Are you an adult with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's? Are you struggling emotionally, socially, spiritually or otherwise?
Then you've come to the right place. We are here to help you in any way we can. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile.

Search This Blog

Why Your Partner/Spouse with AS or HFA Blames You For All the Relationship Problems

This audio clip from one of Mark Hutten's lectures will help explain why a person on the autism spectrum will tend to blame others for his/her trials and tribulations:

Theory of mind [summary]:
  • allows people to infer the intentions of others, as well as to think about what's going on in someone else's head, including hopes, fears, beliefs, and expectations
  • develops as children gain greater experience with social interactions
  • encompasses the ability to attribute mental states, including emotions, desires, beliefs, and knowledge
  • social-cognitive skill that involves the ability to think about mental states, both your own and those of others
  • the ability to understand that other people's thoughts and beliefs may be different from your own and to consider the factors that have led to those mental states

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's

Why Your Partner with Asperger's or High-Functioning Autism is So Reluctant to Change/Cooperate

“I’ve been reading a lot on this site. I have to ask, why does it seem that men with Asperger syndrome are so unwilling to change or compromise in their relationships?”

Well, there are two kinds of obstacles that hinder change – those that are outside of you (e.g., the environment), and those that are inside (e.g., anxiety).

Some of the common reasons that people on the autism spectrum don’t – or won’t – change include the following:

1.  Not cooperating is less painful than trying to cooperate (the path of least resistance). In many cases, people with Asperger’s (AS) or High-Functioning Autism have legitimately tried to “please” their neurotypical partner – but to them, it seems that “no matter how hard I try, it’s never good enough” (a direct quote I hear often from married men with AS). So, in their way of thinking, “no attempt at change” is not as bad as “a botched attempt at change” (this is usually a self-esteem problem due to repeated “social blunders”).

2.  Their environment is holding them back (largely a sensory-sensitivity problem - as well as a social-skills deficit issue when relating to others around them at home, work, etc.).

3.  Their NT partner or spouse has not set relationship-boundaries (i.e., what is - and is not - acceptable) that are attainable and understandable for the person with AS (e.g., when bringing up a critical issue, the NT has had a poor delivery, bad timing, wording things in ways that increase anxiety, etc.).

4.  Partners with AS have problems with their own mistakes (i.e., they tend to be perfectionistic and OCD in certain areas - and hate feeling like a “failure”). In other words, if they try something new, and it doesn’t yield the desired results QUICKLY, they give up easily and view the attempt as “a total catastrophe” (i.e., classic black-and-white thinking that is common in Asperger’s).

5.  They lack confidence that they will be successful with something outside their comfort zone (mostly an anxiety issue). Change is scary to them. Doing things for the first time or stepping into the unknown can be overwhelming.

6.  They simply don’t want to change, because they don’t see any need for it (often a mind-blindness issue). If they don’t really want to make the change deep down, then it will be very hard to go the distance. And once their mind has decided on a particular course or action (or inaction, in this case) they are immovable!

7.  In those cases where they actually are open to change, they don’t know how to do it in a practical sense (largely an executive-function deficit issues).

Above, I have mentioned (directly or indirectly) the following issues (click on the issue for more information):

1.    Self-esteem issues
2.    Sensory sensitivities and associated frustrations
3.    Communication problems
4.    OCD, perfectionism and associated inflexibility
5.    Strong need for routine and structure
6.    Executive-function deficits
7.    Anxiety

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Promoting Social Reciprocity in Your "Disengaged" Asperger’s Spouse

“When I speak to my husband (with AS), he often offers no response at all. Whether I’m just making chit chat, or asking a question, I ALWAYS have to repeat myself because he’s not listening. Is this a common issue for others in an NT/AS relationship? Any tips on how to get him to pay more attention to what I’m saying (at least a little bit)?”

A significant issue for people with Asperger’s (AS) and high-functioning autism (HFA) is a lack of “social or emotional reciprocity” (e.g., inappropriate or limited responses to others, limited offers of comfort shown towards others).

While neurotypical people (i.e., non-AS) are attentive to others, people with AS often exhibit difficulty engaging in social interactions for a number of reasons (e.g., being highly focused on their current activity or thought, attention deficits, being overwhelmed by environmental-sensory stimuli, etc.) Many researchers consider “social-interaction deficits” to be the core deficit of AS.

Impairments in social interaction associated with AS often include:
  • lack of: spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment and interests; responding to the emotions of others; responding to social initiations made by others; interest in non-preferred activities; friendship-seeking behavior
  • difficulties understanding the facial expressions and body language of others
  • deficits in nonverbal behaviors (e.g., eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, gestures) to regulate social interaction

 As one NT wife stated: "We don't play 'conversational Ping Pong'. I do the 'ping' - then I have to run down to the other end of the table and do the 'pong' too. I'm basically in a conversation with myself."

In order to help people with AS to better connect and collaborate with others, social skills may need to be taught. Unlike “typically developing” individuals, these skills do not develop instinctively with AS.

There are many techniques to work around this “social-reciprocity-deficit,” and a good place to start may be  balanced turn-taking. Yes, this may seem like such a juvenile exercise in light of the fact that you (the NT spouse) and working with a grown-up. But again, social reciprocity does not come naturally to people with this developmental disorder caller Asperger syndrome.

Balanced turn-taking entails the individual with AS and - in this case - his NT spouse participating in a balanced, back and forth interaction to increase the length of attention and engagement. If your husband is willing to try this, you can literally role-play some give-and-take conversation skills.

You will want to use open-ended questions to avoid one-word responses. These questions can’t be answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no', and instead require your husband to elaborate on his points. Open-ended questions help you see things from his perspective as you get feedback in his own words instead of stock answers.

For example, you can ask your husband some of the questions below, then you answer the same question per your experience (or you start first, then he takes his turn). Some of the following are simply “fill in the blank” statements.

NOTE: Some AS husbands will feel like this is a childish exercise - and may even be offended by the idea. But if your husband recognizes that there is a real problem with his back-and-forth conversation style, it would be good to practice this on a daily basis for about 10 minutes:
  1. What was the most scared you have ever been?
  2. What was the happiest you have ever been? 
  3. Our kids would freak out if they knew what?
  4. What is the most prominent memory you have of your childhood? 
  5. My funniest memory of our dating days was __________ .
  6. My favorite photo of us is the one where __________ .
  7. If you could spend time just talking to any one person, who would it be?
  8. If you could spend 24 hours doing anything in the world with me, what would it be? 
  9. If I could have lived during a different time period, it would be __________ . 
  10. If you had nine lives, what dangerous things would you try?
  11. If I could have any super power, it would be __________ .
  12. If I could eat anything and it not affect my health, I would feast on __________ .
  13. I wish I had learned to __________ .
  14. I used to always wish I could __________ .
  15. I like it best when you refer to me as __________ .
  16. I laugh every time I think of you doing __________ .
  17. I feel you love me the most when you __________ .
  18. Did you know that it scares me so much to __________ .
  19. If you had all the money you needed, what’s the strangest thing would you purchase?
  20. Before we are together in heaven, I pray that here on earth we __________ .

 * Use your imagination to come up with additional questions and fill-in-the blank statements as those listed above. Make a game out of it!

If your AS husband is up for a little social-skills training, then by all means, try this! It will work for some, and not so much for others. Some NTs have reported that this exercise was a real game-changer in the relationship (because they were finally having a few moments of "quality" time). Others have said it worked moderately well, but was still interesting and better than nothing. And some have stated "there is no way in hell I'm even going to try this."

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples 

==> Online Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's

Why Your Aspie Husband Is So Inflexible

“Mark - my Aspie husband is the most inflexible person I have ever dealt with in the entire life. When his mind is made up, he is immoveable and totally closed to other suggestions on how to deal with issues (e.g., our kids, financial things that come up, chores that need to be done around the house, just to name a few). So, my question is: is this part of his aspergers, and why is he so closed to alternative ideas?”

Yes… it’s part of the disorder. And, there are several important reasons why people with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism are “inflexible” (to use your term). We call this “cognitive rigidity”:

Brain Dysregulation—

The brains of people on the spectrum are structurally normal, but “dysregulated” (i.e., there is an impaired regulation of a bundle of neurons in the brain stem that processes sensory signals from various areas of the body).

Cortisol Deficit—

Cortisol is a key factor in understanding Asperger’s. It is one of several stress hormones that acts similar to a red alert that is triggered by stressful circumstances, which helps the person to react quickly to changes. In neurotypical (non-Asperger's) people, there is a two-fold increase in levels of cortisol within 30 minutes of waking up – and levels gradually declining during the day as part of the internal body clock. People with Asperger’s don’t have this peak first thing in the morning, which is highly significant in explaining why people with Asperger’s are less able to react and cope with unexpected change (throughout the day, but especially in the morning).

They don’t adjust normally to the challenge of a new environment on waking, which may affect the way they subsequently engage with the world around them. By viewing your husband’s symptoms as a “stress response” rather than stubbornness may help you develop a few techniques for avoiding circumstances contribute to his anxiety.

Executive Dysfunction (more information here)—

This deals with impulse control, inhibition, mental flexibility, planning, the initiation/monitoring of action, and working memory. This explains some of the symptoms of Asperger’s (e.g., poor social interaction due to a defect in cognitive shifting, repetitive and restricted behavior).

Theory of Mind Deficit (more information here)—

Theory of mind is the intuitive understanding of one’s mental state -- and the mental state of others (i.e., emotions, thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, knowledge, intentions and desires – and of how those mental states influence behavior). Your husband most likely has great difficulty understanding others thoughts, feelings, and motivations, which is the core cognitive deficit.

Weak Central Coherence—

This is the inability to understand the context of a situation or to see the big picture. This explains common behaviors found Asperger’s (e.g., repetitiveness, focusing on parts of objects, persistence in behaviors related to details, etc.).

I hope that makes sense. Thanks for the question.

~ Mark

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples 

==> Online Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's

40 Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety: Tips for People on the Spectrum

If you use a few of the steps below to manage your anxiety, you may reduce the risk of negative health effects. Here are some tips that may help you to cope day-to-day:
  1. Ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat anxiety and anxiety; several studies suggest that it's effective
  2. Aside from the obvious health risks of cigarettes, nicotine acts as a stimulant and brings on more anxiety symptoms
  3. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations
  4. Assert yourself; you do not have to meet others' expectations or demands
  5. Biofeedback 
  6. Chew Gum
  7. Counseling, to help you recognize and release anxiety
  8. Cuddle with a pet (or a lover)
  9. Decide what must get done now and what can wait
  10. Deep breathing exercises
  11. Eat and drink sensibly; drugs and alcohol and food abuse may seem to reduce anxiety, but it actually adds to it
  12. Examine your values and live by them; the more your actions reflect your beliefs, the better you will feel
  13. Get regular exercise; just 20 minutes a day is plenty
  14. Green tea contains many polyphenol antioxidants which provide health benefits - it may lower anxiety and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels
  15. Journaling
  16. Kava kava is a psychoactive member of the pepper family’ long used as a sedative in the South Pacific, it is increasingly used in Europe and the US to treat anxiety
  17. Keep in touch with people who can provide emotional support and practical help
  18. Laugh
  19. Learn to Avoid Procrastination
  20. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much 
  21. Lemon balm is a member of the mint family that has been studied for its anti-anxiety effects 
  22. Light a Candle
  23. Listen to Soothing Music
  24. Masturbate
  25. Meditation
  26. Mental imagery relaxation
  27. Once a week, have a cheat meal (e.g., pizza, ice cream, pastry)
  28. One study showed that medical students who received omega-3 supplements experienced a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms
  29. Practice Mindfulness
  30. Prayer
  31. Progressive muscle relaxation
  32. Recognize the signs of your body’s response to anxiety, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol, being easily angered, depressed, and low energy
  33. Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
  34. Set realistic goals and expectations; it's okay, and healthy, to realize you cannot be 100% successful at everything at once
  35. Take a Yoga Class
  36. Take responsibility; control what you can and leave behind what you cannot control
  37. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do
  38. Use calming scents: Bergamot, Frankincense, Geranium, Lavender, Neroli, Orange or orange blossom, Roman chamomile, Rose, Sandalwood, Vetiver, and Ylang ylang
  39. Valerian root is a popular sleep aid due to its tranquilizing effect; it contains valerenic acid, which alters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to lower anxiety
  40. When you are feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself of what you do well

==>Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's and HFA

10-Minute Breathing Meditation for Anxious People on the Autism Spectrum

1. Use your earbuds
2. Get in a comfortable position
3. Close your eyes
4. Allow your muscles to soften
5. Feel your breath through the nostrils

Cassandra Syndrome and Marriage to an Asperger’s Spouse

“I’m married to a man with AS (17 years), and I think that I may be suffering from Cassandra Syndrome. Have you heard of this? Is this common for NT wives who are married to an emotionally unavailable (abusive) husband with AS?”

Cassandra Syndrome (CS) is basically the neurotypical (NT) spouse’s experience of emotional suffering that results from distressing interpersonal relations with a spouse who does not understand, empathize with, or validate the NT’s pain and sorrow. Many NT partners are negatively affected by a number of Asperger’s traits (e.g., lack of empathy, mind-blindness, alexithymia, etc.). 

Over time, the NT spouse may begin to feel isolated, invalidated, and even ‘held hostages’ in their own home. A common phrase expressed by many NTs is, “I’m simply not important to my spouse.”

The emotional distress felt by the NT usually occurs when the Asperger’s partner:
  • exhibits communication problems
  • has an inability to be intimate
  • is emotionally distance
  • prefers to relate to the NT partner from a distance (the Asperger’s partner fails to realize that he/she must be intimate, vulnerable, and empathic in order to truly “know” - and cooperate with - the NT partner)

The NT wants a deeper, more personal and satisfying relationship (of course), and therefore “pushes” the Asperger’s partner to “step up” and participate more fully in the marriage. However, this pushing and pleading results in further difficulties, because the Asperger’s spouse now views the NT as being increasingly bitchy, irrational or hysterical. Thus, the Asperger’s spouse distances himself/herself even further for anxiety-reduction purposes.

Symptoms of CS may include any of the following:
  • avoidance of going places (e.g., social events) with the AS spouse because it “always ends badly”
  • being easily irritated and angered
  • difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • emotional numbness
  • feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • intrusive distressing recollections of past encounters with the AS spouse that were perceived as him/her being selfish, uncaring, and insensitive
  • markedly diminished interest or participation in previously-enjoyed activities
  • persistent and distorted blame of self
  • persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself
  • persistent anxiety, anger, guilt, or shame
  • persistent inability to experience positive emotions
  • depression
  • suicidal ideation
  • severe resentment

As one NT wife stated: “I've grown to utterly despise him, and then, of course, hate myself for despising him because he ‘can't help it’. Living with an AS spouse is living with an abusive spouse. Period.”

It’s usually both a blessing and a relief when an NT partner learns about Asperger’s and realizes that there is an explanation for the Asperger’s spouse’s “hurtful” behaviors. In this way, the NT realizes she is NOT crazy, and that she may have taken a lot of things personally that were in fact part of the disorder. If you’re an NT spouse experiencing such difficulties, know that you’re not alone – and that this plight is indeed recognized in the literature (i.e., CS).

In a nutshell, a relationship that results in CS is one that lacks “emotional reciprocity.” Emotional reciprocity exists when partners provide empathetic support to each other. It's a mutually beneficial relationship with balanced levels of “give and take.” With CS, one partner does most of the “give” with very little “take” in return.

Note: It’s not uncommon for the NT spouse to feel lonely, anxious, and depressed because he/she has tried to tell others (e.g., family members, friends, coworkers) about the Asperger’s-related marriage difficulties, but receive little-to-no validation or empathy from others – or be viewed as melodramatic and whiny. This is due to the fact that the Asperger’s partner often presents himself in quite a different light in the public eye (i.e., appears “normal,” kind, composed). But he/she is a very different person at home behind closed doors.

==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's and HFA

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

The Main Reasons People with Asperger's Are So Anxious

"Mark, you say in many of your YT videos that people with Asperger’s usually suffer from anxiety. Why is this?"

Individuals with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism are especially vulnerable to anxiety for several important reasons. The affected individual experiences this intrinsic feature of the disorder due to any – or all – of the following:
  • a breakdown in circuitry related to extinguishing fear responses
  • specific neurotransmitter system defects
  • an inability to make accurate “social judgments” 
  • past trauma that results from being victimized, rejected and teased by their peers – without possessing the ability to mount effective socially adaptive responses
  • an insufficient grasp of situations to recognize that others “get it” when he/she does not 
  • social challenges that make it difficult for the person with AS to develop coping strategies for self-soothing and/or controlling difficult emotions
  • limited skills for autonomous social problem-solving  
  • limitations in the ability to grasp social cues
  • a highly rigid personality style that craves routine and structure (i.e., strong dislike for change)
  • repeated “social errors” 
  • limitations in generalizing from one situation to another

Other issues that can significantly raise anxiety levels involve:

==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's and HFA

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

Is Your AS Partner Exhibiting Traits of the Disorder - or Purposely Being Insensitive and Uncaring?

How can you tell the difference between Aspergers-related behavior versus pure insensitivity? 

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples 

==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Individuals & Couples Affected by Asperger's and HFA

Stress-Management for People on the Autism Spectrum

There are a number of techniques you can try to manage your stress. What works is different for everyone, and it can take time to find the ones that work best for you. Here are 10 tips to try:

1.    Be good to yourself. Remember that you are NOT your stress. You are not a feeble weakling. You are not a second-rate person. You simply have a mental health condition called “chronic stress.”

2.    Be aware of your self-talk. How you think directly affects how you feel. Stress makes you overestimate the danger in a situation -- and underestimate your ability to deal with it. Think of different interpretations to a situation that’s making you stressed, rather than launching to the worst-case scenario. Look at the facts for - and against - your negative thoughts being true.

3.    Fully understand your stress. Keep a diary of when it is at its worst – and best. Look for the patterns, and plan your day to proactively manage your stress.

4.    Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Stay active, eat well, go out into nature, spend time with family and friends, and do the activities you enjoy. These are all effective in reducing stress and improving your mood.  

5.    Learn from other people. Talk with others who also experience stress or are going through something similar. This can help you feel less alone.

6.    Set aside time to worry.  No one can stop worrying entirely, so set aside some time to humor your worries. Take 5 minutes each evening to write them down and go over them in your head. This will help stop your worries from taking over at other times.

7.    Utilize progressive muscle relaxation. Find a quiet spot, close your eyes, and slowly tense and then relax each of your muscles from your head to your toes. Hold the tension for 5 seconds, and then release slowly. This will help reduce the feelings of muscle tension that often comes with stress.

8.    Incorporate slow breathing. When you’re stressed, your breathing usually becomes shallower. Deliberately slow down your breathing. Count to 5 as you breathe in slowly, then count to 5 as you exhale slowly.

9.    Try to stay in the present moment. Stress can make your thoughts live in an awful future that hasn’t happened yet. Bring yourself back to where you are now. Meditation can help with this.

10.    Attempt small acts of courageousness. Avoiding what makes you stressed provides some relief in the short term, but can make you more stressed-out in the long term. Thus, approach something that makes you somewhat fearful (even in a small way). The path through stress is by learning that what you’re afraid of isn’t likely to happen. Even if it does, you’ll be able to deal with it effectively.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Couples Affected by Asperger's and HFA

When Your Asperger's Husband Suddenly "Detaches" from the Relationship

"How can a man [with Aspergers syndrome] just switch off his emotions seemingly overnight? Something happened a few weeks ago [I’m not sure what it was exactly] and my husband has changed for the worse… has no interest in sex… no interest in talking to me… no interest in going anywhere with me, etc. Has anyone else experienced this where your AS husband turns into a completely different personality all of the sudden and doesn’t know why? He’s not even aware that he has shut me out. How does this happen? I’m so confused! Is he cheating on me perhaps?"

In counseling couples, it has been my experience that when this happens, it is frequently the case that the husband with AS no longer feels safe in the relationship. In most cases, the relationship difficulties between the two partners/spouses have been going on for several years with no improvement in sight.

Thus, the NT wife has repeatedly registered numerous complaints and concerns about the relationship (in hopes of getting to some kind of a resolution), and the list of concerns and hurts keeps growing.

So, now the husband feels as though there is no way he can redeem himself. That is, the list of problems is simply too long and deep to address at this point (in his mind). Therefore, he feels like he cannot truly be deeply “in love” with someone who has this colossal litany of unresolved issues with his past behavior.

In other words, the AS man in this case feels that he is in a very vulnerable position and would be putting himself in “harm’s way” if he were to “stay in love” with someone this “threatening.” He dials-down his love, affection and connection in order to avoid getting hurt in the event that his NT wife registers more “painful” complaints – or worse yet – leaves him. 

He’s afraid to have attachments to someone who may abandon or ridicule him. And he uses the wife’s “criticisms” as evidence that abandonment is highly probable – and even imminent. This is (unfortunately) a survival strategy (i.e., a way to avoid feelings of shame and the pain of loss).

Of course, this is not the only reason an AS husband may suddenly "detach" from the relationship, but it is by far the main reason I have witnessed in counseling couples affected by the disorder.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

==> Skype Counseling for Struggling Couples Affected by Asperger's and HFA

Popular Posts

Chat for Adults with HFA and Aspergers