the other side of the other half of asperger syndrome, part 1

I just started reading The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder): A Guide to Living in an Intimate Relationship with a Partner who is on the Autism Spectrum. I realized immediately that I was going to have to just start commenting on passages as I went through.

To start with, the foreword is by Tony Attwood.

I consider that the partners of those who have Asperger’s syndrome are quite remarkable people; this book is a tribute to their personal qualities and will contribute to a significant improvement in mutual understanding and enjoyment of the relationship.

Already this shit isn’t helping me. It’s written by a non-autistic couples therapist who specializes in autistic people and had a relationship with one. Thus, it’s written from the perspective that there’s something wrong with being autistic and your boyfriend is going to make your life a living hell so you might as well get out now.

I don’t want potential partners to read this book and hear the that they have to be “quite remarkable people” to date me. I want them to hear that it’s not a big deal, that anyone can do it, that we’re attractive.

The ominously titled chapter 4 (“Obsessive behaviour or special interests?”) starts with the heading “Routines can be rigid and precise.”

A person with Asperger syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) may have many rigid daily routines, and it may have been these that first made their partner notice that this was not usual behaviour, not something you would expect a person to engage in. It could be that mealtimes have to be very precise, always served at the same time every day, and certain foods have to be cooked in a certain way. Many different routines have been identified in adults with Asperger syndrome, and how closely these have to be observed will vary from person to person. When a routine has become firmly established, everyone will have to fit in with it; any form of change is likely to cause mayhem. This fixed regime can make something quite simple, like going out for a meal, hard work and certainly not the enjoyable experience it should be.

These strict routines can include door and window locking, turning off the gas, mealtimes, only eating certain foods, only using certain cleaning materials, taking certain routes in the car and many more. You might have thought initially that your partner was just being awkward, but there is a chance that, before Asperger syndrome was suspected, the behaviour may have been attributed to a condition aclled obsessive compulsive disorder.

So which is it? Do we vary in our level of flexibility or do we destroy everything that’s beautiful and turn it into mayhem at the slightest misstep?

The way she uses the term “identified” makes it sound like the habits of daily life are exotic curiosities being cataloged by scientists, instead of real people’s adaptations to the circumstances of their lives.

All of the above might be true about a given person, but this passage is harmful for not providing explanations for the behavior. What problem is the autistic person trying to solve with their preferences? The food needing to be cooked a certain way sounds arbitrary and capricious, if you don’t know how unpleasant sensory processing issues can make certain tastes and textures. The same goes for cleaning products. Scented products can be awful.

Locking doors and windows is just basic conscientiousness, depending on where you live.

I might go a little out of my way to avoid having to drive on the freeway. It depends on how I’m feeling. A lot of these things will vary with how stressful everything else is. Everything can’t be new and uncertain all the time, constantly. It’s wise and prudent to just stick with solutions that are good enough and free up the mental space for something else, avoid unnecessary anxiety.

Your partner feels more comfortable taking a certain route when they’re driving. This is a big deal? God, neurotypicals make the simplest things into ordeals when we should be having fun. It’s like they’re stuck on the idea that we’re in a fucking race all the time, including to run random errands.

Moving on a couple subheadings, “More to Asperger syndrome than just obsessions.” OMG there’s more?!

Asperger syndrome does not end there–it is not just about having obsessions or routines, and some people with Asperger syndrome do not have strong obsessions or routines. To receive a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome requires that other areas of life are also affected. Those with the syndrome will have problems with communication and it may be difficult for them to engage in a very deep, meaningful conversation about their partner’s feelings and how those feelings affect the relationship. They will have problems in reading non-verbal signals, such as facial expressions and body language, and also in being able to give the right responses when talking. Many men and women have said that they “did not feel necessary” to their Asperger partners on an emotional level, and that they were needed more for what they did than for who they were and how they felt.

Is the neurotypical partner capable of articulating their feelings, listening to their partner’s side of things, etc? It’s not like the average neurotypical couple has excellent communication skills. I can see a scenario where the neurotypical partner is doing absolutely everything to make it not safe to open up and be honest with them. Neurotypical people don’t want honesty a lot of the time; they want dishonesty where they can trust there’s a silent understanding about the truth.

Some lady says I’m incapable of deep, meaningful conversations about feelings. Can we talk about how she’s bringing her bad feelings towards her partner into this?

What does it mean to “give the right responses when talking?” Presumably the responses the author wants to hear.

So I can never have one of those late-night romantic heart-to-hearts, and in fact I can’t do anything right at all. Got it.

It’s COMPLETELY UNREASONABLE that I face this level of cockblocking. Just…OMG people have no idea.

When those partners “didn’t feel necessary” and left their partners, did she check to see how the partners were taking it?

She dismisses the idea that traditional gender roles might be the problem here, but where might an autistic guy learn to use women? Oh, right. Everywhere in society.

Next up, “Questioning your sanity”:

Many women and men have reported that they felt they were going completely mad. They could not understand why their Asperger partners were unable to comprehend what they were trying to tell them, and why they would accuse them of criticising every time they tried to help or offer some advice. Some non-Asperger partners felt they were becoming “nags” because they ended up repeating the same things over and over again, finding themselves in the same locked situation with their partners.

Can things change? The answer is “yes”. However, without knowledge of Asperger syndrome, it may be you who have to do most of the changing. Some non-Asperger partners initially reported that they tried to suppress what they felt in order to deal with what their partners were doing in a less emotional way. They tried to avoid certain situations and topics, especially those involving some sort of social interaction.

Who says the non-autistic partners were communicating clearly at all?

Here, the autistic partner is being criticized for correctly picking up on the subtext that the “help” is insincere and they’re really being criticized. Concern trolling.

So the problem is the non-autistic person’s habitual avoidance and denial. Having a taboo around a topic is a fucking terrible intimacy-destroying practice.

This writing is not the writing of someone who loves autistic people.

There is the strong possibility that social situations involving both partners in a couple will have, in some instances, become embarrassing or highly stressful. One woman described visiting the local supermarket with her partner for their weekly shopping. She reported the feelings of utter embarrassment she experienced when her partner insisted on lining up all the ans on the conveyor belt in a precise symmetrical way, completely oblivious to the long queue of impatient shoppers forming behind them.

I have my on thoughts on holding up the line at the grocery store.

I don’t deny the sort of thing she’s talking about happens. I used to be embarrassed when my mom would try to pay with exact change or write a check and take a long time, with people behind us. I wouldn’t say that, in America, staying out of people’s way in public is a value that’s instilled in people. Mindfulness is a hot topic because we know we’re lacking it.

Personally, I like to line up my groceries on the belt space-efficiently. I bag my own stuff, which speeds up the line and gives me a reason not to make eye contact throughout the process. The cashier often thanks me.

It sucks when your partner’s ashamed of you, though.

Next she describes a guy going to great lengths to have a surprise 40th birthday partner for his “Asperger’s wife”.

He could only look on in embarrassment when his wife went into complete meltdown and ran out of the room. It took him over half an hour to persuade her to come out of the ladies’ toilet. He learned from this that surprises were not a good idea for someone on the spectrum.

LOL. But what did he learn? Aspies are difficult and hate surprises?

It sounds like that guy bulldozes his way through the relationship, in proper dominator style.

Why would he think, on a symbolic day calling for reflection, an autistic woman would want everybody she knows around for that awful part of the day right after work, where she has to put the mask back on even though she had it on all day and it’s heavy and she was sweating under there? And then she can’t handle it, and she has to get overwhelmed in front of everybody (and he’s embarrassed). Then she can’t decompress because they won’t leave her the fuck alone for 30 minutes! Because she always has to ruin everything including her own birthday and why can’t she just be normal for once? It’s terrible. I don’t think he loves her. I think the autistic woman would be right to feel like her inner life is irrelevant to what he’s getting out of the relationship.

When I was married, my wife understood that I don’t know how to holiday because Jehovah’s Witness upbringing, and we didn’t really make a big deal out of Christmas or birthdays or whatever. But I guess to him it’s important to be rigid and do what you’re “supposed to do” on your birthday.

Autistic people have no friends:

The behaviour of a person with Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) may at times appear rude, especially to those who are not aware of the syndrome. So it may not come as a surprise to find that a person with the syndrome does not always have any close or long-term friends. What may be surprising, however, is that they seem never to have had any close friends, and do not appear to have really needed any.

Then she acknowledges that, yeah, they were probably desperately lonely since childhood. Just a paragraph on bullying, as if that wasn’t a super important factor in relationship problems.

Bullying can have an adverse effect on all children. It can lower their self-esteem, confidence, and ability to be assertive. To children with Asperger syndrome, bullying may often go unreported and undetected, and the lessons it teaches about other people can live with them all their lives. They may carry with them the belief that others are out to trick them, to make fun of them and make them look stupid. This may exaggerate their reaction to perceived criticism of themselves, and it is this heightened sensitivity that partners may experience first-hand when trying to discuss how they feel about a particular issue.

So anyway, don’t trigger their PTSD or whatever. Moving on…

It’s the reality of our lives that people are out to trick us, make fun of us, and make us look stupid. Imagine some poor autistic guy getting this book for his girlfriend in he hopes of fixing things.

Whatever they decide, it must be the decision of the person who may have Asperger syndrome to go and seek a referral, and the other partner should not try to force the situation either way. This decision should be reached in the other partner’s own time, when they are ready to face it, and feel prepared and willing to accept a possible positive diagnosis. After all, it is no small thing to face the possibility of finding out that they have a lifelong disorder that cannot be cured.

On the positive side, receiving a diagnosis can offer the opportunity for the person to learn specific skills and make improvements in their personal and professional life.

I don’t want to be cured. Getting diagnosed is a big deal, emotionally, but I don’t think she has the empathy to really understand.

There is no cure for Asperger syndrome, however, no magic pill or remedy to put it right, and a lot of hard work and changes will be required by both partners, but especially by the partner without Asperger syndrome.

You will both have to decide whom you are going to tell and how to explain what Asperger syndrome is. Some may find it difficult to understand or accept. Others may, wrongfully, view it as a mental illness and be fearful, thinking that it makes your partner odd or different, someone to be wary of. It is important that whoever is told receives an adequate explanation of what Asperger syndrome is. To help others understand it may be useful to tell them that it is a difference in the neurological wiring of the brain. Use the example of dyslexia as a comparison, explaining that rather than affecting reading, writing and spelling, Asperger syndrome causes difficulty in other specific areas, such as social interaction and communication, verbal and non-verbal, empathetic thought and possibly obsessive tendencies and a need for routine. Beyond these areas your partner is capable and no different from anyone else. The main thing is that your partner should be treated with the same amount of respect and dignity as any other human being.

This is just dripping with insincerity.

I already know that the friends and family of anyone I start dating are likely to try and sabotage it because of autism stereotypes. That’s exactly what happened when I married someone with borderline personality disorder. Don’t do that! Are you crazy? One of Them?!

Oh, the emotional hardships of your partner getting diagnosed with autism in adulthood and grieving all the misunderstandings they’ll never be able to fix.

You will very likely be in need of some comforting. The trouble is that your partner may not be aware of this need or be able to offer this kind of support and warmth. Tell your partner how you feel, but not in a judgmental way: this is not about blame. Explain in a direct and clear way that you are relieved you now both know the reason why there have been some problems in the relationship and that together you can now work at sorting things out. If possible, do this when you are both sitting quietly together, have plenty of time and will not be interrupted. [the lack of Oxford commas bothers me]

It’s pretty self-absorbed to treat the situation like the only important thing about getting diagnosed with autism is that it’s the reason your girlfriend is ashamed of you.

One woman I spoke to had an agreement with her husband that, rather than expecting him automatically to know, she would always tell him when she wanted a hug. This took the pressure away from him and he was always happy to oblige. If your patner, though, is not able to offer any comfort, then it is important to seek support from friends and family who can prove quite invaluable at this time.

The author has mind blindness, where she doesn’t see how it would be a good time for the girlfriend to be supportive instead of asking him to support her through his life-defining thing.

Again there’s no sense of irony that the fear of change is totally acceptable when it’s the normal person. Gratuitous hating on us at the end.

You know that all the tactics and ways that have been used to try and change things in the past have been ineffective and you will have to start all over again with new ones.

You may feel that you no longer know the person you fell in love with.

For all these and other reasons, it is often the partner without Asperger syndroe who is left with a sense of loss. This can feel quite lonely as it is unlikely that your partner will be able to empathise with you or share these feelings.

It seems weird how much she’s focused on manipulation tactics.

DTMFA!

Some men and women report feeling like they should get out altogether and start a new life. If you do decide to do this, it is important that you do not feel like a deserter who has abandoned a sinking ship. Not everybody can live with the absence of intimate communication, reciprocated feelings and empathy that, to a greater or lesser extent, are part of Asperger syndrome.

The Kindle edition is telling me that a lot of people highlighted that last sentence in particular. Exactly. This book exists to make women feel better about breaking up with their autistic boyfriends as soon as the need for real communication becomes undeniable.

So why date us in the first place?

Most of the women with male partners with the syndrome describe them as being very kind, gentle and quiet men when they first met them, and these were the characteristics that they were initially attracted to. These men tended to display a naivete that had a boyish essence to it, and the women they often chose had strong maternal, caring, and warm ways. So almost instantly there can be a “fit” between the two halves of a couple of this type.

Wow, two nice people being nice to each other!

“The feminine side of men with Asperger syndrome”:

Boys with Asperger syndrome are sometimes teased at school because they adopt a somewhat feminine approach, and are less likely to conform to social stereotypes of masculine and feminine behaviour than is the case with their peers. Their mothers are more likely to be their role models than their fathers, because it is often their mothers they spend more time with. This could lead to boys displaying mannerisms and gestures that could be misinterpreted by other children as being “girlish”; name-calling and bullying could be the consequence.

Such a feminine side in an adult male can be very appealing to some women, however. Many men with Asperger syndrome are quite happy to cook, clean, iron and even arrange flowers if they so wish. They do not feel obligated to fulfil and display masculine roles, but are much more likely to do what pleases them, rather than what society states they are supposed to do. They may have quite a gentle approach and rarely display aggressive behaviour. Many women interpret this as meaning they are sure enough of their masculinity to be in touch with their feminine side, and see this as a positive quality in a partner.

She can’t just leave it there. She has to end the section by saying that we expect our partners to mother us.

It goes on in that vein for a bit before concluding Part I. This post is already long, so I’ll pick up with Part II in another post.

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