Recently, one of my much-appreciated readers posted a question on my post about My “inside view” of Asperger’s on the “Parenthood” TV show. It was a question that I thought had broad appeal so I wanted to highlight it in its own blog post here!
anonymous asked: Thank you for this post. About five months ago a therapist suggested to me that perhaps my husband has Asperger’s. He turned 60 this year and we have been married nearly 25 years. I’ve seen therapists at various times, but the issue has never been my relationship with my husband, whom I love. Once my therapist made the suggestion various things clicked into place for me and I think she’s probably right. Many of the things that you discussed in this post are familiar to me. At this point I haven’t figured out how to bring this up with my husband. My assumption is that he’ll be hurt and defensive. I rarely criticize his behavior, but when I suggested a couple months ago that he over-reacted to something my brother said and made him and our daughter feel bad, he reacted as if he’d been punched and left the house for an hour or two. When he came back it was all over and nothing was said. If he does have Asperger’s, will finding out at this point make him feel better or worse, and any suggestions for how to bring it up without sounding accusatory and superior?
I don’t think there’s necessarily one right approach to bringing up Asperger’s to your husband, because people are very different and they react differently, but I have given it some thought and come up with a few ideas. I read about one idea in another book written by someone else with Asperger’s, which unfortunately I can’t remember the name of. Basically the wife of the person showed him an article summarizing Asperger’s, but she removed the references to the word “Asperger’s” and said read this, and tell me what you think. The response was, wow, that sounds exactly like me. (Followed by an explanation of what the article was really about: Asperger’s, and further excited research by the subject). Personally this is probably a more elaborate setup than I would do since I really like things to be presented in a straightforward manner without subterfuge, but I thought I would mention it since it worked well for that person and it gave me some related ideas.
What I would probably do is similar but more direct, yet non-confrontational. That is, you could suggest he read such a book/article, (not mentioning that you think he has it, just “I have read this really interesting book/article, you should check it out, I want to know what you think.”) If you often recommend other reading material this way, this might be easy to do without putting him on the defensive. (This is sort of how it was recently handled on the show “Parenthood” too. One of the adult characters, Hank, was given a book by the father of the teenager with Asperger’s, after a disagreement they’d had. This was so he could better understand the boy’s condition. Also the parent suspected that Hank had Asperger’s, but he didn’t let on. After reading the book, it “clicked” with Hank that he had it).
If he’s not really much of a reader, there are also some informal quizzes online which evaluate Asperger’s tendencies, if you could suggest he take it without saying what it is for, or read it aloud to him (my family and I sometimes take quizzes for fun, reading aloud the questions and everybody answers, so this wouldn’t be unusual for us).
Or (possibly more likely to provoke, but maybe not) if he’s not taking the suggestion of reading the article/quiz or not into reading in general, you could read him excerpts from a description article/book about Asperger’s, especially passages that really sound like him. I would avoid ones starting out with traits that you might have complained about recently (if applicable). Of course, afterwards it will be obvious as to why you brought it up to him, but it might still be less accusatory. If he says, “do you think I am like this?” you could say, for example, “well, this part sounded similar, it would make sense,” or reference something that he’s brought up before, “I remember you mentioned that you used to do this when you were a kid,” etc. In my experience a lot of people with Asperger’s are very logical, but we don’t always make a connection that seems “obvious” to others :D. Plus, he may well have been given other explanation through life by other people and has bought into them or at least grudgingly accepted them (often negative or untrue ones in my experience, but after you hear something about yourself numerous times, you start to wonder if it might be true).
I’d really like to be able to recommend a movie for people who aren’t much into reading, but honestly, I can’t recommend any of the ones I’ve seen that really portray adults as having Asperger’s :P. The Parenthood storyline with Hank, the adult, realizing he has it is good, but that’s several seasons in. Perhaps some other commentators can suggest ideas here?
I guess what these are all a variation on is: encourage him toward some info and help him make the connection himself. This is how I realized I had Asperger’s (as a young adult), and many, many of those who have discovered they have Asperger’s as an adult found this the same way. Sometimes, (though not in my case) it was when their child was diagnosed and they began to realize the same things applied to them (generally, by adulthood, we’ve learned to try to “appear normal” in terms of many key childhood traits that might get a kid referred by a school today), though the “cover up” doesn’t necessarily extend to the people we live with and are open with, as it’s too exhausting to do all the time and tends to seem kind of pointless.
However, it might take a while to self-discover this way. I actually knew someone with Asperger’s several years before I read an article about it and realized I had it, and I did not think at that time of myself possibly having it at all. What struck me only was that this person understood the problems I faced in a way that nobody else ever had. The kinds of issues that other people, if I described them, would just be totally confused about even BEING issues, he totally got. Not only that, he had tips and suggestions for dealing with communication problems I’d come up against that made sense and worked, unlike the solutions most people had given me. In retrospect it’s funny that I didn’t realize this was due to us both having Asperger’s, but at the time, he was the first person who had ever mentioned the term to me. I looked it up at the time on the links he sent me, but I didn’t think of it in myself. It really didn’t hit me until years later. Then, I knew. It was one of those “bolt from the blue” moments. I followed up with more research and found out a lot more about it from that point on which confirmed my discovery.
It’s important to keep in mind though, that when I did hear about Asperger’s for the first time, I’d never heard of it before, and a person who I’d talked to and liked told me he had it, so I didn’t view it negatively, it was just a point of interest (perhaps also because it made a lot of sense to me when I read about it, I just thought, well this is reasonable behavior, I’m surprised this is a “thing” at first). I approached it quite openly. Also later when I realized I had it and did some more research, though by then I was aware of hearing some negative things, I didn’t really have negative connotations associated with the term. However, I am now aware from other items I’ve read and seen about Asperger’s since then, plus hearing other people talk about it (especially in their kids), not to mention negative feedback I’ve gotten, that there are a lot of negative/false ideas out there about Asperger’s and autism in general. If he’s heard of Asperger’s but has only heard negative/bad/incorrect things about it, he might react more defensively. It would be beneficial to really research it to be able to be reassuring in this conversation, as a way to prepare yourself, if you haven’t already gotten to that point (plus it’ll be helpful for you going forward). You can remind him that you know this doesn’t change who he is, nor do you want to change who he is, it’s just a description that can help with understanding.
Now, onto the next part of your question: will finding out make him feel better, or worse? In the long run, I think it will make him feel better because it will give him a platform for research and tools. Many of us kick around in our life wondering what is wrong with us that we have difficulties in areas that other people don’t seem to, and merely having what is essentially a description of a collection of behavioral/thinking patterns might not seem that useful but it is a place to start to find out how other people have solved these difficulties. It may also simply be illuminating in a “so that’s why” kind of way. I can’t overemphasize even how helpful and eye-opening the smallest tips have been to me, and strangely, they often make more sense coming from someone with Asperger’s, who understands the issue, than someone without. You’d think it was the blind leading the blind, but it’s just that the kinds of things I struggle with often seem so obvious to a “neurotypical” person, that they can’t explain them even if they sincerely want to help me.
Will it make him feel better in the short term? Perhaps not. I remember at first being excited and astounded, as the pieces and the story of my life basically suddenly started falling into place. So I initially had a positive reaction. This was rapidly followed by a negative reaction however. I realized that these traits that I had thought were me, and simply a part of my personality, variously described as weird, eccentric, bizarre, unique, etc by other people depending on how nice they wanted to be… were part of a clinical description of a disorder. I wasn’t unique, I was broken. Furthermore, nobody understood, the people I initially told hastened to assure me that nothing is wrong with you, you’re just ____(unusual, unique, different, etc). Unfortunately these were the same people who were usually the most reliable at complaining about all I did wrong, without being able to tell me why or how to fix it in a way I could manage, so I already knew they thought I had problems. Now by denying this explanation, they were essentially telling me that I still just wasn’t trying hard enough or whatever they had originally assumed to be the source of my problems. I didn’t want them to confirm something is “wrong” with me, I wanted them to share the discovery with me, maybe learn from it, maybe understand me better. Maybe also, to validate the fact that it wasn’t that I wasn’t trying/didn’t care, these things were a struggle for me, I worked really hard and I could use some help. They also didn’t understand Asperger’s, so I got responses like, you’re not on the autism spectrum, those people have speech delays, learning difficulties, you’re smart, and so on. Misconceptions. And also, kind of insulting a group I now had found myself part of.
I’m happy to say that I got past my own negative reaction fairly quickly and moved past the whole “I’m broken” thing. I don’t have a victim mentality about it and I didn’t continue thinking I was broken (in fact, I feel a whole lot more in control about who I am than I did before finding out about Asperger’s, because the huge unknown feeling of “something is wrong with me” which has existed basically since the first kid was able to tell me I was a weirdo and there was something wrong with me, has diminished. There isn’t something “wrong” with me, I just have Asperger’s. Which makes some things difficult. And other things good.). In fact, I am very happy to have discovered Asperger’s, because it’s an explanation for so many things in my life. Also, by discovering I’m in fact not uniquely weird in my Asperger’s traits, it’s given me a door to connect (mostly online or through books) with other people who understand me. And can help me. Or just commiserate. It’s a wonderful thing to be understood, especially if you’ve gone all your life surrounded by many people who really don’t get you and in many cases don’t even want to.
Knowing about Asperger’s is also positive because it’s a way to work on skills that I have struggled with. Realization does not bring instant improvement by any means. There were some things I’d realized I’d had issues with prior to discovering Asperger’s, and in some cases I’d come up with “solutions,” or workarounds, but it had been a long laborious process that was difficult to put into practice. I was really starting from scratch. Faking normal, I call it. Also I hit a point in my life which your husband has probably hit where I decided it really wasn’t worth it to “fake normal” in numerous areas of behavior. Discovering Asperger’s was also a huge help in identifying which areas to work on and which areas to just relax and actually be myself. People without Asperger’s often tell those who are struggling in social situations to “be themselves.” This is not very good advice for people like me much of the time. Doing what comes naturally across the board in these cases tends to be offputting to those who don’t know me, because it sends inaccurate signals to those around me. But also, not being yourself ALL the time is prohibitively exhausting and pointless. So you pick and choose. I’m much more “myself” with people who are close to me, such as family members, but I still run into difficulties and misunderstandings even with them. Discovering, from research into Asperger’s, which things were more problematic and which things were within acceptable range/quirky/charming to the right crowd/etc was very helpful. Because as strange as it sounds, I had a really hard time knowing what behavior IS considered “normal” in a lot of areas. I’d had to figure a lot of it out, and some of it I got wrong. Other things (fewer) I might have tried to work on were perfectly acceptable to vary on so it was a waste of time. Before reading about them in relation to Asperger’s there were a lot of things I did that I didn’t know were a “thing” that bothered people because they hadn’t been specifically mentioned to me (the older you get, the less often people will directly “call you out” on strange/offputting behaviors. They just avoid you. Then, you don’t know what’s wrong, though you get the sense sometimes that something must be.) I didn’t want to create a fake me, I wanted to find ways to cope or mitigate situations that were difficult for me, and be less offputting to other people, especially ones I liked. It also helped me find certain behaviors of other people less aggravating, because I had an explanation of why I felt differently than they did about such behaviors. I was able to “let go” of some things and just accept the difference. It’s also a continuous process… there are still areas that I didn’t think were on the “need improvement” list or I was completely unaware of that I discover on a regularly basis, and sometimes I feel really bad as it dawns on me how I’ve hurt people I care deeply about in the past, or I realize how huge misunderstandings that caused great rifts may have developed through my “strange” seeming behavior or wrong assumptions. It’s definitely an ongoing discovery.
I also don’t tend to have an expectation that other people will make allowances for me because of Asperger’s, nor do I, at my age, seek out any kind of special services. If they had classes for improving social skills or something geared towards people like me, I suppose I might (big maybe), but as a practical matter a huge amount of support for Asperger’s is geared towards children. There is a big lack of support for adults with Asperger’s. This is slowly changing, and I’ve heard of resources that have helped some adults living far from me. Plus, a personal therapist who is familiar with Asperger’s, since you’ve already discussed it with yours, might also be useful to your husband and yourself. Basically I’ve sort of come to peace with my “differentness” instead of spending a lot of aggravating time wondering why, why do I keep screwing up the same things over and over. Now, the question isn’t why, it’s how do I cope with this particular issue better, and I have a starting place to go to. I really think of Asperger’s not as something “wrong,” but as a different way of thinking and processing the world. It’s really a part of me, I just want to manage this part of me better, not make it go away.
Finally, going into this discussion with your husband, it might be helpful to think about what you want to gain from it and pose some questions to yourself. Do you want him to get a diagnosis? If so, why? Do you want him to change his behavior in certain problem areas? Do you want him to have access to certain resources? Do you hope he can learn some things to help him in areas he has difficulty? Do you want to understand his behavior better? Do you want him to understand why certain of his behaviors make things difficult for others? What will you do if he has Asperger’s? How would you feel if he doesn’t want to get diagnosed (I have a number of reasons I haven’t gotten a formal diagnosis, and I’m reasonably comfortable with it, but to some people this might be troubling)? How will you feel if it turns out he doesn’t have it? What if it becomes obvious that he has it but he refuses to accept that?
I think whether or not he has Asperger’s, since you’ve noticed some related traits, it would be helpful for you to research about it yourself and try to gain an understanding of how certain situations might, for example, frustrate him. It may help you seek out explanations for his behavior that might not have occurred before. This may help to view his behavior more compassionately, whether or not he is interested in exploring the Asperger’s side of things at this time, or help understand why he reacts how he does. If it takes him a while to come around to the idea, this may make things smoother for you. I mention this, because I know that I frustrate a lot of people who are close to me, and they have said things to me like, “I always assumed you behaved this way because you didn’t like people,” or “I just thought you did those things on purpose to be annoying.” The assumptions people make about *why* I do certain behaviors that bother them are very often wrong, even if they know me very well. They will often change their behavior towards me as a result, which also confuses me. Also, sometimes I will feel that what I did bothered them because I can tell they are acting irritated or something, but I don’t understand why, but when I ask they insist they are not bothered (until later when they have calmed down). They assume I already know why and am asking for some other reason, such as to be annoying or make a point, but really I am confused and I want to nail down what part of what I did was wrong, and why.
Genuinely trying to understand how you can help him by understanding his reactions from an Asperger’s point of view would probably be one of the best things you could do. After all, any change or understanding on his end of things has to come from within him, at his own time and pace, and desire. I’ll be honest, there are a lot of “Asperger behaviors” which I really DON’T try to correct or focus on anymore most of the time simply because they’re not high-priority. I have to make choices because there are a lot of things to think about even in a simple interaction. There are also some “rules” of society that just seem so wrong or arbitrary that I don’t bother with them, though I really do try to be polite and not rude. I’ve also come to take some rejections less personally because I know that many people don’t understand me and see my behavior as offputting no matter what I do, but that’s okay. I don’t need everybody to accept me. I do try really, really hard for people I care about though. Harder than they know, because for me trying really hard sometimes still falls far short of what is expected. Misunderstandings often occur. There are also cases where it would be genuinely helpful for someone I trust to advise me about what is considered normal behavior in specific situations (and still let me choose how much of that I will try to do or not), or to help talk me through how a scenario will play out, or help me manage overwhelming situations in a way that works for me. It’s more difficult than you might imagine to get people to “work with me” in such scenarios, because they don’t understand why I can’t (or “won’t”) handle things in what they consider to be the normal way.
I find resources written by people who themselves have Asperger’s to be among some of the most understanding, in terms of helpfulness. Also, it’s helpful to have adult-centered resources, because the ones aimed at childhood diagnosis (which far outweigh the adult ones by sheer numbers) are very much aimed at parents, not the actual children, and they really look at a different aspect of Asperger’s. I find them interesting academically in relation to my own childhood, but not always relevant to me as an adult. Also, they often put a negative or condescending spin on Asperger’s. As I mentioned in my Parenthood article, the kind of challenges that stand out to me in terms of my Asperger’s are not necessarily the ones that stand out most to others, and almost assuredly not the things other people were struggling with when dealing with me in childhood.
One book I read recently that might be sort of a bridge between “neurotypical” and “asperger’s,” and all those folks who fall in between on that spectrum is John Elder Robison’s, “Be Different.” It doesn’t put the emphasis on trying to change yourself to be like everybody else, as the title suggests, but about how to manage better, and it has funny stories and nice concrete tips. It also acknowledges that these issues to some extent happen in a lot of other people, they’re just sort of concentrated in those of us with Asperger’s. There’s also an excellent blog I also started following recently by an adult woman with Asperger’s that has some really interesting articles about Asperger’s in adults, and practical advice, which might interest both of you: Musings of an Aspie. I highly recommend it. I’m sure you’ve found other resources out there, so I’ll just start with these, and perhaps some others can chime in too in comments :).
Hopefully I’ve covered some broad bases here, and you’ll let me know how it goes. Others who have had similar experiences, or have some additional suggestions, are also welcome to respond here!