“When I’m frustrated with my spouse [with ASD], I usually make a concerted effort to not show it. That is, I try to stay calm. But even when I make a neutral comment - something non-threatening - he still says I’m being critical… so that’s when he just leaves the room and does his version of a shutdown. What am I doing wrong here!? Again, I think I’m being (actually pretending) to be calm when I try to discuss our issues with him. We can’t discuss anything anymore!”
A MAJOR source of sensory-overload for a person with ASD is voice – especially tone of voice! The individual often analyzes voice-tone first, and then decodes the words used by the speaker later. Any voice inflection by the speaker that remotely conveys a negative attitude (e.g., sarcasm, irritation, criticism, etc.) may be detected - and taken personally.
A negative tone can be offensive to an ASD spouse, particularly if he is not sure why the speaker is using a particular inflection (e.g., “Is she upset with me?” “Did I do something wrong?” “Why does she sound mad?”). A loop effect can occur in his thinking process (i.e., mulls over the comment made by the speaker long after the conversation has ended). Anxiety and agitation can increase as he attempts to analyze the motives of the speaker.
What we’re really referring to here is your spouse’s obsessive way of thinking. One of the most troublesome traits of the disorder may be the tendency toward repetitive thoughts (i.e., ruminations).
While the ability toward extreme focus can be a strong point for a person on the autism spectrum, it’s a problem when he can’t shift away from thinking about things that are not of his choosing. Often, the individual gets caught up in worries, dwells on past slights from his NT spouse, ponders his own mistakes, and has problems letting go of past hurts.
Resources for couples affected by ASD: