Coping with an adult with Asperger’s (4)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
In the final blog in this present series on Asperger’s Disorder, we look at further behavioral markers as well as treatment options for this condition.
Being partnered to an Asperger’s sufferer comes with its own set of marital difficulties. Of primary concern is the lack of intimacy and reciprocation of emotion. This is the most common reason for marriage breakdown associated with this disorder. As discussed previously in Coping with an adult Asperger (1), (2) and (3), this neurological disorder makes it extremely difficult for the sufferer to interact emotionally in an appropriate way with others.
In a marriage situation, the so-called “normal” partner may be content with doing the bulk of the emotional work of the relationship, particularly if that person is a female. However, once children arrive further difficulties can arise as the Asperger parent cannot effectively engage with their child and the other parent can observe feelings of distress in the growing child as little empathy is displayed towards that child. When the partner expresses frustration at this lack of affection and intimacy, the sufferer is often puzzled by the outburst as understanding is absent. It is easy to see how arguments and unhappiness result. It is not surprising that around 80% of such marriages end in divorce.
For partners and family members of an Asperger sufferer, counseling can help in learning to overcome feelings of anger, hurt, disappointment, and depression. Joining a support group can also assist on overcoming the feelings of isolation associated with being a relative of a sufferer.
For the sufferer themselves, counseling is of some assistance, but social skills training will better equip the individual in dealing with others, whether they be partners, children, or workplace colleagues. Social skills training involves teaching the person to recognize facial expressions and associate them with certain emotions, learning body language skills and being able to interpret what is being communicated, and learning to verbally interact with others at a more functioning level.
This type of training is a learned procedure, as it does not come naturally to the Asperger sufferer. However in doing so, it makes for easier social interaction, less misunderstanding and social isolation. If the person desires better relationships, they must also be willing to ask for and act on advice in situations in which they know they find difficult to negotiate. The attitude of both partner and sufferer are crucial for the successful learning process to occur.
It requires hard work and much patience for partners and family members, and a willingness to accept constructive criticism on the part of the Asperger sufferer to smooth out the rough edges of these relationships. But, like any relationship, willingness on both sides can certainly lead to improved daily interactions.