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95 Videos by Mark Hutten, M.A. : "Understanding Your Partner or Spouse on the Autism Spectrum"


As a counseling psychologist working with couples where one partner has a diagnosis [or suspected diagnosis] of Asperger's or High-Functioning Autism, I’ve found that there are certain traits of the disorder that often make a relationship very challenging. However, when the partner on the autism spectrum focuses on improving certain traits, and the NT makes certain adjustments in how she/he approaches the autistic partner, the marriage is often able to come back from a crisis. 

Traits You May Witness When Your AS Spouse Is Super-Smart but Lacks “Social Common Sense"

Have you ever thought of your partner or spouse on the autism spectrum as the absent-minded and socially-inept “nutty professor”? 

Many extra-intelligent people with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism have high levels of technical ability, but are seen by others as having rather forgetful and odd behaviors outside the realm of their professional expertise.

It has been observed that high IQ types on the autism spectrum are often lacking in common sense – especially when it comes to dealing with other human beings.


Traits you may witness in your AS partner:

Strengths: Thinks critically; has high expectancies; is self-critical and evaluates others.
Possible Problems: Critical or intolerant toward others; may become discouraged or depressed; perfectionist.

Strengths: Large vocabulary and facile verbal proficiency; broad information in advanced areas.
Possible Problems: May use words to escape or avoid situations; becomes bored easily; seen by others as a "know it all."

Strengths: Intense concentration; long attention span in areas of interest; goal-directed behavior; persistence.
Possible Problems: Resists interruption; neglects duties or people during period of focused interests; stubbornness.

Strengths: Inquisitive attitude, intellectual curiosity; intrinsic motivation; searching for significance.
Possible Problems: Asks embarrassing questions; strong-willed; resists direction; seems excessive in interests; expects same of others.

Strengths: Independent; prefers individualized work; reliant on self.
Possible Problems: May reject others’ input; non-conformity; may be unconventional.

Strengths: High energy, alertness, eagerness; periods of intense efforts.
Possible Problems: Frustration with inactivity; eagerness may disrupt others' schedules; needs continual stimulation; may be seen as hyperactive.

Strengths: Enjoys organizing things and people into structure and order; seeks to systematize.
Possible Problems: Constructs complicated rules or systems; may be seen as bossy, rude, or domineering.

Strengths: Ability to conceptualize, abstract, synthesize; enjoys problem-solving and intellectual activity.
Possible Problems: Rejects or omits details; resists practice or drill; questions others' instructions/directives.




=>  Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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

Comprehensive List of Traits That You’re Likely to See in Your Partner/Spouse on the Autism Spectrum




This is an informal assessment for neurotypicals (NTs) to investigate whether or not their romantic partner may have Asperger's or High-Functioning Autism:

1.    Abrupt and strong expression of likes and dislikes
2.    An apparent lack of “common sense”
3.    Anxiety
4.    Apparent absence of relaxation, recreational, or “time out” activities OUTSIDE of his/her "special interest"
5.    Avoids socializing or small talk, on and off the job
6.    Bad or unusual personal hygiene
7.    Balance difficulties
8.    Bizarre sense of humor (often stemming from a “private” internal thread of humor being inserted in public conversation without preparation or warming others up to the reason for the “punchline”)
9.    Bluntness in emotional expression
10.    Clumsiness

11.    Compelling need to finish one task completely before starting another
12.    Concrete thinking
13.    Constant anxiety about performance and acceptance, despite recognition and commendation
14.    Deliberate withholding of peak performance due to belief that one’s best efforts may remain unrecognized, unrewarded, or appropriated by others
15.    Dependence on step-by-step learning procedures (note: disorientation occurs when a step is assumed, deleted, or otherwise overlooked in instruction)
16.    Depression
17.    Difficulty in starting a project
18.    Difficulty with unstructured time
19.    Difficulty expressing anger (i.e., either excessive or “bottled up”)
20.    Difficulty in accepting compliments, often responding with quizzical or self-deprecatory language


21.    Difficulty in accepting criticism or correction
22.    Difficulty in assessing cause and effect relationships (e.g., behaviors and consequences)
23.    Difficulty in assessing relative importance of details (an aspect of the trees/forest problem)
24.    Difficulty in distinguishing between acquaintance and friendship
25.    Difficulty in drawing relationships between an activity or event and ideas
26.    Difficulty in estimating time to complete tasks
27.    Difficulty in expressing emotions
28.    Difficulty in forming friendships and intimate relationships
29.    Difficulty in generalizing
30.    Difficulty in handling relationships with authority figures

31.    Difficulty in imagining others’ thoughts in a similar or identical event or circumstance that are different from one’s own (“theory of mind” issues)
32.    Difficulty in interpreting meaning to others’ activities
33.    Difficulty in judging distances, height, depth
34.    Difficulty in learning self-monitoring techniques
35.    Difficulty in negotiating either in conflict situations or as a self-advocate
36.    Difficulty in offering correction or criticism without appearing harsh, pedantic or insensitive
37.    Difficulty in perceiving and applying unwritten social rules or protocols
38.    Difficulty in recognizing others’ faces (i.e., prosopagnosia)
39.    Difficulty in understanding rules for games of social entertainment
40.    Difficulty judging others’ personal space

41.    Difficulty with “teamwork”
42.    Difficulty with adopting a social mask to obscure real feelings, moods, reactions
43.    Difficulty with initiating or maintaining eye contact
44.    Difficulty with organizing and sequencing (i.e., planning and execution; successful performance of tasks in a logical order)
45.    Difficulty with reciprocal displays of pleasantries and greetings46.    Difficulty with writing and reports
47.    Discomfort manipulating or “playing games” with others
48.    Discomfort with competition
49.    Disinclination to produce expected results in an orthodox manner
50.    Distractibility due to focus on external or internal sensations, thoughts, and/or sensory input (e.g., appearing to be in a world of one’s own or day-dreaming)

51.    Elevated voice volume during periods of stress and frustration
52.    Excessive questions
53.    Excessive talk
54.    Exquisite attention to detail, principally visual, or details which can be visualized (“thinking in pictures”) or cognitive details (often those learned by rote)
55.    Extreme reaction to changes in routine, surroundings, people
56.    Failure to distinguish between private and public personal care habits (e.g., brushing, public attention to skin problems, nose picking, teeth picking, ear canal cleaning, clothing arrangement)
57.    Flash temper
58.    Flat affect
59.    Flat or monotone vocal expression (i.e., limited range of inflection)
60.    Generalized confusion during periods of stress

61.    Great concern about order and appearance of personal work area
62.    Gross or fine motor coordination problems
63.    Immature manners
64.    Impulsiveness
65.    Insensitivity to the non-verbal cues of others (e.g., stance, posture, facial expressions)
66.    Intense pride in expertise or performance, often perceived by others as “flouting behavior”
67.    Interpreting words and phrases literally (e.g., problem with colloquialisms, clich├ęs, neologism, turns of phrase, common humorous expressions)
68.    Known for single-mindedness
69.    Lack of trust in others
70.    Limited by intensely pursued interests


71.    Limited clothing preference (e.g., discomfort with formal attire or uniforms)
72.    Literal interpretation of instructions (e.g., failure to read between the lines)
73.    Low apparent sexual interest
74.    Low motivation to perform tasks of no immediate personal interest
75.    Low or no conversational participation in group meetings or conferences
76.    Low sensitivity to risks in the environment to self and/or others
77.    Low to medium level of paranoia
78.    Low to no apparent sense of humor
79.    Low understanding of the reciprocal rules of conversation (e.g., interrupting, dominating, minimum participation, difficult in shifting topics, problem with initiating or terminating conversation, subject perseveration)
80.    Mental shutdown response to conflicting demands and multi-tasking

81.    Missing or misconstruing others’ agendas, priorities, preferences
82.    Nail-biting
83.    Often perceived as “being in their own world”
84.    Often viewed as vulnerable or less able to resist harassment and badgering by others
85.    Out-of-scale reactions to losing
86.    Oversight or forgetting of tasks without formal reminders (e.g., lists or schedules)
87.    Perfectionism
88.    Perseveration best characterized by the term “bulldog tenacity”
89.    Poor judgment of when a task is finished (often attributable to perfectionism or an apparent unwillingness to follow differential standards for quality)
90.    Pouting frequently

91.    Preference for bland or bare environments in living arrangements
92.    Preference for repetitive, often simple routines
93.    Preference for visually oriented instruction and training
94.    Problems expressing empathy or comfort to/with others (e.g., sadness, condolence, congratulations)
95.    Psychometric testing shows great deviance between verbal and performance results
96.    Punctual and conscientious
97.    Rage, tantrum, shutdown, self-isolating reactions appearing “out of nowhere”
98.    Relaxation techniques and developing recreational “release” interest may require formal instruction
99.    Reliance on internal speech process to “talk” oneself through a task or procedure
100.    Reluctance to accept positions of authority or supervision

101.    Reluctance to ask for help or seek comfort
102.    Resistance to or failure to respond to talk therapy
103.    Rigid adherence to rules and routines
104.    Rigid adherence to social conventions where flexibility is desirable
105.    Ruminating (i.e., fixating on bad experiences with people or events for an inordinate length of time)
106.    Sarcasm, negativism, criticism
107.    Scrupulous honesty, often expressed in an apparently disarming or inappropriate manner or setting
108.    Self-injurious or disfiguring behaviors
109.    Serious all the time
110.    Shyness

111.    Sleep difficulties
112.    Slow performance
113.    Social isolation and intense concern for privacy
114.    Stilted, pedantic conversational style (“the little professor” concept)
115.    Stims (i.e., self-stimulatory behavior serving to reduce anxiety, stress, or to express pleasure)
116.    Stress, frustration and anger reaction to interruptions
117.    Strong desire to coach or mentor newcomers
118.    Strong food preferences and aversions
119.    Strong sensory sensitivities (e.g., touch and tactile sensations, sounds, lighting and colors, odors, taste
120.    Substantial hidden self-anger, anger towards others, and resentment

121.    Susceptibility to distraction
122.    Tantrums
123.    Tendency to “lose it” during sensory overload, multitask demands, or when contradictory and confusing priorities have been set
124.    Unmodulated reaction in being manipulated, patronized, or “handled” by others
125.    Unusual and rigidly adhered to eating behaviors
126.    Unusual gait, stance, posture
127.    Verbosity
128.    Very low level of assertiveness

 ==> Learn more about your AS partner's way of thinking, feeling and behaving...


=>  Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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

Why Your AS or HFA Partner Thinks and Behaves the Way He Does

What AS Partners Need to Learn and Practice to Save Their Troubled Relationships

“Mark, so what do you do exactly when working with the Asperger’s spouse or partner in your online counseling sessions? I’m an NT wife who has reached the end of her rope.”

Well, first of all, if the AS spouse is struggling in his/her relationship, I will have to work with both parties. But I do prefer to have a few sessions with just the AS partner beforehand, in which case, we will work largely on social skills and the development of emotional reciprocity.

Asperger's (high functioning autism), like classic autism, falls on a continuum of symptoms and impairment. Usually, it includes an exclusive focus on one area of interest, particularly of a non-social nature. The ability to empathize with his “significant other” and her circumstances is the main area in which social skills get compromised.

Social skills can be improved, and an awareness of social signifiers do make a big difference in the AS person’s ability to relate at a deeper level with his/her spouse. Sometimes called interpersonal training, the approach consists of two dimensions:
 
  1. The individual is taught to understand communicative cues, and how to send and receive them in a contextually appropriate manner (e.g., active listening, eye contact, nodding to register comprehension, paraphrasing, learning to ask open-ended questions, learning to disclose opinions, experiences, and feelings in a reciprocal manner).
  2. Learning interpersonal skills and gaining emotional insight (e.g., managing anxiety, self-criticism, depression, anger, and avoidance in social circumstances).

The first dimension gets most of the attention, but the second dimension is most important, because you might learn a "skill," but feel too much anxiety, depression, or critical self-consciousness to implement it.

By developing emotional muscles, which consists of displaying creative optimism, self-acceptance, and an acceptance of others with whom one disagrees with, the individual on the autism spectrum can learn some specific social skills and cultivate a deeper level of emotional intelligence. 


==> Learn more about why your partner/spouse on the autism spectrum thinks, feels and behaves the way he/she does...

=>  Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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

When You Want to "Talk" and Your Spouse with AS Wants to Leave

“My husband with Asperger syndrome was so affectionate and loving in the first few years of our marriage. But over the years he has drifted away from where we started. I still love this man, but now I find that most days I feel so alone in my own house. We live like college roommates at this point, we just coexist with no real exchange of intimacy. When I try to talk to him, he just leaves – walks out, and that’s the end of it. PERIOD! Is this common for a man with Asperger syndrome? Could he be cheating on me? Do they just fall out of love as their spouse ages? Do they change their mind about their commitment level when children enter the picture? I have so many questions I don’t know where to begin.”

It’s such a paradox when the neurotypical wife gets to the point where she has numerous unresolved issues that relate to her AS husband that she feels compelled (for good reason) to complain loudly and angrily in a desperate attempt to simply get her point across and to get him connected to her - and to be a team player in the relationship! There was a “team spirit” back in the day in the early going of the relationship, but through the years, the team spirit got lost. Now it’s like, “I’m here, and you are over there. What happened to ‘us’?”

But here is where it becomes a paradox: The more she expresses emotion, especially troubling emotions, and gets loud, assertive - and even aggressive and demanding, the more he shuts down and withdraws both cognitively and emotionally. This, in turn, exacerbates the problem and extends the period of time that any resolve to the relationship problems can occur.

The wife, by nature, is the nurturer and wants the relationship to grow and deepen with increasing intimacy and bonding over time. The AS husband, who is not as interested in a deeper social and emotional connection due to his developmental disorder, and whose social-emotional brain is less developed compared to his logical brain, often finds that “going deeper” into the relationship requires skills that he does not have.

I hear this phrase so often from these men: “I really try to make her happy, but it doesn’t matter what I do, it’s never enough. I’m always in trouble with her.” This mind-set creates a negative cycle that looks similar to this:
  • he feels like he is always in the doghouse
  • this causes him to feel highly unsafe in the relationship
  • this in turn raises his anxiety
  • which then increases his search for anxiety-reduction techniques
  • and unfortunately, the techniques include disconnection, detachment, and often isolation; in many cases, his wife has become his major source of stress

Of course, this cycle results in the neurotypical wife feeling unloved and abandoned, which then increases her sense of desperation - and an even stronger drive to reestablish the connection and bond with her husband. And it’s at this point the cycle just starts all over again.

So now the question becomes, “What can be done?”

In working with couples over the years, I’m finding that there is no “magic bullet” when the division between the two parties has reached this level of severity. However, a good “first start” in healing the relationship involves teaching the husband on the spectrum some simple social skills, as well as devising a tailored communication strategy for the couple that is (a) sensitive to the AS husband’s anxiety, and (b) sensitive to the NT wife’s need for emotional reciprocity. Every couple is unique though, and as such, there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to creating an effective communication style or problem-solving method.

Examples of some simple, yet super effective social skills that can be taught include:
  • The art of paraphrasing what was heard
  • Reflective listening
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Learning how to pay attention to body language
  • Identifying and replacing negative thoughts and self-talk
  • Assertiveness
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • and other general conversation skills …just to name a few.


=>  Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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

When Your Neurotypical Spouse Accuses You of Being Narcissistic




Self-Help Strategies for Alexithymia—
  • Group Psychotherapy: The interactive aspect of group therapy will offer you ways to explore your thoughts and feelings – and experience meaningful exchanges with your NT partner.
  • Hypnosis and Relaxation Training: This uses guided imagery and mentalizations to help you enhance emotional understanding. 
  • Journaling: Expressive writing can be helpful in stretching your ability to detect emotions. You should write every day in a journal with the goal of broadening the range of your observations within - and outside - of yourself. [See below]
  • Reading Novels: The language of describing thoughts, feelings and experiences is usually found in all novels. This is a great way to learn expressive language, develop the skill of receptive language, and gain expertise in how to describe a story or personal narrative.
  • Skill-Based Psychotherapy Treatments: This therapy aims to teach through skill building (e.g., Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Mindfulness Training, Short Term Interpersonal Therapy). These will teach you how to be more attentive to personal feeling-states and how to identify emotions in other people.
  • Expressive Arts: This is a more formal approach with an acting, dance, art, music, or movement therapy class that will help you to recognize and externalize emotions.

Journaling:
Click to enlarge

=>  Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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

Chronic, Invasive Thinking-Patterns in People on the Autism Spectrum

☹️==> Audio Clip: Chronic, Invasive Thinking-Patterns in People on the Autism Spectrum

What I hear from a lot from clients with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: "I just want the thoughts to stop!"

In working with clients on the autism spectrum, what I see pretty much 100% of the time is the individual’s tendency to chronically get lost in thought - usually stressful thoughts. The autistic brain is very rarely paying attention to what’s going on in the present moment.

Oftentimes, they are either (a) ruminating about a past stressful event, or (b) worrying about the potentiality of a future stressful event, or (c) they are experiencing stress in the present moment - the event that’s occurring now.

The only reprieve they get from being lost in this rabbit hole of random stressful thinking is to get lost mentally in their special interest. They are rarely at peace in the present moment unless the present moment involves their mental engagement with a preferred activity.

We all have random unwanted thoughts that show up in our head without permission - automatic thoughts. But, I have a ton of anecdotal evidence that the autistic brain seems to run on auto-pilot without the user’s permission pretty much 24 seven. 

We don’t have to beat our heart, it beats without us putting forth any effort. In the same way, the autistic brain thinks without the individual putting any effort toward the thinking. In other words, the autistic individual is no longer in charge of his thoughts, rather his thoughts are in charge of him. He is literally a prisoner of chronic intrusive thinking patterns. 

This translates to chronic anxiety to one degree or another, which in turn leads to the strong need to reduce the anxiety, which usually comes in the form of distraction through the use of a preferred activity or thought stream.

=> More talking points from Mark Hutten, M.A. -- Relationships Affected by AS and HFA

=>  Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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

Anxiety Associated with Excessive Verbal Instruction and Performing Mundane Tasks

“My partner has high functioning autism, when I talk to him about something that’s important to me, he will zone out or he will pretend to be paying attention. But I always know when he has not heard me because he will not follow through with what he said he was going to do. He will agree to something but later will not complete the task.” 

==> Audio Clip: Anxiety Associated with Excessive Verbal Instruction and Performing Mundane Tasks


=>  Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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

Low Social-Emotional Intelligence and Confusion Around Prioritized Allegiance


“My husband with Asperger seems to have a better relationship with his mother than with me… certainly more intimacy and consideration there. I don’t mean in a sexual nature of course. But he and his mother or like buddies and I’m kind of like the outsider in that group.”

==> Audio Clip: Low Social-Emotional Intelligence and Confusion Around Prioritized Allegiance


=>  Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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

Toxic Guilt and Toxic Shame: The Autistic Dilemma

==> Audio Clip: Guilt to "Toxic Guilt" to "Toxic Shame"


People on the autism spectrum make social errors frequently. They already know that. But as they get reminded of how they keep "messing up," they often begin to view themselves as a mistake; it becomes a part of their identity. This often occurs at an unconscious level such that the individual doesn't even know he is experiencing chronic, low-grade, toxic guilt


=>  Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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

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