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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

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