==> Online Group Therapy for Couples and Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder
Since the symptoms of an autistic individual who is “high-functioning” can be so subtle, multiple, and difficult to pinpoint - it’s hard for an NT spouse to know whether things are normal or not. For example:
- Are my expectations for my ASD spouse unreasonable?
- What is the difference between a person who doesn’t understand emotions, and one who is narcissistic?
- What are the indications of a person being off course in his ability to listen and follow directions?
- What is the difference between a healthy, very active individual versus a hyperactive one with ASD?
- What is the difference between the person who is a little clumsy and one who is having significant motor skills problems?
It will take some time for the NT to recognize and articulate concerns about such issues.
Even after a diagnosis, the NT spouse will face a multitude of feelings before she can grasp effectively with the glaring truth that her husband has a “developmental disorder.” The NT may even mourn over this new reality:
- bargaining (e.g., thinking that seeing a typical marriage and family therapist will make the situation better)
- blaming others for the difficult situation
- dealing with the fear, anger and guilt of having a spouse who experiences many problems
- denying there is a problem, as well as rationalizing why it’s not a problem
- grieving for “what might have been”
- perhaps eventually coming to acceptance regarding the spouse’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as trying to figure out an effective plan of action
One of the biggest challenges NT spouses may face is the big gap between what their ASD husband can do – and what he can’t do. Oftentimes, the ASD spouse is very smart, can reason well, knows a great deal about his favorite subject, yet can’t follow through with the NT’s simple requests.
You may be telling your autistic spouse to “try harder.” But in many cases, he is trying his heart out. These individuals often have to work 10 times harder than their typical peers, but are still labelled as uncaring, selfish, insensitive and narcissistic.
Another piece of the puzzle for the NT spouse lies in how difficult it can be to differentiate between a spouse who “can’t” do something versus one who “won’t” do something. For example:
• “How far should I ‘push’ my husband?”
• “How much should I reduce my expectations?”
• “How much ‘spousal control’ should I exert?”
In this uncertainty, the NT may even ask herself “what is wrong with me?” – instead of asking “what trials and tribulations is my husband having to face?” Shifting this focus can be beneficial for both spouses.
While a formal diagnosis can help, the task of sorting-out these problems on a day-to-day basis is quite a challenge. On a planning level, uncertainty can occur because friends and other family members may disagree not only on the diagnosis – but on the optimal coping strategies that “should be used” by the NT spouse.
This can be aggravating and stress-provoking for the NT who has to pull all the information together and decide what to do – right or wrong. In addition, she has to anticipate problems and sense when her husband is frustrated, tired, or about to explode. The NT has to trust her gut as to how long her spouse can last at a family get-together, be pleasant with visitors, or sit in a busy/noisy restaurant.
- come up with plans for dealing with his meltdowns and shutdowns
- problem-solve to recognize her ASD spouse’s strengths, interests, and areas of difficulty
- reflect on activities of each day
- think carefully
- …and analyze everything!
All of this takes time and energy that is exhausting!