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Why Your AS Partner Seems to Prefer Spending More Time with His “Special Interests” Than with You

For all people with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism, life is usually divided into two categories: preferred and non-preferred activities. Preferred activities are those things your partner engages in frequently and with great intensity.

However, not all of his preferred activities are equal. Some are much more highly desired. An activity that is lower on the list can hardly be used as a “motivator” for one that is higher. For example, you, the NT partner or spouse, will have great difficulty getting him to substitute his “computer time” by offering a “social reward” (e.g., accompanying you to a family get-together) if the computer is higher on his list.

Any activity that is non-preferred will often be avoided as long as possible (e.g., doing chores, going to the grocery, watching a “boring” movie with you). The lower the activities are on the list of desirability, the more he will resist or avoid doing them.

Sometimes an activity becomes non-preferred because it competes with one that is much more highly valued. For example, going for a walk with you could be enjoyable, but if he is reading at the moment - and reading is higher on his list - he will not likely stop what he’s doing to go for an impromptu walk.

Most often, preferred and non-preferred activities are problem areas in the relationship. Your AS or HFA partner will always want to engage in preferred activities even when you have something more important for him to do (e.g., watch the kids while you run an errand).

He does not want to end preferred activities, and your attempts to have him end them will likely cause a bit of conflict. If many non-preferred elements are combined together, the problem can become a nightmare (e.g., go shopping with you, then stop by to see his mother-in-law, then back home so he can “fix” the water leak under the kitchen sink). Family vacations, where his routine is totally disrupted for a rather lengthy period of time, can also be a nightmare.

The AS or HFA individual rarely has activities he just “likes.” He tends to either love or hate an activity. The middle ground is usually missing. Obviously, you would like for your partner or spouse to experience new things to see if he likes them, but he may not want to do this just because you're asking him to do something new.

People on the autism spectrum usually HATE change and deviations from their “routine.” He already has his list of preferred interests, and will rarely see the need for anything new.

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