A little while back I stumbled across a FAQ on the website of a psychologist that REALLY bothered me. Today I feel like taking it apart a wee bit.
The first two questions weren’t bad. They were just basic facts and statistics and really nothing bothersome. The problems started with question three. Firstly, the question: “All of us have symptoms like these at times. Are we all Aspergers?”
I find this question sad but necessary. It’s the sort of thing I see asked (or commented) regarding any number of disorders, and people seem to like to use this kind of thinking to discount or deny the existence of some disorders. So while I find the question sad, it is worth answering.
In any case, here is her answer: “Many describe living with an Aspie as draining. It is not always the big things that lead to distress, but the constant drip, drip, drip of small seemingly thoughtless behaviors that destroys the relationship. The lack of eye contact, the obsessive/compulsive behaviors, the adherence to rigid routines, the self absorption, the social anxiety, all lead to family members feeling like they just cannot connect with their Asperger family members. It isn’t so much the unusual behaviors that make the connecting difficult, but the inconsistency. Never knowing what is coming next, makes a loving connection very difficult.”
Holy wow, all sorts of problems there, the most obvious being that this is not, in any way, an answer to that question. It was, instead, a completely unrelated note about how Aspies apparently can’t have functional relationships. As to what she did say, I suppose I should be generous. I know that there are probably plenty of Aspies that have these problems. And she did keep herself just shy (barely!) of speaking in universals. The margin, though, was way too thin. I don’t feel right speaking for my boyfriend, but I certainly feel connected to him, and I recognize that maintaining that connection is just as much my job as it is his. AND I find the connection important. So really, give us some credit please.
Moving on to another comment she made: “Asperger Syndrome (AS) is demonstrated by deficits in communication, social skills and reciprocity of feelings.” Now, this is, technically speaking, true. However, I really wish it weren’t. Not in that I wish people with Asperger’s didn’t have these problems (such wishing would be pointless), but in that I am rapidly tiring of Asperger’s only being defined in terms of deficits. Personally, I think a FAQ about Asperger’s should include some talk about Aspie strengths, but apparently, on this FAQ, there is simply no room. How sad.
Ok, skipping ahead to question 7.
“7. Why can’t AS adults connect?
Reciprocity is an integral part of communicating, connecting and loving. If you cannot comprehend the interior life of another, then connection is very difficult. Especially since the interior life of an NT consists of how he or she views him or herself in relationship to another.”
The first problem is in the question itself. AS adults may have trouble connecting, maybe some percentage of AS adults simply cannot connect at all, but it is not AT ALL fair to imply that there is some amount of universality in Aspies not being able to connect. Shortly after that, we find ourselves with a very universal statement about NTs. I suppose I should keep an open mind and consider the possibility that this really is universally true, so NTs, I ask you! Is this true for you? Does your interior life consist of how you view yourself in relationship to another?
The FAQ then goes on to explain why Aspies can’t do reciprocal relationships, and I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself. It’s true that I have trouble with reciprocity, but it is something I work on, and I do like to connect with the “interior life” of the people I care about (or at least, I think I do, assuming I am correct in my impression of what “interior life” means).
Yet another comment, “the NT spouse realizes that his or her AS mate is just not aware of (and even disinterested) the NT’s interests.” Gee, thanks. I most certainly AM aware of, and interested in, my boyfriend’s interests. Please, pretty please, stop tarring us all with this brush.
In question nine she acknowledges that women can be Aspies too. Hooray! Her characterization of female Aspies is that we’re seen as “cold, uncaring, and selfish.” Are we? Actually, I can’t speak to that directly. I do, however, know that I personally tend to be seen as snobbish and aloof. It’s sad, I wish I weren’t, but that’s what I get for being deeply uncomfortable around people, not knowing how to talk to them, and only being able to handle people in carefully controlled doses.
Moving on to number 11. I don’t even want to quote this one. Basically, she says that relationships between Aspies and NTs are doomed to being abusive and unfixable. I feel a bit insulted.
The first time I read this, by the time I got to question 12 and the line, “He [the Aspie whom we are still treating as male] has no motive to understand her [his wife’s] interior world so her complaints are bothersome to him” I was just wanting to bang my head on my desk. Writing about it now, apparently that is still what I want to do when I read it. As far as I’ve gathered so far, most Aspies do want to connect to people. Explain that understanding the “interior world” of one’s partner is important to connect and presto! We have motivation. Additionally, the answer to question 12 really feels like going down the metaphorical rabbit hole, in general. We start with AS people thinking their spouses are bitchy, and end with saying that domestic violence is a serious problem in homes where one partner has AS. I have no idea if this is true or not, so I’m not really willing to comment on it, aside from to say that a statement like this should probably have a citation of some kind.
“The typical methods of marital psychotherapy used to teach communication and interpersonal skills will usually be unsuccessful within an AS/NT relationship.” This is true. Typical methods of psychotherapy don’t tend to work on Aspies simply in general, because we are not typical. However, this is why there are other methods specifically for people with AS. Typical methods of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety don’t work for me either, but that does not mean my anxiety is untreatable. It just means that I need to use different methods.
“The AS client can master some simple communication skills to get them by in the world, but these behaviors will fall short in the intimacy of a long term relationship.
If my therapist believed that this was the very best I was capable of, simply because I am an Aspie, I think I would get a new therapist. It’s true that I will never be NT, never act like an NT, never be the same. It’s true that I generally need people to meet me halfway. But this FAQ seems to treat me as so much less.
“On the other hand, some NT spouses report that the marriage can be quite gratifying if their AS spouse acknowledges his or her limitations and works with the NT to create a kind of loving connection.”
Hooray! My reality was graced with a brief, token acknowledgement! I’m not quite sure what is meant by the phrase “kind of loving connection,” but hey, it’s better than nothing.
Now, all that said, I think I can understand some of the author’s point of view, at least to some degree. As much as I feel frustrated by it, it’s true that there are plenty of Aspies who have these types of problems. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I don’t much enjoy the wrong planet forums. Plus, it’s possible that she is experiencing something I have gathered that at least some therapists have trouble with – she is a family counselor, so probably most of her Aspie patients do present with these problems. It seems that she has taken this, the sub-set of Aspies that she herself tends to interact with, and generalized their experiences to all Aspies. I get that it happens, as frustrating as it is to me to be on the other end of it. Mostly, I wish things like this would have more nuance, more room for the intense variety that comes with Aspies. We’re not all like that characterization and I, for one, am better than that.