Blog for Individuals and Neurodiverse Couples Affected by ASD
Are you an adult with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's? Are you in a relationship with someone on the autism spectrum? Are you struggling emotionally, socially, spiritually or otherwise? Then you've come to the right place. We are here to help you in any way we can. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile...
Many adults who have struggled for many years feel a sense of relief when they finally get a formal “diagnosis.” They may say something like, “It was such a weight off my shoulders to finally understand why I behaved the way he did. I thought it was a personality flaw, but now I see it was the disorder instead.”
Those who have had emotional problems and/or social difficulties since childhood find it comforting to one day discover, “Oh, I have Asperger’s! No wonder I haven’t been able to hold a job or find a girlfriend/boyfriend.”
Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), finding comfort in having a “disorder” comes with a price – a much larger price than most realize they have paid. For example:
1. Not all undesirable diagnostic traits can be helped with therapy.
There are some difficult cognitive and behavioral characteristics associated with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) that come with the “autism-package” (e.g., insistence on routine, narrow range of interest, etc.). However, some “problems” associated with AS/HFA may not be helped with therapy (e.g., social skills training for those who lack such skills, Cognitive-Behavior Therapy for those who suffer with anxiety, etc.).
So, when you discover that you have this disorder, do not fall into the trap of saying something such as, “Well, now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can go get the proper therapy to fix it.” However, the good news is that many troublesome traits (e.g., meltdowns, anger control issues, depression, etc.) can indeed be ameliorated.
2. A self-fulfilling prophecy may manifest itself – either positively or negatively – when it comes to labels.
When you “buy in” to a label (e.g., AS or HFA), you begin to view yourself in a distinct light. You “reframe” your character such that your “diagnosis” becomes a part of who you are. The reframe, in and of itself, doesn’t come with any major complications. However, with the new reframe comes a unique way of “thinking” about yourself and others.
This mental shift results in a unique way of “feeling” about yourself and others, which in turn results in a unique way of “behaving” and conducting your life. In other words, you begin to “live up to” your diagnosis, displaying more and more of the traits that are in alignment with the diagnostic criteria of your “disorder.” This is a self-fulfilling prophecy working toward “dis-ability” rather than ability.
Conversely, many adults on the spectrum who have sought counseling have been advised (by therapists who have experience with the disorder) to “reframe” AS/HFA in a positive light, thus setting-up a self-fulfilling prophecy that works toward “ability” rather than disability. Everyone on the spectrum has significant areas of strength (even if this has not been translatable into tangible success yet).
In reframing, AS/HFA is thought of as a “condition” full with possibilities, strengths, and challenges that are able to be addressed adequately. In this state of mind, you will tend to view yourself as “able” (and maybe even better off than the general population). With this mindset, you may very well “set the world on fire” with your area of expertise (e.g., engineering, computer programming, etc.).
3. Labels tend to help the person abandon a level of responsibility.
If you receive the label of AS/HFA, you can say to yourself and others, “See, this is why I can’t - or don’t - do certain things. It’s not my fault – it’s my disorder.” When others are in agreement that you are “not able,” you are free from meeting certain expectations from family, friends, co-workers, employers, etc. You can safely lower your standards, settling for the “comfort zone” that comes with the assistance (or over-assistance) of others.
There are hundreds of 25-year-old adult children, for example, with AS/HFA who are still living at home playing video games all day. Why? Their parents “bought into” the “disability reframe” years ago. As a result, the adult child behaves in accordance with his label, even though - WITH THERAPY – he could likely be employed, happily married, and living on his own home.
So, are labels bad?
Does all this mean we shouldn’t have any labels? No! Without labels, you wouldn’t be able to understand “clusters of traits” (i.e., a set of symptoms that defines a particular mental, emotional and behavioral state). However, it is important to “reframe” the label as an opportunity to exploit your strong points AND address the areas that present challenges.
Thinking in terms of being “ability-based” rather than “disability-based” is empowering and helps the labeled person to be all that he/she can be rather than settling for a life of mediocrity.
As one adult with Asperger’s stated:
“I think it's only a ‘disability’ because the world is not well-matched for those of us on the spectrum. I can't think of any of my issues that couldn't be solved by simply being in a more autism-friendly world. I am high functioning in spite of my issues and am not "disabled" in any part of my life that matters to me. I can do what other people do, just with a bit more effort sometimes. But most NT’s can't do what I do, so I win. I think that Asperger’s is a ‘difference’, and what can be different can be beautiful.”
My name is Rich. I'm 49 years old and have Asperger's.
Are you a man with Asperger's who would really like to date a member of the opposite sex, but simply cannot get even one lady to go out with you? Or perhaps you have been on a few dates, but they never resulted in a quality boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Maybe you are in a relationship with a lady, but for multiple reasons, it's just not working out the way you had hoped. Or possibly you are a married, but your wife frequently complains about your attitude and behavior (some of which is purely the result of your disorder). Maybe your wife has become so unhappy that she is now considering divorce.
In any event, if you are frustrated with relationships because you can't seem to do anything right (at least according to your partner), then why go another day in this chronic misery. There are a lot of things that can be done to help your situation.
I thought I knew everything there was to know about my disorder. But when I read an e-book on the subject, I realized I only knew a fraction of what was really going on with me. I'm referring to the e-book entitled "Living with an Asperger's Partner." As I read through the material, it was as if the author had been following me around my entire life. There was so much of me described in the content. I finally realized why my life had taken so many odd twists and turns. I also realized why my wife of 15 years was so frustrated with me, to the point of threatening divorce (which was a wake-up call for me to do something about her complaints).
Of course, there are many traits associated with Asperger's that simply cannot be fixed (so to speak). But I learned that there are a lot of traits -- the negative ones that cause so many problems in relationships -- that I can do something about. I'm not a victim of my disorder. But I was one of those individuals that had to learn the needed changes. They never would have come naturally to me.
I was in denial for many years that I even had the disorder. And even when it was revealed that I indeed do have Asperger's, I still blamed my wife for many of the problems we had. This blaming part alone was perhaps the number one obstacle to a quality relationship with my wife.
She has always been willing to work with me, but only up to a point. I would often cross the line (so to speak) and end up hurting her feelings (unintentionally) and making her feel like she was unloved and unappreciated. This is where some education about my disorder as it relates to relationships came in very handy. Because as you may know, one of the traits associated with Asperger's is "difficulty with empathy." I say "difficulty" not "inability." I've always had empathy, I just didn't show it, nor did I realize how important it was to show it. This is something that I had to learn, and that's okay.
My wife doesn't expect me to be perfect. She knows about the disorder and understands I have my limitations. But she does expect me to work harder than I did originally (on those areas where some improvements can be made). One of my online friends who also has Asperger's once stated, "The big problem for me is that I would have to work twice as hard as everybody else just to be 'average'." My reply: "Then work twice as hard!"
There are a lot of issues that we as men on the autism spectrum have to deal with. But if we do not educate ourselves about these issues, we are doomed to repeatedly make relationship mistakes, and thus experience relationship headaches.
Are you familiar with the "theory of mind" concept and how it affects relationships? Did you know that we, as men with Asperger's, have problems with executive functioning? Have you figured out that our issues with anxiety and depression also play a role in relationship problems? Do you understand "mind blindness" and how it can destroy a marriage?
You can think of Asperger's as "a disorder that negatively affects relationships." Where do we have most of our problems? It's not with our special areas of interest. We are experts in those areas. It's not with our employment. Most of us are excellent employees and breadwinners. It's not with academics. Many people with Asperger's are the smartest students in the classroom. If we want to be honest with ourselves, the major problems have always been in social functioning.
Many of us, when we were younger, had great difficulty finding and keeping friends. Some of us were a bit quirky as teenagers and got ostracized from the peer group. We may have been teased, bullied, and emotionally abused. And many of us have carried those scars into adulthood and into adult relationships. It's not fair, it's not right, but unfortunately those were the cards we were dealt. We have the regrettable task of trying to "fit in" and adjust to people who simply do not think the same way we do.
If everyone on planet earth had Asperger's syndrome, then there wouldn't be much of a problem. Unfortunately, we are a minority. And we can either choose to (a) isolate as much as possible to avoid interaction with neurotypical people, (b) learn ways to interact with them that they view as mostly appropriate, or (c) continue to interact -- but in our own rather odd ways (the latter being the most stressful approach to existence).
Some men with Asperger's tend to be closed-minded in that they believe they should not have to make any attitudinal or behavioral changes. They say something like: "The rest of the world can learn to deal with me as I am, or they can go f*** themselves." These are the men that are living alone. These are the men that have burned too many bridges. These are the men that struggle maintaining regular employment and quality relationships. Many spend most of their time on the computer (social media, online gaming, etc.) in an artificial approach to human interaction. That's not the lifestyle I choose for myself.
My purpose here is to reach out to those precious few men with Asperger's who truly are desiring to improve their relationships. Some of you have no interest in doing that, and that is understandable. However, there are a few of us that need to have a "significant other" in our life. And the only way to keep this person in our life is to keep them happy. As the old saying goes, "happy wife, happy life." I have found this to be so true.
So what should our goal be? I believe we need to (a) change the things in ourselves that we can, (b) accept the things that we cannot change, and (c) learn to distinguish between the two. If you can do that, you are well on your way to repairing any damage to relationships.
If you prefer not to live alone, then you will hopefully take my advice: learn about yourself, change the negative traits when possible, and definitely capitalize on your strengths.