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Resources for Neurodiverse Couples:
RE: "How are the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder different in women as compared to men?"
While both men and women with ASD can camouflage their symptoms, it appears to be more common with the ladies. This could explain why they’re less likely to be diagnosed. Studies suggests that, compared to guys, ladies with ASD have less of a tendency to become hyper-focused on a subject or activity, but have more emotional problems (e.g., depression, anxiety).
Generally speaking, females who have ASD are different, not in the core traits of the disorder, but in how they react to the disorder. They tend to mask their social and communication problems in specific ways that are different from the guys on the spectrum. As a result, ladies are often under-diagnosed, or diagnosed with a different disorder. In either case, many of them struggle to cope with their symptoms without the benefit of needed resources and support.
Studies show that ladies with ASD are different from female NTs in how their brains analyze social information. Amazingly, the brain of a woman with ASD is more like the brain of an NT male than that of an autistic male.
Early in life, females with ASD show a greater desire to connect with others. Their interests are more similar to those of NTs. They are more likely to engage in pretend play (characteristic of girls, in general). Also, they are less drawn to repetitive behaviors. Even though they may not be as socially active as NT girls, they often have intense friendships with girls who provide compassion and guidance in social situations.
Girls, and later grown women, often develop coping strategies that cover-up the trouble they have “fitting-in.” They often use imitation or imagination, identifying with other female role-models in an effort to learn how to “act” socially. They figure out the best way to remain undetected by studying social situations and practicing appropriate ways of behaving.
Being well behaved and compliant at school furthers the development and refinement of social skills for these young girls. As a result, they stand out less than boys with ASD. Girls on the spectrum tend to overcome or hide their deficits. As they develop and mature, such deficits appear less pronounced and cause less difficulty for them, in general.
Unlike many autistic guys, ladies with ASD tend to prefer one-on-one social interactions and single friendships (often close and intimate). Although they may have difficulty in group situations, they can be very good at relating directly to one person. They tend to be less solitary than guys with ASD, and are more likely to seek out relationships with the opposite sex, moving towards long-term romantic relationships.
Women on the autism spectrum are more sensitive to emotions in others than guys with ASD. Ironically, the desire in autistic ladies to connect is frequently painful as they encounter ASD-related social and communication problems.
Loneliness is a common complaint amongst these women. More than 65% of adults with ASD report suicidal thoughts - of this percentage, 77% are females. Clearly, ladies on the spectrum think, feel and act differently than their male counterparts. But it’s different - not necessarily better.
Women are often under-represented in individuals who have a diagnosis of ASD when higher IQ is factored in. This means that of those with a higher intelligence level, women are less likely to be given a diagnosis of ASD. This may be because women with higher intelligence can use their intelligence to develop coping strategies and to learn ways to navigate their life experiences despite their ASD symptoms.
Even within the range of average intelligence, autistic women are often able to display more socially acceptable and functional skills in their social interactions as compared to autistic men. This may be due to how these women can learn to imitate those around them - even when social skills don’t come naturally.
One theory of the differences between autistic men and women (related to restrictive and repetitive behaviors) is that women often have “fewer” of these types of behaviors – and they have “different” types of these behaviors. The restrictive or repetitive behaviors of women may not be noticed as much – and may appear more “socially appropriate.” Autistic women also have limited interests, but these interests appear to be socially acceptable, and therefore are less noticed as a symptom of ASD.
In summary, men and women on the autism spectrum differ in the following areas:
- as IQ increases, women are less likely to be diagnosed with ASD, which may have to do with their ability to develop coping strategies to manage their life experiences despite having the disorder
- at a young age, women on the spectrum seem to have more motor deficits, but fewer communication deficits
- men are diagnosed at a 4:1 ratio when compared to women
- autistic women often display fewer - and different - types of restrictive or repetitive behaviors as compared to men, and these behaviors are less noticeable to others
Emotional, Social, Physical, Behavioral, and Cognitive Traits that Women with ASD May Exhibit:
1. Abused or taken advantage of as a little girl, but didn’t think to tell anyone
2. Allergies and food sensitivities
3. An emotional incident can determine the mood for the day
4. Analyze existence and the meaning of life
5. Appearance of hearing problems, but hearing has been checked and is fine
6. As a little girl, it was hard to know when it was her turn to talk
7. Aversion to answering questions about themselves
8. Becomes overwhelmed with too much verbal direction
9. Calmed by external stimulation (e.g., soothing sound, brushing, rotating object, constant pressure)
10. Can’t relax or rest without many thoughts
11. Chronic fatigue
12. Come across at times as narcissistic
13. Confused by tone of voice, proximity of body, body stance, the rules of accurate eye contact, posture in conversation, etc.
15. Conversations are often exhausting
16. Daydream a lot
17. Deep thinkers
18. Desires comfort items (e.g., blankets, teddy, rock, string)
19. Diagnosed with a mental illness
20. Didn’t participate in class
• filtering out background noise when talking to others
• making and keeping friends
• transitioning from one activity to another
• understanding directional terms (e.g., north, south)
• understanding group interactions
• with fine motor activities (e.g., coloring, printing, using scissors, gluing)
• with loud or sudden sounds
22. Dislike being in a crowded mall, crowded gym, and/or crowded theater
23. Don’t simplify
24. Don’t take things for granted
25. Dreams are anxiety-ridden and vivid
26. Easily fooled and conned
27. Eating disorders
28. Emotions can pass very suddenly or are drawn out for a long period of time
• by playing the same music over and over
• into other rooms at parties
• regularly through fixations and obsessions
• routinely through imagination, fantasy
• through a relationship (imagined or real)
• through counting, categorizing, organizing, etc.
• through mental processing
• through the rhythm of words
30. Everything has a purpose
31. Everything is complex
32. Excellent rote memory
33. Exceptionally high skills in some areas and very low in others
34. Experience multiple physical symptoms
35. Experience trouble with lying
36. Extreme anxiety for no apparent reason
37. Feel as if missing a thought-filter
38. Feel extreme relief when they don’t have to go anywhere or talk to anyone
• of being misplaced and/or from another planet
• of confusion and being overwhelmed
• of dread about upcoming events and appointments
• of isolation
• of polar extremes (e.g., sad/happy)
40. Feels the need to fix or rearrange things
41. Find it difficult to understand manipulation and disloyalty
42. Find it difficult to understand vindictive behavior and retaliation
43. Find norms of conversation confusing
44. Find unwritten and unspoken rules difficult to grasp, remember, and apply
45. Food obsessions
46. Frustration is expressed in unusual ways
47. Generalized Anxiety
48. Had imaginary friends as a little girl
49. Have a continuous dialogue in mind that tells them what to say and how to act when in a social situation
50. Have had bouts of depression
51. Highly intelligent
52. Hold a lot of thoughts, ideas, and feelings inside
54. Imitate friends or peers in style, dress, attitude, etc.
55. Imitate people on television or in movies
56. Immune challenges
57. Intolerance to certain food textures, colors or the way they are presented on the plate (e.g., one food can’t touch another)
58. Irregular sleep patterns
59. Irritable bowel
60. Knowing they have to leave the house causes anxiety
61. Lack in coordination
62. Little impulse control with speaking
63. Make friends with older or younger females
64. Many and varied collections
65. Mastered imitation
66. May have a very high vocabulary
67. May need to be left alone to release tension and frustration
69. Monopolize conversations
71. Numbers are calming (e.g., numbers associated with patterns, calculations, lists, etc.)
72. Obsess about the potentiality of a relationship with someone
73. Obsessively collect and organize objects
75. Often drop small objects
76. Often get lost in their own thoughts and “checks out”
77. Often sound eager and over-zealous or apathetic and disinterested
78. Often harbor guilt for “hibernating” and not doing “what everyone else is doing”
79. Over-interest in certain subjects
80. Perfectionism in certain areas
82. Poor muscle tone, double-jointed
83. Practice/rehearse in mind what they will say to another before entering the room
84. Prepares themselves mentally for outings and appointments, often days before a scheduled event
85. Prolific writers drawn to poetry
86. Question place in the world
87. Question the actions and behaviors of themselves and others
88. Reveals intimate details to strangers
89. Search for right and wrong
90. See things at multiple levels, including their own thinking processes
91. Sense of humor sometimes seems quirky, odd, or inappropriate
92. Sense of pending danger or doom
93. Sensory Issues
94. Serious and matter-of-fact in nature
95. Share in order to reach out
96. Survive overwhelming emotions and senses by escaping in thought or action
97. Tendency to overshare
98. Tends to either tune out or break down when being criticized
100. Trained themselves in social interactions through readings and studying of others
101. Transitioning from one activity to another is difficult
102. Uncomfortable in public bathrooms
103. Unusually high or low pain tolerance
104. Visualize and practice how they will act around others
105. Walks without swinging arms freely
106. Wonder who they are and what is expected of them
107. Worry about what is eaten
Resources for Neurodiverse Couples:
Resources for Neurodiverse Couples:
“Mark: You say that anxiety is a prominent feature of ASD. What is the biological reason for this?”
|*** Click on image to enlarge. ***|
Biology is just one contributor. People with ASD are particularly vulnerable to anxiety due to a breakdown in circuitry related to extinguishing fear responses, specific neurotransmitter system defects, and the inability to make good social judgments throughout the lifespan.
People with certain personality traits are more likely to have anxiety – with or without ASD. For example, those who are perfectionists, easily frustrated, shy, lack self-esteem, or need to control everything often develop anxiety during childhood and adolescence, which progresses into adulthood.
Anxiety, in general, is more prominent today than a generation ago, for people on - and off - the autism spectrum. The newly recognized increase in anxiety disorders may be the result of poor diet (due to the abundance of fast food/junk food), social media, poor sleep habits, lowered stigma, and under-reporting in the past.
Also, there are a multitude of other sources that can be triggering one’s anxiety (e.g., traumatic past experience, medical conditions, job or personal relationship problems, genetics, environmental factors such as pollution, etc.).
Furthermore, some people worry more than others because they are more emotionally sensitive. Emotionally sensitive people tend to label a moderately bad situation as “devastating,” or may take neutral comments made by others as acute criticism.
Other reasons for anxiety in people with ASD include:
- being rejected or teased by others, but not having the ability to mount an effective socially adaptive response
- recognizing that others “get it” when they do not
- few - or no - coping strategies for soothing themselves and containing difficult emotions
- lack of empathy, which severely limits skills for autonomous social problem-solving
- limitations in their ability to grasp social cues and a highly rigid style of thinking, which act in concert to create repeated social errors
- limitations in generalizing from one situation to another, which often contributes to repeating the same mistakes
More resources for couples affected by ASD:
People with ASD are prone to anger, which can be made worse by difficulty in communicating feelings of anxiety. Anger is often a common reaction experienced when coming to terms with problems in relationships (i.e., things that occur that raise the ASD individual’s stress level).
There can be an ‘on-off’ quality to this anger where the individual is calm minutes later after an angry outburst (e.g., meltdown), while those around are stunned and may feel hurt or shocked for hours, if not days, afterward.
The NT partner often struggles to understand these angry outbursts, with resentment and bitterness building up over time. Once the NT understands that her ASD partner has trouble controlling his anger - or understanding its effects on others - she can learn ways to respond that will help to manage these outbursts (i.e., to keep them from escalating).
In some cases, the person on the spectrum may not acknowledge that he has trouble with his anger - and will blame his NT partner for provoking him. Again, this can create enormous conflict within the relationship. It will take carefully phrased feedback and plenty of time for the ASD partner to gradually realize he has a problem with how he expresses his anger and frustration.
A good place to start is identifying a pattern in how the outbursts are related to specific frustrations. Such triggers may originate from the environment, specific individuals, or internal thoughts. Common causes of anger in people with ASD include: other people’s behavior (e.g., critical comments); intolerance of imperfections in others; having routines and order disrupted; anxiety; being swamped by multiple tasks or sensory stimulation.
Identifying the cause of anger can be a challenge. It is important to consider all possible influences relating to one’s physical state (e.g., pain, tiredness), mental state (e.g., existing frustration, confusion), the environment (e.g., too much stimulation, lack of structure, change of routine), and how well the ASD individual can regulate difficult emotions. Life-coaching and Neurodiverse Couples Counseling can help in this area.
More resources for couples affected by ASD:
Is Your Partner or Spouse on the Autism Spectrum? - Comprehensive List of Traits Associated with ASD
You think your partner or spouse may have autism? This comprehensive list will give you a better clue. Here you will find the majority of symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – level 1. The individual will not usually have ALL of these traits, however:
1. An awkward gait when walking or running
3. Averts eye contact, or keeps it fleeting or limited
4. Avoids eye contact altogether
5. Benefits from schedules, signs, cue cards
6. Can only focus on one way to solve a problem, though this solution may be ineffective
7. Can recognize smells before others
8. Can’t allow foods to touch each other on the plate
9. Can't extend the allotted time for an activity; activities must start and end at the times specified
10. Carries a specific object
11. Complains of a small amount of wetness (e.g., from the water fountain, a small spill)
12. Complains of clothing feeling like sandpaper
13. Compromises interactions by rigidity, inability to shift attention or “go with the flow,” being rule bound
14. Confronts another person without changing her face or voice
15. Continues to engage in an ineffective behavior rather than thinking of alternatives
16. Covers ears when certain sounds are made
17. Creates jokes that make no sense
18. Creates own words, using them with great pleasure in social situations
19. Difficulties with fine motor skills
20. Difficulties with gross motor skills
21. Difficulty accepting new clothing (including for change of seasons)
22. Difficulty applying sufficient pressure when writing, drawing
23. Difficulty coordinating different extremities, motor planning
24. Difficulty discriminating between fact and fantasy
25. Difficulty in auditory areas
27. Difficulty in olfactory areas
28. Difficulty in tactile areas
29. Difficulty in visual areas
30. Difficulty incorporating new information with previously acquired information (i.e., information processing, concept formation, analyzing/ synthesizing information), is unable to generalize learning from one situation to another, may behave quite differently in different settings and with different individuals
31. Difficulty initiating, maintaining, and ending conversations with others
32. Difficulty maintaining the conversation topic
33. Difficulty understanding the meaning conveyed by others when they vary their pitch, rhythm, or tone
34. Difficulty using particular materials (e.g., glue, paint, clay)
35. Difficulty when novel material is presented without visual support
36. Difficulty when throwing or catching a ball
37. Difficulty when touched by others, even lightly (especially shoulders and head)
38. Difficulty with any changes in the established routine
39. Difficulty with clothing seams or tags
40. Difficulty with direction following
41. Difficulty with handwriting
42. Difficulty with independently seeing sequential steps to complete finished product
43. Difficulty with motor imitation skills
44. Difficulty with organizational skills (e.g., What do I need to do, and how do I go about implementing it?)
45. Difficulty with Reciprocal Social Interactions
46. Difficulty with rhythm copying
47. Difficulty with sequencing (e.g., What is the order used to complete a particular task?)
48. Difficulty with task completion
49. Difficulty with task initiation
50. Difficulty with transitions
51. Displays a delay when answering questions
52. Displays a lack of desire to interact
53. Displays a lack of empathy for others and their emotions (e.g., takes another person’s belongings)
54. Displays a limited awareness of current fashion, slang, topics, activities, and accessories
55. Displays a limited awareness of the emotions of others and/or how to respond to them
56. Displays a strong need for perfection, wants to complete activities/assignments perfectly (e.g., his standards are very high and noncompliance may stem from avoidance of a task he feels he can't complete perfectly)
57. Displays a strong olfactory memory
58. Displays abnormal gestures/facial expressions/body posture when communicating
59. Displays an inability to focus when surrounded by multiple sounds (e.g., shopping mall, airport, party)
60. Displays anxiety when touched unexpectedly
61. Displays average or above average intellectual ability
62. Displays average or above average receptive and expressive language skills
63. Displays difficulty analyzing and synthesizing information presented
64. Displays difficulty as language moves from a literal to a more abstract level
65. Displays difficulty monitoring own behavior
66. Displays difficulty sustaining attention and is easily distracted
67. Displays difficulty understanding not only individual words, but conversations
68. Displays difficulty with inferential thinking and problem solving (e.g., completing a multi-step task that is novel)
69. Displays difficulty with problem solving
70. Displays difficulty with volume control (i.e., too loud or too soft)
71. Displays discomfort/anxiety when looking at certain pictures (e.g., the person feels as if the visual experience is closing in on him)
72. Displays extreme fear when unexpected noises occur
73. Displays high moral standard
74. Displays rigid behavior
75. Displays rigidity in thoughts and actions
76. Displays strong letter recognition skills
77. Displays strong number recognition skills
78. Displays strong oral reading skills, though expression and comprehension are limited
79. Displays strong spelling skills
80. Displays strong word recognition skills
81. Displays unusual chewing and swallowing behaviors
82. Distractable and has difficulty sustaining attention
83. Does not appear to comprehend the facial expressions of others
84. Does not appear to comprehend the gestures/body language of others
85. Does not ask for help with a problem
86. Does not ask for the meaning of an unknown word
87. Does not inquire about others when conversing
88. Does not make conversations reciprocal (i.e., has great difficulty with the back-and-forth aspect), attempts to control the language exchange, may leave a conversation before it is concluded
89. Does not observe personal space (is too close or too far)
90. Does not respond to temperature appropriately
91. Does not turn to face the person he is talking to
92. Does not use gestures/body language when communicating
93. Easily activated gag/vomit reflex
94. Emotional responses out of proportion to the situation, emotional responses that are more intense and tend to be negative (e.g., glass half-empty)
95. Engages in competing behaviors (e.g., vocalizations, noises, plays with an object, sits incorrectly, looks in wrong direction)
96. Engages in intense staring
97. Engages in obsessive questioning or talking in one area, lacks interest in the topics of others
98. Engages in repetitive/stereotypical behaviors
99. Engages in self-stimulatory behaviors (e.g., hand movements, facial grimaces)
100. Engages in self-stimulatory or odd behaviors (rocking, tics, finger posturing, eye blinking, noises — humming/clicking/talking to self)
101. Excellent rote memory
102. Fails to assist someone with an obvious need for help (not holding a door for someone carrying many items or assisting someone who falls or drops their belongings)
103. Fails to inquire regarding others
104. Failure to follow rules and routines results in behavioral difficulties
106. Feels need to complete projects in one sitting, has difficulty with projects completed over time
107. Few interests, but those present are unusual and treated as obsessions
108. Finds some smells so overpowering or unpleasant that he becomes nauseated
109. Focuses conversations on one narrow topic, with too many details given, or moves from one seemingly unrelated topic to the next
110. Focuses on special interests
111. Frustration if writing samples are not perfectly identical to the presented model
112. Has a large vocabulary consisting mainly of nouns and verbs
113. Has a set routine for how activities are to be done
114. Has a voice pattern that is often described as robotic
115. Has an extensive fund of factual information
116. Has an unusual pencil/pen grasp
117. Has developed narrow and specific interests; the interests tend to be atypical (note: this gives a feeling of competence and order; involvement with the area of special interest becomes all-consuming)
118. Has difficulty shifting from one channel to another; processing is slow and easily interrupted by any environmental stimulation (i.e., seen as difficulty with topic maintenance). This will appear as distractibility or inattentiveness
119. Has difficulty with feelings of empathy for others. Interactions with others remain on one level, with one message
120. Has rules for most activities, which must be followed (this can be extended to all involved)
121. Has specific strengths in cognitive areas
122. Has tics or facial grimaces
123. Has unusual fears
124. Ignores an individual’s appearance of sadness, anger, boredom, etc.
125. Impaired reading comprehension; word recognition is more advanced (e.g., difficulty understanding characters in stories, why they do or do not do something)
126. Impairment in prosody
127. Impairment in the pragmatic use of language
128. Impairment in the processing of language
129. Impairment in the semantic use of language
130. Inability to prevent or lessen extreme behavioral reactions, inability to use coping or calming techniques
131. Increase in perseverative/obsessive/rigid/ritualistic behaviors or preoccupation with area of special interest, engaging in nonsense talk
132. Inflexible thinking, not learning from past mistakes (note: this is why consequences often appear ineffective)
133. Insistence on Set Routines
134. Interprets known words on a literal level (i.e., concrete thinking)
135. Interrupts others
136. Is not aware of the consequences of his “hurtful” behavior
137. Is oversensitive to environmental stimulation (e.g., changes in light, sound, smell, location of objects)
138. Is unable to accept environmental changes (e.g., must always go to the same restaurant, same vacation spot)
139. Is unable to change the way he has been taught to complete a task
141. Is unable to make or understand jokes/teasing
142. Is unable to select activities that are of interest to others (unaware or unconcerned that others do not share the same interest or level of interest, unable to compromise)
143. Is unaware he can say something that will hurt someone's feelings or that an apology would make the person "feel better" (e.g., tells another person their story is boring)
144. Is unaware of unspoken or “hidden” rules — may “tell” on peers, breaking the “code of silence” that exists. He will then be unaware why others are angry with him
145. Is unaware that others have intentions or viewpoints different from his own; when engaging in off-topic conversation, does not realize the listener is having great difficulty following the conversation
146. Is unaware that others have thoughts, beliefs, and desires that influence their behavior
147. Is under-sensitive to environmental stimulation (e.g., changes in light, sound, smell, location of objects)
148. Knows how to make a greeting, but has no idea how to continue the conversation; the next comment may be one that is totally irrelevant
149. Lack of appreciation of social cues
150. Lack of cognitive flexibility
151. Lacks awareness if someone appears bored, upset, angry, scared, and so forth. Therefore, she does not comment in a socially appropriate manner or respond by modifying the interaction
152. Lacks awareness of the facial expressions and body language of others, so these conversational cues are missed. He is also unable to use gestures or facial expressions to convey meaning when conversing. You will see fleeting, averted, or a lack of eye contact. He will fail to gain another person's attention before conversing with her. He may stand too far away from or too close to the person he is conversing with. His body posture may appear unusual
153. Lacks conversational language for a social purpose, does not know what to say — this could be no conversation, monopolizing the conversation, lack of ability to initiate conversation, obsessive conversation in one area, conversation not on topic or conversation that is not of interest to others
154. Lacks facial expressions when communicating
156. Laughs at something that is sad, asks questions that are too personal
157. Limited or abnormal use of nonverbal communication
158. Looks to the left or right of the person she is talking to
159. Makes comments that may embarrass others
160. Makes limited food choices
161. Makes rude comments (tells someone they are fat, bald, old, have yellow teeth)
162. Meltdowns (e.g., crying, aggression, property destruction, screaming)
163. Must eat each individual food in its entirety before the next
164. Narrow clothing preferences
165. Narrow food preferences
166. Narrow Range of Interests
167. Needs to smell foods before eating them
168. Needs to smell materials before using them
169. Needs to touch foods before eating them
170. Non-compliant behaviors
171. Observes or stays on the periphery of a group rather than joining in
172. Once a discussion begins, it is as if there is no “stop” button; must complete a predetermined dialogue
173. Only sits in one specific chair or one specific location
174. Overreacts to pain
175. Patterns, routines, and rituals are evident and interfere with daily functioning
176. Plays games or completes activities in a repetitive manner or makes own rules for them
177. Poor balance
178. Poor impulse control
179. Prefers factual reading materials rather than fiction
180. Prefers structured over non-structured activities
181. Purposely withdraws to avoid noises
183. Responds with anger when he feels others are not following the rules, will discipline others or reprimand them for their actions
184. Rigidity issues tied in with limited food preferences (e.g., this is the food he always has, it is always this brand, and it is always prepared and presented in this way)
185. Rules are very important as the world is seen as black or white
186. Rushes through fine motor tasks
187. Shows a strong desire to control the environment
188. Sits apart from others, avoids situations where involvement with others is expected
189. Smiles when someone shares sad news
190. Socially and emotionally inappropriate behaviors
191. Stands too close or too far away from another person
192. Stands too close to objects or people
193. Stares intensely at people or objects
194. Takes perfectionism to an extreme
195. Talks on and on about a special interest while unaware that the other person is no longer paying attention, talks to someone who is obviously engaged in another activity, talks to someone who isn’t even there
196. Touches, hugs, or kisses others without realizing that it is inappropriate
197. Under-reacts to pain
198. Unsure how to ask for help, make requests, or make comments
199. Uses conversation to convey facts and information about special interests, rather than to convey thoughts, emotions, or feelings
200. Uses facial expressions that do not match the emotion being expressed
201. Uses gestures/body language, but in an unusual manner
202. Uses language scripts or verbal rituals in conversation, often described as “nonsense talk” by others (scripts may be made up or taken from movies/books/TV)
203. Uses the voice of a movie or cartoon character conversationally and is unaware that this is inappropriate
204. Uses visual information as a “backup” (e.g., I have something to look at when I forget), especially when new information is presented
205. Uses visual information as a prompt
206. Uses visual information to help focus attention (e.g., I know what to look at)
207. Uses visual information to make concepts more concrete
208. Uses visual information to provide external organization and structure, replacing the person’s lack of internal structure (e.g., I know how it is done, I know the sequence)
209. Uses words in a peculiar manner
210. Views the world in black and white (e.g., admits to breaking a rule even when there is no chance of getting caught)
211. Visual learning strength
212. When processing language (which requires multiple channels working together), has difficulty regulating just one channel, difficulty discriminating between relevant and irrelevant information
213. When questioned regarding what could be learned from another person's facial expression, says, “Nothing.” Faces do not provide him with information. Unable to read these “messages,” he is unable to respond to them
214. Will only tolerate foods of a particular texture or color
Resources for couples affected by ASD:
“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:
A key difference to remember is that tantrums usually have a purpose. The person who is "acting out" in the moment is looking for a certain reaction from you (e.g., to push YOUR anger button in order to piss you off). On the other hand, a meltdown is a reaction to something that short circuits the reasoning part of the brain (e.g., sensory overload, anxiety overload, unexpected and troubling change in the person's routine or structure, feeling overwhelmed by one's emotions, etc.), and has nothing to do with your response to it.
ASD is often referred to as the "invisible disorder" because of the internal struggles these individuals have without outwardly demonstrating any real noticeable symptoms (when they are calm anyway). People with this disorder struggle with a stressful problem, but “internalize” their feelings until their emotions boil over, leading to a complete meltdown. These outbursts are not a typical tantrum.
Some meltdowns are worse than others, but all leave both spouses exhausted. Unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over a day – or more. When it ends, both partners are emotionally drained. But, don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day, and sometimes into the next, the meltdown can return full force.
Meltdowns are overwhelming emotions and quite common in people on the spectrum. They can be caused by a very minor incident to something more traumatic. They last until the individual with ASD is either completely exhausted, or he gains control of his emotions (which is not easy for him to do). Most autistics have “emotional-regulation” difficulties!
Your spouse with ASD may experience both minor and major meltdowns over incidents that are part of daily life. He may have a major meltdown over something that you view as a very small incident, or he may have absolutely NO REACTION to something that you view as a very troubling incident.
When your husband is calm and relaxed, talk to him about his meltdowns. Then, tell him that sometimes he “reacts” to (i.e., is startled by) certain problems in a way that is disproportionate to the actual severity of the problem. Have him talk to you about a sign you can give him to let him know when he is starting to get revved-up. Overwhelming emotions are part of the traits associated with the disorder, but if you work with your spouse, he will eventually learn to control them somewhat (try to catch them in the “escalation phase” rather than after that bomb has already ignited).
People with ASD usually like to be left alone to cope with negative emotions. If your husband says something like, “I just want to be left alone,” respect his wishes for at least a while. You can always go back in 30 minutes and ask if you can help. Do not be hurt if he refuses.
Resources for couples affected by ASD:
Problems Processing Information: The Main Reason ASD Partners Don’t Follow Through with NTs’ Requests
"Does the autistic brain have problems processing sensory and emotional information? My husband [on the autism spectrum] rarely follows through with what he originally agrees to do [or later, states he did not understand what I said, or simply does not remember the conversation at all]."
The sensory systems are also involved in “emotional processing.” People with autism spectrum disorder vary in their ability to process information emotionally, in part because at least one other sense often doesn't work well (e.g., it would be difficult for spouse with an auditory-processing issue to figure out whether his wife’s voice suggests composure or irritation). Also, many of these individuals have a hard time using their emotions or desires to process information and act appropriately in interpersonal settings.
Processing is a system that helps people select, prepare, and begin to interpret incoming information. People with ASD who have difficulty with processing may have a range of problems related to regulating the use of incoming information.
There are five processing skills:
1. Cognitive activation is a form of “active processing” that connects new information to what has already been learned through prior knowledge and experience. People who are “inactive processors” are unable to connect to prior knowledge to assist their understanding of new information. In contrast, “overactive processors” are reminded of too much prior knowledge, making it difficult for them to maintain focus.
2. Depth and detail of processing controls how intensely people can concentrate on highly specific data. It enables them to focus deeply enough to recognize and remember necessary details. People with ASD tend to remember a lot of details that relate to their area of special interest, but may not remember much outside of that interest.
3. Focal maintenance allows the person to focus on important information for the appropriate period of time. Individuals on the spectrum may not concentrate long enough on some things, and may concentrate too long on others.
4. Saliency determination involves selecting which incoming information is the most important. People who have difficulty with this control may be distracted by things that are not relevant and miss important information being presented.
5. Satisfaction control involves a person’s ability to allocate enough attention to activities or topics of moderate or low levels of interest. People with ASD with poor satisfaction control have difficulty concentrating on activities that are outside of their special interest.
Here are some signs that your ASD husband has difficulty processing information:
- tries to understand the meaning of each word you are saying rather than being able to automatically understand the whole gist and general meaning of your sentence
- processes too little or too much information
- processes one word that you say, but then thinks of something completely unrelated to what you are saying
- only pays attention to exciting information or highly stimulating activities
- misses a lot of things that are obvious to you
- may have to repeat himself several times before you understand what he is saying
- has trouble picking up the main ideas in conversations with you
- has problems shifting focus from one subject or activity to another
- has difficulty connecting new information with information already known
- has an idea of what he wants to say in his mind, but when he attempts to share the idea, it doesn’t come out right
- focuses too superficially or too deeply on information you present
- focuses too long on just one detail
- focuses too briefly on important aspects of the conversation
- can't distinguish between what is important to you - and what isn't
Resources for couples affected by ASD:
Below are some of the most prevalent features of ASD observed in relationships and other social situations. These traits are just that – TRAITS. They are not “personality flaws” or behavior designed to be purposefully offensive.
The following are traits that can cause confusion for the NT partner. The individual with ASD:
- may have only one approach to a problem
- may have signs of Tourette syndrome (motor, vocal or behavioral)
- can be confused by the emotions of others and have difficulty expressing their own feelings
- can be very sensitive to particular sounds and forms of touch, yet lack sensitivity to low levels of pain
- may have difficulty conceptualizing and appreciating the thoughts and feelings of others
- may have difficulty establishing and coping with the changing patterns and expectations in daily life
- may not seem to be aware of the unwritten rules of social conduct, and will inadvertently say or do things that may offend or annoy other people
- may find that eye contact breaks their concentration
- often fails to comprehend that the eyes convey information on a person’s mental state or feelings
- may exhibit inappropriate laughter
- lacks ‘central drive for coherence’ (i.e., an inability to see the relevance of different types of knowledge to a particular problem)
- lacks subtlety in retaliating when threatened; may not have sufficient empathy and self-control to moderate the degree of expressed anger
- may be less able to learn from mistakes
- is less aware of the concept of personal space
- may be lost for words due to a high level of anxiety
- may become aware of their isolation and, in time, are genuinely motivated to socialize with others, but their social skills are immature and rigid - and others often reject them
- may talk to themselves or “vocalize their thoughts”
- may talk too much or too little, lack cohesion to the conversation, and have an idiosyncratic use of words and patterns of speech
- is often aware of the poor quality of their handwriting and may be reluctant to engage in activities that involve extensive writing
- often has the inability to ‘give messages with their eyes’
- is often very stoic, enduring pain with little evidence in their body language and speech that they may actually be experience agony
- once their mind is on a particular track, they appear unable to change (even if the track is clearly wrong or going nowhere)
- uses predominantly a visual style of thinking (and learning)
- prefers factual, nonfiction reading
- prefers to be left alone to continue their activity uninterrupted
- routine is imposed to make life predictable and to impose order, because novelty, chaos or uncertainty are intolerable
- may seem to evoke the maternal or predatory instinct in others
- social contact is tolerated as long as the other people talk about facts and figures – and not emotions
- has a strong desire not to appear ‘stupid’
- has a strong preference to interact with people who are far more interesting, knowledgeable, and more tolerant and accommodating of their lack of social awareness
- has a tendency to interrupt; has difficulty identifying the cues for when to start talking
- exhibits the tendency to make irrelevant comments
- may appear “lost in their own little world” – staring off into space
- may avoid “team playing” at work or in the marriage because they know they lack competence, or are deliberately excluded because they are a liability
- may be detached from - or having difficulty sensing - the feelings of others
ASD is primarily characterized by impaired social interaction and limited social-emotional reciprocity. This impairment may go well beyond poor social skills and being socially awkward, depending on the individual’s current anxiety-level. Partners of the autism spectrum tend to have a disconnection in their responses to others if a high-level of emotional intelligence is needed for the interactions. However, as stated previously, this tendency has no malicious intent.
Resources for couples affected by ASD:
I would like to talk about the most important aspect in the process towards recovery from depression due to having a partner with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This depression is called Cassandra syndrome.
When a partner has ASD, the other partner often becomes depressed due to the inability to form an emotional bond. Since I learned about my husband's ASD, I have read a lot of books to improve our relationship. Every book I read had similar content in the end - and I was desperately trying to follow the same advice exactly, but it did not work.
I thought I was not putting in enough effort, so I tried even harder, but it was impossible. The problem was that I was looking at the wrong person. I had to first look inside me rather than him. I thought that every issue we were having was because of his ASD symptoms. I also had a strong “victim complex,” so I thought that if he did not change, our relationship would not improve.
Neurotypical (NT) partners tend to become caregivers of their ASD partners. Over time, these NTs can get tired. Often, they feel like the partner with ASD doesn't really comprehend the amount of work they are putting in to helping them with their anxiety, depression, or managing other comorbid conditions.
The partner with ASD can feel wronged when the NT stops giving the support that she once did. The situation, over time, can become very drastic with the NT feeling more exhausted and like she is unable to continue in the care-taking role.
If the NT doesn't keep it up, then when “NT therapists” come into the equation, they often recommend that the NT starts taking better care of the spouse with autism. Again, this doesn't always work because, by the time the couple gets to the mental health professionals, the NT is too tired to keep going. Oftentimes, she has done more than her fair share for many years.
Now, with the new awareness of neuro-diverse marriages, she comes to an awareness that she has been in a relationship that requires mixed neurological communication.
During the online counseling sessions I was having at the time, Mark Hutten often asked about my self-talk. That is when I started to think deeply about myself. Why do I want to change him? Why can't I feel happy with him, and why did I become interested and marry him in the first place?
Of course, I knew he had his own weaknesses. He had to improve for our marriage to work. However, I also realized that I had to address personal weaknesses that I had in my heart before I met him. Then, little by little - and over a long period of time - I unwound the threads that were entwined in my heart.
The most important aspect of recovering from Cassandra syndrome is to know yourself. If you try to understand someone else without first knowing yourself, you will want to change the other person - and it will not work.
I am the only person who can improve myself by being aware of my motivations inside that also apply to the other person. I do not have to carry my husband’s burden, and there is no need for him to carry mine.
~ Renee S.
• Anonymous said…Alexithymia is difficulty in recognizing and labeling emotional states in yourself, but I tend to use it to stretch it to physical states in yourself also, because I feel like a something that often happens. Will you know you'll make a weird face for a long time and not know you're, making a weird face, and that's you know a lack of self-awareness.
• Anonymous said…An autistic person, a forest is a collection of trees and either it won't occur to them that there is such a thing as a forest or, if you're explaining it to them, it still is just a collection of trees. This is one reason why autistic people are famously bad at summarizing things or being concise, because autistic people process and explain in units of detail instead of in a big-picture way. This is a good thing when it comes to learning complex information, or you know, dealing with a kid who's asking why, over and over again I'll always have an answer ready, because I can break things down small forever. It'S a bad thing. If you know you're telling a joke from memory or you're trying to give directions to somebody, but I like that something Temple Grandin sometimes says, is that she believes this is why autistic people have such a natural capacity for expertise that she says.
• Anonymous said…I've encountered a lot of autistic people who describe themselves as emotional sponges, and this is you know, I think the reason why so many autistic people respond to emotionally charged situations by shutting down. You know if you're yelling at your spouse and they're shutting down it's not because they don't care it's because you know they're an emotional sponge.
• Anonymous said…I feel that a lot of the disabling aspects of autism, especially in situations where you have someone you know, can pass for normal, but still struggles, our environment expectations. Things like this that can be connected to these traits things that aren't as much of a problem when it's two autistic people talking but can become a huge blow up when someone involved isn't autistic.
• Anonymous said…I feel that all too often, the burden of relationships in our diverse couples is placed on the autistic person to understand the world to adapt and communicate better, whereas really like Kristen David Finch, we're talking about it's about coming together and understanding each other. non-autistic people have just as much trouble empathizing with autistic people as autistic people do empathizing with non-autistic people.
• Anonymous said…I personally worked really hard since my diagnosis to compensate for these types of empathy deficits, I've learned to continually check in with myself and overcome my self-awareness problems with emotion, and I try to analyze and check in on The people around me and watch if there's something I should be picking up on and I have gotten a lot more empathetic. At least you know using that rote memory conscious manual transmission, brain to empathize with people, but I still have a really hard time correctly.
• Anonymous said…Sensory issues can cause a lot of tension in relationships because they're so hard to understand from the outside that you know they're not constant for one and they can cause a sense of flux in you know your sensitivity to something in your functionality, so something that's not Necessarily, a problem might be an overwhelming problem, the next day or whenever. So this is something that can be hard for ASD people to empathize with, say you know in relationships with neurotypicals I've had this would be very confusing for them that I'm a very talkative person and if I'm really tired and overwhelmed, I won't be able to talk As effectively or I won't be able to talk at all so like once.
• Anonymous said…So, as a child, I assumed that relationships were something that just happened: pop culture cartoons and such taught me that you know you have two main characters: they'll eventually end up together. Somehow that romance to me was a product of proximity. I believed that you know you encounter your complementary character, foil and exists near them until they fall in love with you, and then you live happily ever after with no effort forever.
• Anonymous said…The burden to communicate correctly is often placed only on autistic people, and I feel this isn't accurate or helpful, and really I feel that neurologically mixed relationships, romantic or otherwise - can be compared to two conflicting cultures trying to interact. So you know, while this stuff is hard in relationships between two autistic people, it can sometimes be even harder when only one is autistic because of this culture clash aspect, it's important for non-autistic people in the autism community to understand that we live in a neurotypical culture. Our dominant society is neurotypical as the normal, and so you know that's where you know we teach autistic people to adapt to our neurotypical culture.
• Anonymous said…To autistic people won't often notice that they have social problems or sensory problems because of this lack of self-awareness, alexithymia, I didn't know. I had sensory problems that were different from normal until I started researching autism like I always knew that I was really sensitive to lights and you know my friends turn up the radio to loud. I would like jump and be in pain, but I didn't know that that was abnormal.
• Anonymous said…We all know inherently that autism effects relationships. Autistic people often have to work harder than non-autistic people to navigate social situations, social relationships and romantic relationships. I'Ve found, though, that autistic people can learn to do things that come naturally to not autistic people through rote memory and effort, though it takes self-awareness and that level of work, though, I also want to say that autistics aren't the only ones with problems in relationships, and It takes to to communicate and to to have a communication problem.
* Anonymous said... I'm totally convinced that I'm suffering from Casandra's Syndrome. I'm really devastated, and I have started therapy in order to cope with my feelings. I feel isolation evwn when I'm with my partner. No one knows he's Asperger, just me. I've been dating him from 6 years and we have also moved together. I love him very much, but I just can't avoid feeling lonely and detached from my family and other people, since it is uncomfortable to me to meet and socialize with others when I'm with my partner. He's so "shy" and I'm always aware of him, is he ok? Is he having a good time? The worst of all is that find it extremely difficult to tell the way I feel to others because I have to explain a lot of things and it's tiring....I don't know what to do.. I don't want to hurt him by making him feel that I'm not truly happy by his side, just because I can't find the way to really bond with him.
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