|Mark Hutten, M.A. - Counseling Psychologist|
“How does this so-called ‘Mindblindness’ affect how my spouse [with ASD] communicates with me [or does not communicate, as the case may be]?”
Due to mind-blindness, the person on the autism spectrum often has an obsessive-compulsive approach to life that results in a narrow range of interests - and insistence on set routines. This usually starts as a cognitive (i.e., thinking) issue before it becomes a behavioral one.
By getting answers to some of these questions, the NT spouse will be in a much better position to effectively register her or his concerns about existing relationship difficulties.
==> To learn some very specific and concrete communication strategies for dealing with spouses on the autism spectrum, register for one of my online workshops. Dates and times are located here...
“Can anxiety and/or OCD be the cause for my (ASD) husband's shutdowns?"
Obsessive-compulsive issues (e.g., rituals, rigidity, perseverations, creating rules, black-and-white thinking, etc.) originate in the ASD person’s difficulty understanding the social world. This creates anxiety, which is the underlying cause for obsessive-compulsive behaviors. You, the NT wife, will see anxiety in many different ways depending on how your husband manifests it.
Some people on the autism spectrum will show anxiety in obvious ways (e.g., frustration, anger, isolation). Others show it by trying to control the situation and bossing people around. Some may throw an adult temper tantrum. No matter how your husband displays his anxiety, you need to recognize that it’s there and not assume it’s due to some other cause (e.g., insensitivity, narcissism, not caring about the relationship, etc.).
Anxiety can occur for the smallest reason. Don't judge anxiety-producing situations by your own reaction to an event. Your husband may be much more sensitive to situations than you will be, and you may often have the thought that “there is no logical reason for his anxiety.” On the other hand, something that you would be highly anxious about may cause no anxiety in your husband.
Your husband's first reaction to marital conflict is to try to reduce - or eliminate - his anxiety. He MUST do something, and one of the most effective means is to take all changes, uncertainty, and variability out of the equation. This can be accomplished by obsessions.
If everything is done a certain way, if there is a definite and unbreakable rule for every event, and if everyone does as he wishes – everything will be fine. Anxiety is then diminished or reduced, and no meltdowns or shutdowns occur. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to do this in the real world.
Behavioral manifestations of anxiety in your spouse may include the following:
"Why is it that my husband [with ASD] never considers my point of view? He's always right - and I'm always irrational and overly-emotional [according to him]."
“Why is my boyfriend [with ASD] so stubborn and closed-minded?”
Realizing that your boyfriend on the autism spectrum will not be a good observer of his own behavior is your first step in understanding him. ASD-like behavior is often a result of anxiety that accompanies mind-blindness.
On way for the person on the spectrum to reduce anxiety is to have rules, strict routines, and lots of structure in his life. This often appears to others as very rigid behavior. This rigidity is the most common reason for relationships problems.
Reasons for rigidity include the following:
Understanding your boyfriend involves knowing the traits of the disorder - and how they manifest themselves in everyday behaviors. How does he view the world, think about things, and react to what is going on in his environment?
“Mark, I hear so many negatives about people with autism spectrum disorder [level 1]. You say there are many more strengths than weaknesses! What are they?”
Even though there are a number of deficits associated with ASD, there are numerous positives as well. For example, most people of the autism spectrum have the following strengths:
1. are independent and unique thinkers
2. are internally motivated (as opposed to being motivated by praise, money, acceptance, etc.)
3. have the ability to focus on tasks for a long period of time without needing supervision or incentive
4. are more logical than emotional, spending a lot of time “computing” in their minds
5. are often passionately devoted to -and eager to expound on- topics of particular interest to them
6. are visual, 3-dimensional thinkers, which lends itself to countless creative applications
7. have a higher “fluid intelligence” than “typical” people (i.e., the ability to find meaning in confusion, solve new problems, and draw inferences and understand the relationships of various concepts, independent of acquired knowledge)
8. have strong rote skills
9. have terrific memories and are able to memorize large amounts of information
10. pay attention to detail, sometimes with painstaking perfection
11. are not restricted to any social expectations that they have to meet
12. are not as concerned about their external appearance in comparison to “typical” people
13. rarely judge other people based on who is smarter, richer or faster
14. usually have a higher than average general IQ
15. are often precocious in speaking and reading and tend to use sophisticated or formal language
…and this is my short list!
Mark Hutten, M.A.
“We’re in the process of having my husband assessed for ASD. We’ve had numerous problems in the past that have brought us to this point. The doctor said he believes my husband may have a few ‘comorbid’ conditions as well. What other conditions might there be?”
For people on the autism spectrum with avoidant personality, evaluating for the presence of psychiatric disorders (e.g., depression, drug/alcohol abuse, anxiety disorders) is extremely important. Also, because “anxiety tendencies” are often found in other family members, a family psychiatric history is beneficial.
A cycle for the individual with avoidant tendencies looks like this:
==> low social/emotional intelligence due to ASD ==> results in poor social skills ==> results in social mistakes/failures ==> results in teasing, rejection, ridicule by others ==> results in avoiding social situations as much as possible
Quick tips for people with ASD & Avoidant Personality—
• Work on your communication skills. Good relationships depend on clear, emotionally-intelligent communication. If you find that you have trouble connecting to others, learning the basic skills of emotional competency can help.
• Take a social skills class or an assertiveness training class. These classes may be offered at your nearest community college.
• Learn how to control the physical symptoms of social anxiety through relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.
• Get adequate sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re more vulnerable to anxiety. Being well rested will help you stay calm in social situations.
• Face the social situations you fear in a gradual, systematic way, rather than avoiding them.
• Challenge negative, unhelpful thoughts that trigger and fuel social anxiety, replacing them with more balanced views.
ASD is often characterized by a lack of impulse control. People on the autism spectrum are sometimes labeled unmanageable or aggressive because of their impulsivity (e.g., they may act on a whim, display behavior characterized by little - or no - forethought/reflection/consideration of the consequences).
Even though adults on the spectrum can be caring and sensitive, their good qualities are often overshadowed by their lack of impulse control (i.e., their ability to "self-regulate" is compromised).
The inability to self-regulate is often a contributing factor to relationship problems. For example:
“How can my spouse [with ASD] give me the impression that he’s listening to me, yet after the conversation, it’s clear to me that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because he doesn’t follow through with what I had asked him to do - and doesn’t even remember what I asked?”
Traits of weak central coherence include:
On a positive note, the ability to focus on details can also be a strength, as evidenced by individuals with ASD who show remarkable ability in subjects such as mathematics, computer science and engineering.
18 Video Playlist: How to Cope in an ASD+NT Relationship--
|Mark Hutten, M.A. - Counseling Psychologist|