believing that the way you feel reflects reality (“I feel like such a loser. I really am no good!”)

8. Avoid jumping to conclusions: Making negative interpretations without actual evidence. You act like a mind reader (“He must think I’m pathetic.”) or a fortune teller (“I’ll be stuck in this dead end job forever.”)

9. Avoid labeling: Labeling yourself based on mistakes and perceived shortcomings (“I’m a failure; an idiot; a loser.”)

10. Avoid overgeneralization: Generalizing from a single negative experience, expecting it to hold true forever (“I can’t do anything right.”)

11. Avoid 'shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’: Holding yourself to a strict list of what you should and shouldn’t do, and beating yourself up if you don’t live up to your rules.

12. Avoid the mental filter: Ignoring positive events and focusing on the negative. Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.

13. Boost your B vitamins. Deficiencies in B vitamins such as folic acid and B-12 can trigger depression. To get more, take a B-complex vitamin supplement or eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.

14. Call or email an old friend.

15. Challenge negative thinking. Depression puts a negative spin on everything, including the way you see yourself, the situations you encounter, and your expectations for the future. But you can’t break out of this pessimistic mind frame by “just thinking positive.” Happy thoughts or wishful thinking won’t cut it. Rather, the trick is to replace negative thoughts with more balanced thoughts.

16. Confide in a counselor, therapist, or clergy member.

17. Consider taking a chromium supplement. Some depression studies show that chromium picolinate reduces carbohydrate cravings, eases mood swings, and boosts energy. Supplementing with chromium picolinate is especially effective for people who tend to overeat and oversleep when depressed.

18. Cultivate supportive relationships. Getting the support you need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. But the very nature of depression makes it difficult to reach out for help. However, isolation and loneliness make depression even worse, so maintaining your close relationships and social activities are important. The thought of reaching out to even close family members and friends can seem overwhelming. You may feel ashamed, too exhausted to talk, or guilty for neglecting the relationship. Remind yourself that this is the depression talking. You loved ones care about you and want to help.

19. Do something spontaneous.

20. Do things you enjoy (or used to). While you can’t force yourself to have fun or experience pleasure, you can choose to do things that you used to enjoy. Pick up a former hobby or a sport you used to like. Express yourself creatively through music, art, or writing. Go out with friends. Take a day trip to a museum, the mountains, or the ballpark. Push yourself to do things, even when you don’t feel like it. You might be surprised at how much better you feel once you’re out in the world. Even if your depression doesn’t lift immediately, you’ll gradually feel more upbeat and energetic as you make time for fun activities.

21. Don’t skip meals. Going too long between meals can make you feel irritable and tired, so aim to eat something at least every 3-4 hours.

22. Eat a healthy, mood-boosting diet. What you eat has a direct impact on the way you feel. Aim for a balanced diet of protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.

23. Expose yourself to a little sunlight every day. Lack of sunlight can make depression worse. Make sure you’re getting enough. Take a short walk outdoors, have your coffee outside, enjoy an al fresco meal, people-watch on a park bench, or sit out in the garden.

24. Focus on complex carbohydrates. Foods such as baked potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain breads, and bananas can boost serotonin levels without a crash.

25. Get regular exercise. When you’re depressed, exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing. But exercise is a powerful tool for dealing with depression. In fact, studies show that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication at increasing energy levels and decreasing feelings of fatigue. Scientists haven’t figured out exactly why exercise is such a potent antidepressant, but evidence suggests that physical activity triggers new cell growth in the brain, increases mood-enhancing neurotransmitters and endorphins, reduces stress, and relieves muscle tension—all things that can have a positive effect on depression.

26. Go for a walk with a workout buddy.

27. Have lunch or coffee with a friend.

28. Help someone else by volunteering.

29. Join a support group for depression. Being with others who are dealing with depression can go a long way in reducing your sense of isolation. You can also encourage each other, give and receive advice on how to cope, and share your experiences.

30. Keep a “negative thought log." Whenever you experience a negative thought, jot down the thought and what triggered it in a notebook. Review your log when you’re in a good mood. Consider if the negativity was truly warranted. Ask yourself if there’s another way to view the situation. For example, let’s say your boyfriend was short with you and you automatically assumed that the relationship was in trouble. But maybe he’s just having a bad day.

31. Keep stress in check. Not only does stress prolong and worsen depression, but it can also trigger it. Figure out all the things in your life that are stressing you out. Examples include: work overload, unsupportive relationships, taking on too much, or health problems. Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can make a plan to avoid them or minimize their impact.

32. Know when to get additional help. If you find your depression getting worse and worse, seek professional help. Needing additional help doesn’t mean you’re weak. Sometimes the negative thinking in depression can make you feel like you’re a lost cause, but depression can be treated and you can feel better! Don’t forget about these self-help tips, though. Even if you’re receiving professional help, these tips can be part of your treatment plan, speeding your recovery and preventing depression from returning.

33. List what you like about yourself.

34. Listen to music.

35. Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club.

36. Minimize sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or french fries. But these “feel-good” foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy.

37. Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in stabilizing mood. Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA can give your mood a big boost. The best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and some cold water fish oil supplements. Canned albacore tuna and lake trout can also be good sources, depending on how the fish were raised and processed.

38. Pets can make you happier and healthier. While nothing can replace the human connection, pets can bring joy and companionship into your life and help you feel less isolated. Caring for a pet can also get you outside of yourself and you a sense of being needed—both powerful antidotes to depression. And the research backs it up. Studies show that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression or get overwhelmed by stress.

39. Practice relaxation techniques. A daily relaxation practice can help relieve symptoms of depression, reduce stress, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.

40. Read a good book.

41. Schedule a weekly dinner date with someone special.

42. Socialize with positive people. Notice how people who always look on the bright side deal with challenges, even minor ones, like not being able to find a parking space. Then consider how you would react in the same situation. Even if you have to pretend, try to adopt their optimism and persistence in the face of difficulty.

43. Spend some time in nature.

44. Start small and stay focused. The key to depression recovery is to start with a few small goals and slowly build from there. Draw upon whatever resources you have. You may not have much energy, but you probably have enough to take a short walk around the block or pick up the phone to call a loved one. Take things one day at a time and reward yourself for each accomplishment. The steps may seem small, but they’ll quickly add up. And for all the energy you put in to your depression recovery, you’ll get back much more in return.

45. Take a long, hot bath.

46. Take care of a few small tasks.

47. Take care of yourself. In order to overcome depression, you have to take care of yourself. This includes following a healthy lifestyle, learning to manage stress, setting limits on what you’re able to do, adopting healthy habits, and scheduling fun activities into your day.

48. Talk to one person about your feelings.

49. Think outside yourself. Ask yourself if you’d say what you’re thinking about yourself to someone else. If not, stop being so hard on yourself. Think about less harsh statements that offer more realistic descriptions.

50. Try to keep up with social activities even if you don’t feel like it. When you’re depressed, it feels more comfortable to retreat into your shell. But being around other people will make you feel less depressed.

51. Turn to trusted friends and family members. Share what you’re going through with the people you love and trust. Ask for the help and support you need. You may have retreated from your most treasured relationships, but they can get you through this tough time.

52. Watch a funny movie or TV show.

53. Write in your journal.

54. Pray (if you’re a spiritual person) for guidance, peace, joy and prosperity.

55. Be patient with yourself as you try these “depression-busting” techniques. Experiment. Dump the ones that don't work. Keep the ones that do!

Good Luck!

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Crucial Interventions for Adults with Asperger's and HFA

Each person with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) is unique, so interventions need to be individualized. Grown-ups come to this awareness at different ages and stages of their lives, which can influence the approaches they choose.

Be creative in the combination of interventions you use, and simplify your life.

Here are some general ideas regarding interventions for adults with AS and HFA:

1. A Cognitive-Behavioral approach to therapy is strongly indicated.

2. A slower-paced environment will likely be more tolerable and allow for a greater sense of comfort and competence.

3. A therapist with an awareness of AS and HFA (or interest in learning about it with you) is essential.

4. A variety of therapies can be helpful to adults with AS and HFA, depending on the individual.

5. Advocate for environmental changes at work or home. If you are more comfortable, the people around you will be as well.

6. Teach others about the "disorder" (actually, I like to think of it as simply "a different way of thinking"). Grown-ups with AS and HFA are pioneers in educating others in their families, workplaces and communities.

7. Attend a group where social skills are explicitly taught.

8. Know your weakness, and seek professional “life coaching” to work on those areas.

9. Communicate with those around you about your need for periodic “down-time” (i.e., time alone to recharge your social battery), but do not use it as an excuse to avoid participation in family or other activities.

10. Contact Career One-Stop Centers (federally funded centers designed to help people learn new, marketable skills, identify jobs and prepare for interviewing).

11. Contact the vocational rehabilitation agency in your state. With an official diagnosis of AS or HFA, you may be entitled to service.

12. Disclose your disorder to others strategically. Only share the information that is required for that time and place, and consult with a trusted person to determine what to disclose if you’re unsure.

13. Heightened sensory sensitivities may make particular environments unpleasant or intolerable. Thus, change lighting, decrease noise, and wear comfortable clothing.

14. Hire people to do the things you’re not good at, which may include, but not limited to: (a) money management, (b) housework, and (c) organization and bookkeeping.

15. Join Social Groups with other AS and HFA adults. This decreases isolation, and with practice, increases comfort with other people -- and may improve social skills.

16. Know what AS and HFA is in general and how it affects you specifically.

17. Know your areas of difficulty.

18. Know your strengths and build on them.

19. Listen to trusted family or friends.

20. Medication can be helpful in decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety that often accompany AS and HFA.

21. Meet others with AS and HFA, listen to and support one another.

22. People with AS and HFA tend to connect most comfortably around shared interests (small talk is less essential in interest-based groups).

23. Physical and emotional comfort are essential to individuals with AS and HFA.

24. Psychodynamic psychotherapy is generally less helpful.

25. Read about AS and HFA from a variety of perspectives.

26. Sensory and social demands of daily life make more down-time essential for adults with AS and HFA.

27. Stop the blame game  – blaming yourself or others is common and not helpful.

28. Strengthen your areas of difficulty or minimize their presence.

29. Work with a Life Coach that will assist with (a) concrete skills-building and goal direction, (b) independent living skills, (c) employment-related skills, and (d) social skills.

30. Be patient with yourself as you experiment with different coping strategies.

Best Comment:

Frankly, we have been on the verge of divorce since we got married, but we have five kids in the house who have already been through a divorce and neither of us wants to put them through any more trauma. What led us to seek therapy almost immediately after the wedding, was my husband's EXTREME jealous, possessive and controlling behavior throughout the relationship. After we got married it had bordered on emotional abuse. We had been in therapy with various different counselors, (and still are) but no one seems to be an Asperger's expert around here. Getting the diagnosis was both an AH-HA! moment and also devastating, in that this is a permanent and incurable condition.

So much of what I have read online rings true with me, I am horribly lonely and feel like we are roommates but have no "connection" for lack of a better word....but the worst part, that makes me feel it is not safe to drop my guard and allow him into my heart, is the way he just explodes unpredictably. As is typical with AS, he is prone to meltdowns over the smallest things (which always seem to be related to him deciding some action of mine- shaving my legs, getting a text, being five minutes "late", telling my kids they can have a friend over) means that I either "don't prioritize him' or "am trying to attract another man". Neither of which is true, he just can't understand normal behaviors or handle any changes in (his) plans. He will take a normal incident, and go over it and over it in his head until it is just completely twisted into some horrible offense.

I walk on eggshells all the time waiting for him to turn something tiny into something that will dominate his thinking for weeks on end. I am tired of being told not to "push his buttons" and being afraid of what is going to happen, what he will say, what the next fight will be. A chance encounter I have with a male acquaintance can turn into an ongoing interrogation for days or weeks. He asks me if I "ran into anyone" or "talked to anyone" every day, and if I did or do, and fail to tell him EVERY DETAIL of what was said then I am "hiding" things, etc, but if I do tell him, he twists it into something it wasn't, makes accusations, ("why was he SO happy to see you!? why didn't you introduce me/ talk about me, etc") and so forth.... I dread social situations and even school events with my kids because I can't control other people's behaviors. I don't know what someone may say or do that is going to set him off or what he will find to be angry about. I even quit my previous office job that I loved in order to work with him because he was so angry and upset about my job every day. He was bullied pretty severely as a child and always thinks that other men are "playing games", "Bullying him" and are looking to "stir up drama" and that it's therefore his prerogative to respond in an overtly aggressive, nasty manner to these perceived threats, which obviously causes many problems. He also believes that all women are sexually interested in him and that all men are sexually interested in me. (no matter how unlikely or unrealistic that may be)

Some things have gotten better since his diagnosis (he no longer tries to inspect my clothing for any hint of attractiveness/ sexiness, or forbid high heels, for example, and he makes a real effort to buy me gifts, initiate affection, and communicate better.) He now accepts that there are things he simply does not understand; but other things are not. He thinks in marriage it's his right to expect an idealized, fantasy-type sexual relationship where I passionately desire intimacy with him every day; he reads meanings that aren't there into every facial expression or action I take (not standing close enough to him means I "don't love him"; not saying "bless you" when he sneezes is "callous" and so forth); and any desire I express for this slightest bit of privacy means I have something to hide, and therefore he should be suspicious about it.

I am 40 years old. If there is no help for this I would like to at least KNOW, I am exhausted from trying to please my husband and never, ever succeeding. I am absolutely desperate and broken. I can't even tell my husband any of this. I am actually terrified to even send this email and I have been sitting here debating what he would do if he knew I sent it....I am pretty sure if I let him read this email he would just get stuck on the first paragraph, find some example that isn't "strictly what happened"...we would argue over my use of examples, and he would be livid that I "reached out to another MAN", then it would turn into this huge dramatic fight about how much I "hate him" . He would never make it to the big picture at all, see that I am looking for a way to bring us closer, or see how hurt I am. He is not violent so I am not afraid for my safety.

Understanding Your Asperger's Employee: Tips for Managers and Supervisors

"I want to better understand one of my employees who has Asperger Syndrome. He is a valued member of our company, but without going into detail here, we're currently having some issues that will need to be resolved. Let's just say that the relationship he has with some of the other coworkers is conflicted. Any tips for providing the best working environment for this gentleman?"

Due to misunderstanding their behavior, adults with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) can be seen as selfish, egoistic, cold, ridged or uncaring by their co-workers. This kind of labeling is based on ignorance (i.e., lack of information) and has nothing to do with behaving inappropriately on purpose.

HFA adults are neurologically less able to see things from the other person’s point of view. They are frequently told by their peers (or partners) that their actions or remarks are considered painful or rude, which often comes as a shock to them since they were never aware of this in the first place.

Nonetheless, many – if not most – HFA adults are able to work in mainstream jobs successfully. Their focus and knowledge on specific topics - as well as their good eye for detail - can help them succeed in their career field. In pursuit of their preoccupations, HFA adults can develop sophisticated reasoning and an almost obsessive focus on their subject of interest, turning them into specialists in their line of work. One (of many) common career option in HFA adults is engineering since they can be fascinated with technology.

In any event, HFA adults should focus their energy on their strengths rather than on their weaknesses. They should simply do what they are good at – and organize the rest!

There are some work-related issues that will not be supportive of the Aspergers or HFA employee. These are listed below:
  • Absence of visualized work plan’s or schedules
  • Appointments that are not kept
  • Attending meetings
  • Authority figures that push them around
  • Co-workers need for small talk
  • Customers that will keep changing their order
  • Irresponsible behavior of the boss or co-workers
  • Making deadlines while depending on others to contribute to the work
  • Members of the team breaking rules and regulations
  • Obligation to interact with co-workers
  • Obligation to plan their work
  • Sharing a room with co-workers who keep talking to each other or on the phone
  • Sudden changes in plans of the company
  • The lack of punctuality in their boss or co-workers
  • The obligation to put your thoughts and ideas into a written report
  • The way colleagues or their boss do not see the important details
  • Unannounced changes in company policy
  • Working in an office with bright lights, background music, or phones that keep ringing
  • Working together as a team

So your tip is this: As much as possible, try to accommodate your Aspergers employee by eliminating or reducing some of the non-supportive scenarios listed above. With a little help and understanding, HFA adults can lead a fulfilling life, professionally as well as personally.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

A Wife's Letter to Her Husband with Asperger's

My T.D.,

I love you. You are unlike anybody I’ve ever met. I want to continue to be a part of your life, and I want you to continue to be a part of mine. I do not want our marriage to end. I want us to raise our children together and be a family. Most of all, I want us to love each other.

Just like the song that played at our wedding, “When I said I do, I meant that I will, ‘til the end of all time…”. But then day to day life played out and we had one disconnect after another. And as more major life events happened, we experienced more and more frustration with each other. I became annoyed when you did not do things for me that I assumed all good husbands do for their wives, like give control of decorating the house over to me, offer me massages, give me gifts on special occasions, or do anything romantic. But, I figured you’re a guy and guys don’t always know to do those things. So instead of expecting things or even dropping hints, I told you the things I liked and what I wanted you to do. Then I became angry and resentful when you did not do them. It seemed the more I asked of you, the less I got. Many times I could not believe how you just didn’t get it – did not understand at all what I wanted and needed, and did not recognize the sacrifices I made for you. I did not think so then, but now, I believe it is very likely you felt the same way towards me.

Then there were your quirks – your insisting things be done a certain way or placed in a certain location, your aversion to any new or different smell, your avoidance of social situations and loud noises. I never saw anyone use earplugs in church or wear sunglasses inside. I know you did not mean for it to be, but a lot of what you did came off as rude, especially where it concerned my family. And then, it started to affect me directly. It annoyed me that you put off redoing the nursery for a whole year after Nina was born. You had a meltdown when I put together the entertainment system while you were away and it was not set up the way you liked it, and another fit when Mom and Gayle rearranged our bedroom furniture. Then you gave me the silent treatment, only talking to me to give me instruction and criticism. It put me under so much stress that I could not function on a daily basis to take care of our children. I began to lose control of my emotions and my temper. I had tolerated the control and abuse for as long as I could, and I felt myself beginning to snap. I felt stifled, suffocated. I had to get out, away from you, to be able to breathe again.

And I did. I left and spent some time in Brackett with friends and family. I have an entire support group here and they have helped me take care of the kids and have given me encouragement, and most importantly, time to do things for me. As a result, I can think much more clearly now. And though I hated the situation I was in, I still love you. I have done a lot of thinking, praying, and reflecting. As I muddled through memories, both good and bad, I just could not understand how you could be so awesome, such an amazing, loving, enthusiastic person in one moment – like when you bought Mom a car, when you patiently helped Kristi prepare for the baby shower when I was pregnant with Nina, how you worked so hard on Sam’s car and drove her north for a camp she had to go to, when you changed my brother’s oil for him, when you went with my family to Nacogdoches for Christmas and did so much for my mom and siblings – but then you can at the same time make comments about where they park their cars, move things around, or even how they help clean up around the house. Those actions seemed so contradictory; I couldn’t understand how one person could act in two totally different ways. And I couldn’t understand how you could love me so much and say I was the answer to your prayers and yet constantly critique everything I do and show no interest in my interests. None of it made any sense to me.

So much more negative than positive was going on when I left that I thought you just didn’t love me anymore – you just were using me to get one your life goals, a bunch of kids. I felt I had no value to you as person. But I knew from earnest things you would say about our future plans together, like building our house, and things you wanted to do as a family, like travel the country, that you really did want to experience things with me and share a life together. So you couldn’t have meant to be callous and abusive – but then if you still really cared about me, why would you act that way? If you really still loved me, then what was the explanation for your behavior?

You don’t know why you behave the way you do. I realize that now. I know you are truly sorry for all the things you did to hurt me. And I know you honestly did not intend to. Usually you had no idea you were doing anything wrong, or that I had any other expectations for how you should act. At first I blamed you for not knowing what to do for me. I accused you on the phone of never paying attention, and of not caring. And I blamed your parents for not teaching you better social etiquette and how to treat women. But blaming people doesn’t solve anything, and it does not explain the contradictory behavior, nor the fact that so much of it was not intentional. I felt so confused trying to figure out what went wrong. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong – you told me so all the time. And I knew you didn’t mean to do anything wrong – and it wasn’t really true that you didn’t pay attention. You always paid attention to certain details, like making sure I was drinking enough water. So what in the world was going on?

I knew this was bigger than me. And how I proceeded from that point was too important to base it only on what I wanted. At that point I believed I could never have what I really wanted anyway – a thriving family of successful individuals who support each other, where the mother and father stay together and the children grow up happy - so whatever I chose, to leave you for good, or to come back, I would be unhappy. I didn’t want to raise our daughters without you. I didn’t want to be alone. But I couldn’t thrive and be happy the way we were going. I knew that unhappiness was not in your plans either; you had wanted us to work, too. I just couldn’t understand you. So I turned the whole thing over to God.

I didn’t ask why. I just prayed that God’s will be done. I sat in mass with the twins (your mom had Nina) one Sunday morning and prayed that God would make His will known to me. I told Him I would be completely obedient in whatever He wanted me to do. During the Eucharist, I felt Him very clearly ask me “Are you sure about that?” I thought for a moment about how happy I had been since I left – the help with the kids, the support and encouragement I received from my friends and family, the prospects and freedom I had to pursue my interests in Brackett, and never having to deal with these issues again. But then I decided God knows better than I do. He knows me – and you – better than we do. He knows what would truly make me happy. So I said, “Yes, whatever you want me to do. I don’t want to make this call myself. I can’t screw this up.” His response came “Even if that means staying with T.D.?”  “Yes, even if you want me to stay. I will do WHATEVER you want me to.” And that was all. He left me with that thought.

After last weekend, I received an explanation for our situation. It was simple, and it fit so well.

You are different. I have always said I never knew anyone else like you. You are in a category all your own, one in a million. Well, now, it seems that actual figure is more like one in three hundred.

I discovered that there are other people who have your same set of traits: an intense passion and focus for one special interest, paired with an odd list of idiosyncrasies and seemingly rude tendencies. Good news for you, since you always said you wished there were more people who thought like you. There are. And they are affectionately known as “Aspies”, because they have something called Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a very mild form of autism. It has a spectrum with varying degrees of severity. Those who are less affected by it are often just seen as weird or rude. They often go undiagnosed or are not diagnosed until much later in life, after their marriages, careers, and other interpersonal relationships have been through many hard times. Aspies have average or above average intelligence. Many have PhD’s. They are brilliant, passionate people with clear focus and unique insight into the world around them. They don’t play mind games, don’t lie, and don’t hold back what they think or feel. But they have trouble expressing their emotions and picking up on others’ emotions. Also, they like to feel in control of their environment, and as a result they have an aversion to change.

Things that others may not even notice drive them completely nuts. Most Aspies don’t have a clue and don’t care about what is popular or in style. So they often do not put much effort into their wardrobe, hair or makeup. Appearance is not as important to them, and while that can be a disadvantage in certain situations, the flip side is, they see past all that and do not judge people the way non-Aspies, or those who they call “neuro-typical”, do. Not all Aspies are autistic in the way most people think of autism. They do not all look and act like Rain Man. They just have trouble relating to other people. Sadly, for those Aspies who get married, 80% of them end up divorced.

T.D. I know you. I know a lot of things about you most people don’t. And as I have read and researched Asperger’s over the past week, it was as if everything I read about it was written about you. I believe you have Apserger’s.

From our very first interaction, I knew that you were different. You were in Brackett for the weekend and had come to the youth Bible study. I was a little surprised to see a college guy at a high school youth group, but then your brother was there, and I thought you were cute, even though you were a little overly competitive at bucket-ball. As luck would have it (or maybe you did it on purpose ), you were in my small group. I was a little annoyed that you were rustling through some papers and flipping through your bible while I was trying to facilitate group discussion. I thought you weren’t paying attention. But when I looked to see what you were doing, I was pleasantly surprised and greatly flattered to see that you were copying quotes and verses I had written in the back of my Bible. That got my attention. I thought “this guy is worth getting to know”.

We started dating, and I was attracted to your enthusiasm and your focus. You had a very clear idea of what you wanted in life – a good wife, a house full of kids, and the freedom to pursue your passion for renovating houses. You had this surety about you that was more than just confidence in yourself - it was this faith that things would work out in your favor, even if you didn’t know exactly how. You had this excitement about life that was just contagious, and I found that very attractive. It seemed to me that for you, success was inevitable, and that made me want to be a part of your life.

You never try to hide who you are, and over the last seven years, I have learned a lot about you and we have been through a lot together. I loved the anniversary card you sent me saying that you’d do it all again, the good times and the hard times. And I’m not mad you didn’t know to get a card or anything else until I said something. I’m not mad you didn’t get me presents on certain occasions, or didn’t go to Kristi’s wedding with me, or lots of other things I thought you should have known to do. I forgive you for those things and for all the things we have talked about and that you have written letters about. I know you are sorry for all the ways you hurt me, and I realize now, that you honestly did not know what you were supposed to do in many of those situations.

I understand now. You think differently. We are physically wired to view the world in different ways. And that will make our marriage a challenge. But with God all things are possible. And it will be hard, but with His help, I can do it. I am up for the challenge.

I like that you are different. You are so much more passionate and aware than the average person. You see things others don’t. More importantly, you see past things that aren’t as important to the bigger picture. I realize now that your idiosyncrasies are not something you can change, and that your needs are hard to express in language that a neuro-typical like me would understand. But now that we have this explanation of why we just keep missing each other on so many things, we can learn how to work through our differences.

Asperger’s is a lifelong condition. There are no drugs or any kind of treatment. There are only certain strategies we can use to cope with having been wired differently. These strategies are worth pursuing if we plan to be in the 20% of undivorced Aspie marriages. I have found a plethora of resources on Aspie relationships, especially marriages. I ordered one book on Amazon and downloaded and read another e-book that was very helpful. I used many of the recommendations for conversation found in the book when I spoke with you about taking Nina this past week. It was hard for me to do, because I had to try very hard to suppress my natural reactions to what you said. But I was able to do it with the understanding that you understand things differently. And though it was hard, the conversation was productive and in the end, positive.

I hated that I had to spell out for you just how anxious I get about my babies and the terrible thoughts I struggle with concerning their safety. That is an issue I try hard to hide, and I do not like discussing it, because I can never do it without crying. I just see all the images I did not ask to pop into my head the first time come rushing back to me, so clearly and so horribly terrifying. But that conversation made think about it and consider that maybe that sort of anxiety is not normal, and I may need to get help dealing with it.

I knew our marriage, and this situation was bigger than I thought; I just didn’t realize how much bigger. When I first considered the possibility that you had Asperger’s, I was mad at God for the first time in my life. I had never been angry with Him before, but I just couldn’t understand why He would make some people in such a way that they had so much trouble understanding other people, especially since we were all created for relationship – to love and to be loved, by God and by each other. I had felt so enlightened, as though I had discovered some great truth, when I started reading about Theology of the Body and realized that the context of the Bible and of God’s plan for mankind was covenant, the highest form of relationship, and that our interpersonal relationships are designed to tie into his greater plan. That’s why there is so much history in the Bible. Who did what with whom matters. What we do in our life to affect the lives of others matters. How could God create people for relationship, and then give some of them an emotional disability that handicaps their relationships?

But then I realized I was looking at this from my own limited perspective. And God is limitless. He is so great and His mystery encompasses depths we cannot fathom. He created both neuro-typicals and Aspies for the same reason he created both men and women. He wants us to be different. He is not one, easily defined being that our mind can put in a box. In His infinite wisdom, He makes plans outside of time and conducts our history to bring about his glory and our redemption. He wants us to understand things in different ways so that we can better understand Him. He wants us to learn to think outside ourselves. It was then I realized that you having Asperger’s is not what has made things harder for us, but both of us not being able to understand each other is what has made things harder for us. And though we have both tried to understand each other, we have failed. I found my own limitations, and beyond them, I found God.

So now, I have given my will completely over to God. You do the same. You told me you would do WHATEVER it takes to make our marriage work. I will, too. Now let’s find out what that is. The first thing we need to do is go see a specialist, someone who is more familiar with Asperger’s Syndrome, and get a diagnosis. I believe you have Asperger’s, and if you do, that will greatly change our approach to marriage counseling. I want us both to know for certain that is the case so that we can get recommendations on the best way to build OUR marriage (ours is not typical, and so that’s why typical counseling has fallen short) and do what we need to do to make it easier to love and understand each other.

I love you.

Your wife,


==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

How do you tell someone that they may have High-Functioning Autism?

Many High-Functioning Autism (HFA) grown-ups happen to read, hear some information, or be told by a family member or friend about HFA. Some may believe that the information matches their history and their current situation, and as a result, may self-diagnose. Others are not so welcoming of the diagnosis. Sometimes family members suspect that their adult child, spouse or sibling has HFA and wonder how to tell them about it.

Professionals, even some who have had long-term relationships with their clients, may realize for the first time that the traits their client is exhibiting are best described by HFA. The professional may be uncertain of the diagnosis, however, if HFA is outside his or her area of expertise. After the question of HFA is initially raised, many grown-ups and their family members wonder, “Should I pursue an 'official diagnosis'?”

For some individuals, doing their own research through books, on the Internet and through support and information organizations, provides enough answers and the best explanation yet of challenges that one has faced and strengths that one possesses. Others want the corroboration of a professional.

A diagnosis is needed to request reasonable accommodations for employment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Official diagnosis is necessary if one wants to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

In addition to those with an MD or PhD, any professional with the credentials and expertise to diagnose any other condition may make a diagnosis of HFA. Such professionals may be social workers (MSW), master’s level psychologists (MA), or other mental health professionals.

Many individuals pursue neuropsychological testing with a neuropsychologist (PhD) or a psychiatrist (MD). As a result of this testing, it may be determined that the individual has HFA, something related to HFA, or something different. This will give a fairly full picture of strengths and challenges and of how one’s brain processes information.

Neuropsychological testing is not required to get an “official diagnosis”. To apply for SSI there must be written documentation in the record from an M.D. or PhD. that there is some type of a psychological issue (not necessarily HFA). There is no requirement of psych testing. The other issues regarding inability to work may be best described by other clinicians.

It is never too late for an individual to increase self-awareness in order to capitalize on strengths and work around areas of challenge. Knowing about HFA gives the individual an explanation, not an excuse, for why his or her life has taken the twists and turns that it has. What one does with this information at the age of 20, 50 or 70 may differ, but it is still very important information to have.

In early adulthood, one may use the information to plot a course through college:
  • Take classes part time (to account for executive functioning/organizational challenges)
  • Request reasonable accommodations at school or at work
  • Possibly live at home (to minimize the number of changes all at once)
  • Plot a career that matches interests and abilities
  • Join interest-based groups (so that socializing has a purpose)
  • A single room to decrease social and sensory demands and to have a safe haven

In middle adulthood, one may use the information to:
  • Ask for accommodations at work, or pursue work that is more fitting
  • Do a life review, understand why careers and relationships have or have not been successful
  • Improve on relationships or pursue better matches

In late adulthood, one may use the information to:
  • Renew and/or repair relationships affected by HFA
  • If possible, customize one's environment to be comfortable and accommodating to the strengths and challenges of HFA
  • Do a life review

Regardless of age, one may use the information to:
  • Work differently with helping professionals (with an emphasis on concrete coaching help, building of life skills vs. insight-oriented therapy)
  • Find people who share similar interests
  • Find other people with HFA with whom to compare notes (in-person or online)
  • Consider disclosure to family, friends, co-workers

If you know someone who you think has HFA, should you tell? YES! It is better to know than not to know. If you have HFA and don’t know, it affects you anyway; if you do know, you may be able to minimize the negative impact and leverage the positive. Without the knowledge that one has HFA, one often fills that void with other, more damaging explanations such as failure, weird, disappointment, not living up to one’s potential, etc…

How do I tell an adult that they may have HFA? 

Lead with strengths! Most people with HFA have significant areas of strength (even if this has not been translatable into tangible success). Bring up areas of strength with the person with suspected HFA. Next, point out the areas in which they are struggling. Then, suggest to them that there is a name for that confusing combination of strengths and challenges, and it may be HFA.

Common responses to this information may include:

TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE: “If that’s me, it’s you, too!” 

RELIEF: “I’ve always known there was something different about me!”

DENIAL: “I don’t have that.”

ANGER: “How come no one ever told me before? I’ve lost so much time and opportunity not knowing!”

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Tips for the Socially-Awkward Individual with Aspergers

Are you unsociable? I don’t mean in the sense that you are “criminal-minded” and out to get people or do them harm. I mean do you feel awkward in many social situations, and as a result, attempt to avoid many interpersonal encounters. If you answered yes, you’ve got plenty of company -- almost half of all adults with Aspergers (High Functioning Autism) consider themselves "unsociable."

Unsociability (to coin the term) in Aspergers adults, teens, and children is a form of excessive self-focus (i.e., a preoccupation with your thoughts, feelings and physical reactions). When I talk about unsociability, I am talking about three characteristics that involve a sense of self:
  1. excessive negative self-evaluation
  2. excessive negative self-preoccupation
  3. excessive self-consciousness

Although many Aspies of all ages experience unsociability, the effects of it -- from mild social awkwardness to totally inhibiting social phobia -- can have a severe impact on real-life situations (e.g., finding and advancing in a job, developing close personal relationships, etc.). Unsociable Aspies experience difficulty meeting people, initiating and maintaining conversations, deepening intimacy, interacting in small groups and in authority situations, and with asserting themselves.

Aspies who live with ongoing unsociability don't take advantage of social situations, date less, are less expressive verbally and non-verbally, and show less interest in other people than those who are more sociable. As a result, unsociable Aspies may find difficulty asserting themselves in the workplace and in interpersonal interactions.

Unsociability tends to manifest itself during periods of change, which came in many forms as the child with Aspergers was growing up. Having problems in school, with bullies, with parents, with teachers and peers – it’s during these periods of transition that unsociability kicks-in as a coping mechanism for the young Aspie as he attempts to protect himself. There are almost as many different stories about why a young person with Aspergers became unsociable as there are Aspies.

Although unsociability varies from person to person, there are commonalties that help define how unsociability works:

1. Unsociable individuals avoid situations that involve interaction with others, particularly strangers or authority figures (called "approach avoidance"). Unsociable Aspies truly want to be social, but for some reason, they feel like they can’t. And that’s the typical pain of unsociability -- when they want something they can’t have.

2. Unsociable Aspies tend to be slow to warm up in social situations. They may go to an event and stay 10 minutes, then leave. They haven’t given themselves enough time to warm up -- they need to stay longer. One mistake unsociable Aspies make is, if a party starts at 8 p.m., they’ll go at 9 p.m. But showing up late actually works to their disadvantage. They should show up early, maybe at 7:30 p.m., get used to the surroundings, and greet people one-on-one as they arrive, so by 9 p.m., they are comfortable.

3. Unsociable Aspies have what I call a “small comfort zone.” These Aspies have friends and a social network – but it’s a small circle. They tend to do the same things with the same people again and again, because they feel at ease in a situation they know. As a result, they won’t try new situations, or they restrict their contacts. They might be at a social function and see someone new they’d like to talk to, but they won’t step-out of their comfort zone. They truly want to expand their comfort zone, but they feel they can’t, so they’re stuck.

Statistics also show that unsociable Aspies tend to have more trouble than sociable ones when it comes to advancing in a career. Under-employment, being stuck in a job that requires less skill or training than you possess, uneasy work relationships, and slower advancement mark the careers of unsociable Aspies. Research shows that the more unsociable a person is, the less prestigious her last job title tends to be. Almost every lucrative career requires solid communication skills, an assertive personality, and an astute sense of office politics.

Research differentiates between unsociability and introversion, although they are related. Introverts prefer solitary to social activities, but do not fear social encounters like unsociable people do. If you see two people standing by a wall at a party, the introvert is there because he wants to be. The unsociable person is there because he feels like he has to be. In fact, some unsociable Aspies often attempt to force themselves to be extroverted. The problem with this strategy is it’s incomplete. Once an unsociable person is at the party or event, he thinks that’s all he has to do. But that’s just the first step. Unsociable Aspies have trouble taking the next step -- approaching people and making conversation.

One way to deal with this is to master the art of “small talk.” Unsociable Aspies say, once they’re in a conversation, they’re OK. The problem is initiating it. So, the Aspie would do well to learn “small talk.”

The by-products of social anxiety can consist of depression, self-medication (often with alcohol), family distress, and an inability to compete in our stressful, competitive society characterized by poor performance and a lack of productivity. Although medications exist to help Aspies deal with anxiety and depression, there is no magic pill for social awkwardness.

It is important to recognize that unsociability is a consequence of inadequate social skills, which are not improved just by taking a pill. The problem is that medications don’t always work, because people use them incompletely. Sure, they may reduce your anxiety, but just because you’re calm doesn’t mean you’re ready to go to the next step. So, some Aspies take a Valium, for example, and go to social functions in a relaxed state, but they still don’t know what to do.

Unsociability may also become a self-handicapping strategy -- a reason or excuse for anticipated social failure that, over time, becomes a crutch. For example, the individual may say to herself, “I just can’t do it.”

There is a misperception of unsociable Aspies. People tend to think of unsociability as a negative trait, but that’s because they don’t understand it. I talk about becoming successfully unsociable. It involves realizing that there’s nothing wrong with you. Most people don’t care about you, they care about themselves. It’s very liberating when you realize this.

Being unsociable does not mean your professional and personal achievements are limited. Unsociable Aspies can succeed on the job as well as initiate and maintain close relationships. The key to unsociability is truly in the heart. Instead of being self-conscious, be other-focused -- be concerned with other people. When you start to show that you’re approachable, it makes it easier for people to approach you. Get involved with the lives of other people, and in doing so, they will help themselves, too.

Unsociability is not a disease – and you were NOT born unsociable. You “learned” how to be unsociable as a way to deal with the stress that came with “mind-blindness.” Mind-blindness can be described as an inability to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of another human. It is not necessarily caused by an inability to imagine an answer, but is often due to not being able to gather enough information to work-out which of the many possible answers is correct. However, practicing “the art of showing (or faking, as the case may be) interest in others” can be a powerful force in moving the Aspergers individual to “sociability.”

==> Relationship Skills for Adults Affected by Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

When Your Partner with Asperger's Drives You Crazy!

You have a friend or love with High Functioning Autism (Asperger's), and you don't understand him or her, so it's making you crazy? It doesn't have to be that way. Remembering a few things will enable you both to have a very rewarding relationship:

1. Accept that people with HFA are intelligent, and may have extraordinary skills that you may or may not understand, but very possibly lack what will seem to you to be common sense. The best way this was described to me one day was this way: “HFA is one of the 'unkind' disorders. Most individuals can't understand how an HFA adult can solve very complex problems, but doesn't know to get out of the rain.”

What this means in your relationship is that the partner you care for is intelligent enough to come up with solutions, even complex ones. Making things simple is the harder part. Accept that if he/she says ''I need help with ___'', that is what he/she needs help with, even if it doesn't seem possible. The other side of the coin is if your partner says ''I am capable of ___'', it is a good idea to trust that. A diagnostic measure of HFA is that these individuals must be of at LEAST average intelligence. As such, the man or women you care about is more likely to know his or her limitations.

2. Accept that HFA people need love and understanding. Individuals with HFA (despite what has been widely written) do have emotions. In fact, more often they are rich with emotion, not devoid of it. More modern literature is starting to reflect this more accurate position. The difference is that the response is different in them. Individuals with HFA are often very lonely and can become depressed as a result of feeling out of place in the world.

3. Accept that you and your partner don't think alike. This means that you are likely to misunderstand each other. Knowing this will enable you to do three things:
  • When he/she says or does something that seems hurtful, you can trust that it may not have been intended the way you thought, even if it seems very clear to you.
  • When you say/do something that your partner takes offense at, you can trust that he/she is misunderstanding you honestly and not trying to be critical.
  • When family members, co-workers or friends seem to be having a ''group opinion'' in the negative about your partner, you have the insight to be able to say, ''It may appear to be that way, but I think it's a big misunderstanding''.

4. Accept that you don't experience life the same way as your HFA partner, so his/her obstacles, interests, complaints, frustrations are likely to seem illogical to you and those around you. There are many issues which contribute to the way HFA people view the world around them. There are communication issues, stigma, sensory, stereotypical interests, unique responses to social issues and stressors ...many more things than you may be able to imagine. If you look at it as if they are dodging paintballs all day long every day (paintballs which are invisible to you), it may make a little more sense that they move the way they do, talk the way they do, and make the decisions they do.

5. Adjust your non-verbal messages. If your HFA partner seems to be misunderstanding things (e.g., your tone of voice, body language, pauses, breaks in communication, expressions, etc.), you can educate him/her to understand your messages in a non-threatening way. 

With regard to body language, be sure to make an exaggerated connection between the motion and the emotion. If for you, crossed arms mean you are thinking and not angry, you could nod thoughtfully (with arms crossed) and say, "Hmmm.... Yes, I'm thinking about that." The same goes with leaning in, turning away, etc. Make the connection clear. The good news is that with this type of "lesson," your partner is likely to learn your messages fairly quickly. 

Communicating tone, pitch, volume, etc., is a little more overt. If you are cognizant of the misinterpretations, simply say how you are feeling or thinking at the time. The way this is different from the above is that it's direct information instead of strongly implied. If your tone of voice seems to frighten your HFA partner, simply say, "I know my tone may sound firm to you, but that is because I am very worried about this situation" ...or, "I'm pausing for a minute here to think." With this type of information, your communication is likely to need to continue, as tone of voice, etc., is a very subtle change and has more room for frequent misinterpretation. Body language is a little more consistent.

6. Adjust your words. Once you know whether your HFA partner is relying more on words or non-verbal messages, take an extra step to be clear in that area. Use specific words, think about how you want to explain what you want to say, communicate in email if practical, so the words can be read and re-read if necessary. If you believe you are being misunderstood, ask! Check for clarity. Phrases like "If I understand you correctly, it sounds like you are saying..." and "Help me understand what you mean by..." On the other side, you could also say, "Does that make sense?" ...or, "I'm not sure if I'm getting my message across." This opens the door for your HFA partner to say, "Actually, could you explain further?"

7. Agitation, or a sense of nervousness, being hyper, etc., is often a result of stress in the individual with HFA. If you see increased activity, you can actively participate in dialing down the intensity by saying things which might be relaxing (e.g., "Ok, let's take a step back here").

8. Be aware of your HFA partner's personal space. She or he may have a space defined differently, spatially. If you see that your partner seems agitated or diverts gaze when you are within a certain distance, you can trust that you are within her or his personal space.

9. Consider your verbal vs. non-verbal communication. Most HFA people will fall into one of two categories with this regard. They may either rely more heavily on your words and less on body-language, or they may rely on body-language, but result in higher frequency of misinterpretation. Find out which your HFA partner does. How? Listen. If you find that he/she is frequently misunderstanding you without stopping to consider that he/she is completely off base, he/she may be misinterpreting your body-language and otherwise non-verbal messages (e.g., expressions, tone of voice, conversational pauses, etc.). On the other hand, if your HFA partner repeatedly asks questions about what you are saying, he or she is relying more heavily on your word usage.

10. Don't be afraid to ask questions. When a remark sounds ambiguous, it's perfectly fine to say, "What do you mean, exactly?" People with HFA know that "neurotypicals" (i.e., people without autism)) have a hard time understanding what they say. You are likely to raise more flags if you don't ask questions about their meaning than if you do.

11. If the HFA individual you are communicating with is not very close to you, it may be helpful to maintain a more formal tone in your communication. Not that it is necessary, but the type of communication used in more formal verbal communication can be very comfortable to adults on the autism spectrum.

12. Intellectual icebreakers can put individuals with HFA at ease. Discussing something you learned or read about can reduce the stress in this person and very likely improve the success of the conversation.

13. Keep your eyes and ears open for signs that your HFA partner is trying to understand. Communicating is not a one-way street, and the responsibility of connecting with information should not rest solely on your shoulders. Although it may seem like it sometimes, you might not be aware of what your HFA partner is doing to try to understand. You process information differently, so the things you would do to try to understand him or her may not be the same things he or she would do. Watch for things like concentrating intently in a conversation, questions about what you are saying, and repeating back to you what you just said. 

Using "big" words is another way that adults with HFA try to be very clear. They are intelligent and don't always realize that their neurotypial partner may not understand the difference between close synonyms. 

Another trait which might be frustrating to some neurotypical partners is when HFA people over-explain. If you can see this as an attempt to be clear, you can re-frame your perspective and possibly feel more comfortable in saying, "Ok, yeah, I gotcha." You may be surprised to find your dear HFA man or women a little bit relieved that you get what he or she is saying!

14. Individuals with HFA don't respond to criticisms, threats and manipulation the way typical people do. Even if you don't think you are, if your interaction is perceived this way (even falsely), you are likely to get an unexpected response. Diffuse the situation by saying something caring or suggesting a break.

15. Put aside what you "think" you know. Communicating with someone who has HFA (while holding on to what you think you know about how people communicate and what certain things mean) can create unnecessary stress. The individual on the other side of your message is also an individual -- a person who thinks about things in a different way than you do.

16. Reaching out to someone who has HFA may open more questions for you than provide answers, but a greater effort is likely to yield a greater reward in the long run.

17. Stress increases behaviors you may find frustrating. Decrease the stressors, however small, and you will decrease behaviors which you both find frustrating.

18. The more comfortable an HFA person is, the more likely he/she is to be relaxed in conversation and easier to communicate with, understand, and be understanding. Trust the individual with HFA who demonstrates a wish to do something relaxing in the face of important issues. Reduction of stress can be critical in important situations, and might not be considered as a lack of understanding about the urgency of the situation.

19. Think about your words. Many people with HFA listen to each word which is spoken, and they interpret your meaning based on their understanding of the definition of the words you use. Most neurotypicals are able to generalize a little better when someone says, "Put a pile of mashed potatoes on my plate ...I'm starving." Say this to a person with HFA and you might get a blank look. When the message is in words (rather than body language), it pays to be as specific as possible. Doing so can save time in the long run, preventing repeat requests or lengthy explanations, when a more precise word or phrase is all that is really needed for the HFA partner to get your meaning.

20. When an HFA person looks away during communication, see it for what it is: reducing visual stimulus to be able to better process what is being heard, or to more clearly determine what he or she wants to say. Shifty eyes do not necessarily mean deceit!

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples


Anonymous said... I have been married to an Aspie for 5 years this June. Although not officially diagnosed, we have known for at least three years if not more. We have two children, one is three years old and the other is three months. In short, last week our relationship hit a low after I struck a nerve saying, "I feel like we are just roommates." That statement initiated a conversation that questioned the sustainability of our continued marriage. He isn't happy, and knows he "won't change to be the kind of man [I] deserve." We both admit to faults in the marriage, and agreed to both try over the next three months to see if we can make it work. I'm pretty sure he's trying out of fear of losing his children; although, I am trying out of fearful of losing him. That disconnect in reasoning hurts. I love him for who he is; his Aspie traits were what I fell in love with in the first place, and I don't want him to be someone else. I also hope we can learn to be a couple around both of our strengths. All this being said, it's been one week of trying and I am tried. To really complicate things, he lost a fellow firefighter in the line of duty this past Thursday. It's hitting him hard, and it's clearly difficult for him to process the emotions. I give him his time to be alone, I try to be there if he wants to talk about it, we even had sex in hopes of some release. (Which btw was the most distant I have EVER felt him  :-/ ) He's trying, I'm trying, but I feel so alone at times. Since he doesn't share his feelings and he's good at continuing everyday life as if nothing is wrong, I am fearful. I am fearful I will go through this roller coaster of emotions every day, think everything is fine, but in three months find out his feelings haven't changed. I guess I'm looking for support and encouragement here. Although, I ultimately want to stay together, I do realize that separation in three months is possible. But, I won't accept it if I haven't tried my all, and continuing to try my all might be easier with encouragement. My friends and family try, but they don't fully understand Asperger's. Those with Asperger's, I would love your input/perspective on things too if you are willing to share. Those married to on individual with Asperger's, share your experiences and encouragement with me? Thank you.

Anonymous said... I just finished reading "Everyone Marries the Wrong Person" it helped me to put some things into perspective. When communicating I have to work to get him to understand other perspectives instead of his own. He expresses love by making me a sandwich, I need to tell him I appreciate it, but also that I express love differently. Often when I feel like we are just roommates, it's because I'm not communicating correctly and it's something I need to change either in my thinking or my actions.

Anonymous said... I'm finding I need to rely omg friends and family for to meet some of my needs, and definitely trying to solve the physical needs problem.  πŸ˜…

Anonymous said... It's comforting to hear similar experiences. I used to joke that my husband only has two emotions. Now I'm learning that it's not a lack of emotions, but lacking the ability to process them. 
I also used to tell him "it's not easy being married to an Aspie," but found out it was hurting him.  πŸ˜” I'm sure it's not easy being an Aspie married to a NT.  πŸ˜…In regards to you sleeping in separate rooms... I started to realize with our work schedules and me encouraging his down time, we spend almost no time together. BUT, I'm trying to make our time quality time together... maybe less is more. Idk, I'll find out. Anywho, THANK YOU again for sharing!

Anonymous said... I've been with an Aspie for 10 years and boy do I know how you feel. We've broken up twice and I felt the exact same way you do. It took us probably around this last year for us to really communicate and a lot of that is because I had to learn how to really talk to him. I tell him being married to him isn't for that faint of heart. I used to think he didn't care and that I deserved a man who would truly love me not just want to be with me so he wouldn't be alone. I learned I have to be very clear about what I am feeling. Pretty much whatever my husband is thinking flies out of his mouth and sometimes it can be hurtful, especially when he is getting ready to have what I call a melt down from being over stimulated from everything and not having a chance to just decompress. I wait for a bit because I know if I get angry during that time he's going to get more frustrated. I wait about ten minutes because then it's like nothing ever happened which I used to think meant he didn't care. I calmly tell him "when you say (be specific) it hurts me." I learned (this may not go for all aspies) that picking up on cues of what my feelings are isn't something that is easy for him. When I tell him he understands and is remorseful. Again, this may just be my husband but when describing my emotions to him I have to use the raw description first such as angry then followed by frustrated. It really helps that we sleep in different rooms. I know that sounds weird but it gives him a chance to decompressed and have his alone time and then when we spend time together it's real quality time. When he comes home he goes off for about an hour or so before we greet each other with the kisses and hugs and the "I missed yous". It's been HARD, I'm not going to lie. I had to learn to speak his love language. There are still times I want to rip my hair out or we have a fight because I just can't stay calm or I just wish he'd pick up that I needed help or that I needed him to be selfless because I feel like he is being selfish on purpose or that when I ask him to do something it's not an order which he'll fight against. Lol It took me looking up article after article and hours of research to even get me to this point but honestly and this isn't meant to be disrespectful to anyone but with us I have to put in what feels like more of the work. BUT he's been really really trying and that's changed our relationship so much! Now, that I tell him how I feel it's easier for him to react to it and comfort me (sometimes I have to tell him I had a hard day and need to be cuddled and loved on. Lol) He's trying so hard and that makes all the difference. Anyone who meets my husband knows he is, what they say "different ". I honestly don't know if any of this applies to anyone else's hubby or wife. But I love my amazing husband. He may be what others call different but to me he's better than any man I've ever known. I hope this helps. I feel like it's more of a communication thing and teaching him your love language too because people think my husband is a cold and unfeeling man (He may have a worse case) but he's anything but. It just isn't easy for him to process his emotions right away and harder to express them.

Anonymous said... The question is... how do you figure out how to communicate "correctly?"

Anonymous said... I feel like you pretty much described my life! I've been with my husband for 6 years but we've only been married for a month. It took the first four years to learn how to communicate and we broke up a couple times because of the communication issues. The biggest thing that helped us was lots of research on my part and finding out each others love languages. His melt downs are the hardest times for us and especially because I can be very emotional. However my husband is different from other Aspies in the sense of he almost always wants to cuddle and hug me especially if he's having a rough day. Most people see my husband and cold and distant as well but he seriously has this amazing heart his emotions just don't come out the way it does for others.

Anonymous said... I think you should join this page it may help you with our relationship. or at least to understand my aspie mind a bit better.

Anonymous said... I've made that statement several times to my Aspie fiance. We've been together for 5 years. Most days I'm okay with it as I seek my emotional needs from friends. Physical needs .... That's another story.

Anonymous said... To be honest I tell my husband being married to me isn't for the faint of heart either because I am bipolar. A bipolar and an aspie make a pretty interesting match. Haha He's been pretty darn patient with me before I knew what I had.

Anonymous said... for us it means me being direct with what I need. For instance, if it's more physical contact, then I tell him and initiate it.

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