(Trigger Warning (TW): ableism, neurotypical (NT) martyrdom, Asperger’s/autism as a pathology, etc…big-time)
Before I get too far into this, I need to say that this is not meant to be an “Us” (on the spectrum) vs “Them” (off the spectrum) post. However, (unfortunately,) I think it may turn into that. The vast majority of the time, I try to help build a bridge of understanding between those on and off the spectrum.
Today, however, I’m having a knee-jerk reaction to something I saw. Those wiser than I would point out that During A Kneejerk Reaction is probably not The Best Time To Be Blogging. I can’t stay silent about this one. A lot of feathers got (understandably) ruffled over this (including mine), and I’m going to write a rebuttal in an attempt to help offer any strength and support of the Asperger’s/autistic community that I can. I’m going to keep myself as dignified as possible. We’ll see where this goes…
What is that “something” I came across earlier today that has us seething?
I won’t link to the blog post here (I’m sorry; I just don’t feel right promoting traffic to their website), but if you Google-search “Asperger’s Syndrome wives need understanding”, you’ll almost certainly find it. For confirmation, the blog name is that of a woman, and it’s a Blogspot-hosted blog. And, unfortunately, she’s also a blogger for a news-like website in the Northeastern US. Which means she has more of a signal boost than most of us do. It’s a relatively aged story, but it’s still making the rounds. It’s still available to read, and naturally, people are still finding and reading it.
So, here goes (deep breath)…
I’m a biological female, married to a man.
I’m also an Aspie (or, “high-functioning” autistic).
And I have a few bones to pick with this article.
The first one is its very title – “Asperger’s Syndrome wives need understanding”.
Actually, I have two bones to pick with that title. The first is that lady, you are not an “Asperger’s Syndrome wife”. You are (I’m assuming) a neurotypical wife. It’s your husband who is on the spectrum; he is an Asperger’s Syndrome husband. Therefore, a more accurate title would be “Wives of Asperger’s Syndrome husbands need understanding”.
This first bone-pick is probably nothing more than petty semantics, but if you’re going to write as though you’re an expert, especially if you write for an outlet that gets lots of attention, at least be accurate. Semantics or not, it’s important to at least establish the correct vocabulary, because it’s that vocab that’s going to serve as the foundation for your ideas.
The second bone I have to pick with the title is the whole “understanding” part. Don’t we all need a little understanding? And since we’re all imperfect human beings, who are prone to bias and opinion, who don’t know everything about everything, and who (naturally) view the world through our own lenses, which have been colored by every experience, piece of information, relationship, etc, that we’ve ever had, then doesn’t it make sense to consider the fact that nobody really fully understands anybody else? After all, our experiences aren’t identical; we grew up in different regions, time-periods, cultures, households, etc, and with different influences, events, traumas, achievements, etc.
Here’s the other half of that second bone: dear author, if you yourself are not on the spectrum (and I’m assuming you aren’t), then 98-99% of the world already understands you. Conversely, those of us on the spectrum comprise maybe 1-2% of the population; and none of you come close to understanding any of us. When you’re having difficulties in your relationship, it’s comparatively far easier for you to turn to any one of your (probably several) friends for support; you’ll talk about it for a while, nod and agree and identify with each other, and then you’ll part ways, feeling better than you did before. You can be rest assured that someone around you–whether it’s your mother, your sister, your neighbor, your coworker, your best friend from junior high, or a sorority sister from college–will understand. They’ll take your side. You have minimal explaining to do; most of the talking you do will be primarily for stress-relief reasons, to get it off your chest. Odds are much better for you that the fellow female with the listening ear will be right with you, every step of the way, unquestioning and unwavering. That’s almost to be expected. In fact, it’s almost taken for granted.
We, the people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, don’t have it as easy. If we have a problem of any kind, we usually have to sit and chew on our thoughts internally, because usually there is no one there to talk to who will really understand us, and simply listen without judgment, let alone nod in agreement. It seems like often, when we reach out to actually discuss our issue with someone and express ourselves, we get met with skepticism and perhaps criticism. And that’s even if we can find the right words to express ourselves and put them in a sequence that makes sense. And that’s if we can stop long enough to think and let the cerebral cortex regain its dominant position.
Chances are really good, dear author, that your husband was dealing with an entire set of internal emotions of his own. And unlike you, he probably didn’t have anyone else to go talk to, let off steam with, seek advice from, provide him with a diversion, or otherwise bond with. He was on his own.
It’s true that the shortcomings of Asperger’s/autism have often occurred simultaneously with intellectual advantages and whatnot. It’s also true that it’s not recognized well in adults. No argument from me on any of that.
But then this author goes on to say that “life with an Asperger’s spouse is isolating” (not an absolutely direct quote). Wait–what? Why? I understand that we don’t always express our love, affection, or other thoughts/terms/feelings of endearment in the “usual” way. But if we’ve come so far in a relationship as to commit to a marriage, the goal of which is lifelong partnership, then obviously this guy attracted you on some level. Obviously he swept you off your feet enough to land a ring on your finger and your presence at the altar.
Even as a biological female, my particular brain works like that of a male. And I can begin to guess what might have happened. These are pure suppositions on my part, based on my observation of–and interaction with–the “average” neurotypical female. Because there’s a huge variety of personalities among neurotypical females, I’m about to make some huge, sweeping generalizations, about which there are a large number of exceptions. But, generally speaking, I can begin to offer some possible reasons for difficulties within the marriage to the Aspergian husband.
It’s possible that she played a major part in his withdrawal. She might have been/might be:
- Overwhelmingly clingy, smothering, etc; failing to give him his space, which I’m sure (also assuming) that he needed.
- Overwhelmingly dramatic or emotional; we often don’t know how to deal with that much emotion. We might find it to be “too much” and lacking in logic. I personally can’t stand an excess of emotion; I find it to be pointless, wasteful, logic-devoid, overwhelming, and lacking in constructiveness.
- Overwhelmingly “together”, with too little time apart. Too much togetherness might have been irritating. Again, people need their space. They need to be free to be themselves, to retain a sense of individuality.
- Unreasonable expectations – either regarding workload (at home or at work), income level, achievements/accomplishments, or…
- Excess sociability – many NT wives want to go out too much, attend too many gatherings, mingle with too many people. Social outings/events/contact is highly overrated in the typical Aspie/autistic person’s mind.
- Insensitivity (on the author’s part, toward her Aspergian husband) – there may have been something in the environment (either their own, or that of somewhere else) that was creating neurological tension within him. Tension he may have experienced because he picked up on the sensory stimulus, but she didn’t.
- Narrow-mindedness, mind-blindness, lack of empathy – On the author’s part! Oh yes, dear author, mind-blindness works both ways! The deficit, impairment, and/or lack of ability does not lie exclusively with him; it takes two! Because, dear author, if you had a better understanding of how his mind worked, how he operated, what he was thinking/feeling, etc, then you would not be in this position. There is a certain peace that comes with understanding.
Another itch I have to scratch involves the statement that “relationships are not a priority for Asperger’s/autistic people” (again, not a completely direct quote), because we’re somehow “focused on a particular interest”.
Dear author, how do you know that relationships are not a priority for those of us “with” Asperger’s/autism? Did you ask him? Did you walk into his hobby room one day with a list of priorities and have him rank them in order, according to his opinion? Or is this an assumption?
(I’ll pause here to answer the understandable protests of hypocrisy – “wait a minute!” I can hear some saying. “She just got done making a butt-load of assumptions about this article author and yet, she’s criticizing the author for doing the same thing!” And if you’re thinking that, I don’t blame you. It’s valid. And I’ll answer that directly, my pretties. I don’t know this woman. My only knowledge of her is through what she has written (which she voluntarily put out there, for all to see).
Thus, I only know what I’ve read, which leaves a whole lot of other details up for grabs, details that I don’t have the opportunity (or guts, right now) to clarify. On the other hand, this lady and her husband were likely together for a number of years, because they are/were married. When you’re in a close enough relationship to get married, it’s kind of a “given” that 1) hopefully you know each other quite well already, and 2) hopefully your lines of communication are pretty solid–because if not, why did you get married? That would show poor executive function (on BOTH peoples’ parts), poor planning and decision-making. Because of the hopefully-more-open lines of communication, I would then hope, also, that she would have the opportunity and ability to communicate directly with him somehow in order not to have to make assumptions like these.)
So anyway, again–how did she know that he didn’t care (to paraphrase) about the relationship?
And if he’s focused on a particular interest…let him be. He’s doing his thing. It makes him happy. Are you, dear author, a bottomless pit of emotion, a drama queen, or attention-seeker, by chance? Are you never satisfied? Were you actually smothering him? (Be honest…)
Perhaps (and this may have already been attempted) the two of you could schedule some Together Time and some Apart Time. Additionally, a lot of us bury ourselves in our special interests more intensely when we’re under stress. Maybe that was happening to him? I realize it’s tough to talk about these things out in the open sometimes; we’re not always the most talkative or social people, especially when we are under stress. We might have a tough time being around anyone else, or putting our thoughts/feelings into words. It can be exhausting. Maybe he just needed more time by himself, to recharge, and then he might have had the spoons to talk with you.
If you’ve already tried to approach him and failed, maybe you lack sensitivity yourself and your timing was (way) off. Or maybe you did a lot of “talking around the issue”, consisting of hinting, double-speak, hidden meanings, passive aggression, etc. Who knows? What we do know is that people “with” Asperger’s/autism don’t tend to pick up on these hints and double-meanings. We tend to interpret verbiage more literally. Just come out and bloody say what you mean already.
Did you ever stop to think that he might actually be physically/mentally/emotionally drained, too? After all, the world is engineered for you; it’s not engineered for him. Every. Single. Task (or errand or communication exchange or whatever) takes extra energy, because the Aspergian/autistic person must convert their own thoughts/feelings/ways of doing things/etc into something that appears to be acceptable to the neurotypical world. This is all going on at the same time that he is getting bombarded with sensory stimuli of all types that–again–is geared with neurotypical neurological sensitivity in mind (which appears to be dulling over time, as NTs need more and more stimulus just to pay attention). Thus, he might be exhausted or fatigued as well, maybe even without realizing it. A little mutual understanding goes a long way.
Then she criticized people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum of some kind of “denial, the complex and multi-layered coping mechanisms and defensive strategies” and how they “make it difficult to live successfully in a relationship with an Aspie” (here again, not a completely direct quote). Wait–maybe I missed something. Who’s in denial? Who’s having to “cope”? And um, if she’s referring to her husband, then what kind of criticism from her would he open himself up to if he hadn’t devised coping strategies? I’d have to devise coping strategies of my own, if I had to live with this woman.
The “poor me”, sympathy-seeking vibe of her blog post is already grating on me–really hard. And no doubt she got the sympathy she sought! Where was her Aspergian husband in all this? Where’s the sympathy for him? (Not only do we have it tougher than most people, in practically everything we do, but we also don’t tend to get much sympathy.)
Moving on some more.
Another point made me mad: the idea that she claimed a “caretaker” role. Uhhh, I might be wrong here, but I find that really hard to believe. Asperger’s males, who are married, who likely have jobs, etc, do not typically need any kind of caretaker. We simply need support, understanding, and accommodation…like any other freaking human being. Our needed supports, understanding, and accommodations might differ somewhat from those other people. But chances are, if we’ve made it to adulthood, moved out of our parents’ house, lived up to all the NT World ideals, then the odds are pretty predictable that these supports, understanding, and accommodations are MINOR.
By the time I got to the accusation that we spectrum people “can only see our own viewpoint”, I was ready to break out the crossbow. How cognitively dense can a human being get? First of all, yeah–when it comes down to brass tacks, all any of us can ultimately see is our own viewpoint. Don’t get all martyr on me.
Second, the NT and spectrum communities usually have a tough time relating to each other. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just how it is. But like I said above, dear author, you don’t “get” him any more than he “gets” you. It’s a two-way street.
Third, he’s had more experience trying to see other peoples’ viewpoints; many important aspects of his life have depended on it. He’s had a lot more experience trying to figure NTs out, than NTs have bothered to try to reciprocate. It’s likely that nobody has ever really asked him about his perspective–and cared enough to listen. I don’t use this phrase often, but: check your privilege.
She makes several other claims, such as how NTs are “daily sacrificing their own sense of self to help fulfill the priorities of the Aspergian partner” and that NT spouses start to “feel like they are entirely defined by the role they fill for their Aspie partner”. Umm, I’m starting to lose my words myself. Sentences like these are problematic. If they’re false, they’re doing undeserved damage to the spectrum community. If she actually thinks they’re true, then she is the one with the Issues, and they run deeper and more serious than she’s letting on. If you’re surrendering your identity to your partner, you never had much of your own to begin with. If you’re filling his priorities, then maybe that’s what you subconsciously wanted to do. You’re the one making the decision to sacrifice your own identity and your own priorities. If you’re making “daily sacrifices” and that’s too hard for you, that’s your choice, honey; bed. Made. Lie.
To sum up my general impressions…
- She strikes me as a bottomless pit for attention. Likely quite the handful.
- She appears to be quick to judge because she thinks she’s intelligent (debatable).
- She seems to be stuck on the pathological medical model of the spectrum. Lemme guess…she probably married him “hoping he would change”. Yeah…it doesn’t work that way. That’s called co-dependency/co-dependence, or being co-dependent.
- As a result, she comes off as holding him to impossible NT ideals/standards, and then bitch-slapping him when he doesn’t/can’t meet them.
- Maybe she was unconsciously drawn to this guy and has assumed the role of being his “caretaker” because she subconsciously sought it out. I’ve noticed that many (NOT all) self-appointed caretakers are actually narcissists in disguise; either that or they (often, not always) have zero self-esteem. (Again, generalizations, many exceptions…but this lady seems to fit the perfect prototype).
- Maybe she’s a negative drama queen, confused unless there’s conflict in her life, maybe looking for attention, something to complain about, something to elicit sympathy for.
- She seems to run very short on logic, very long on emotion.
- She seems to transfer and/or project a lot (AKA engage in projection and/or transference). That’s where you’re guilty of something yourself, deny it, and instead, accuse someone else of being that way/doing that thing.
- At any rate, she comes across as extremely shallow and “average” to me. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, anyway. Definitely not a Kindred Spirit Candidate, that’s for sure.
Some things you just can’t un-read. My words are running thin; going to reload my “word-bank” for the coming week. 😉 ❤
/End Trigger Warning.