Stephanie C. Holmes, MA, BCCC
Certified Autism Specialist
My approach to counseling has several phases. Phase one is AS awareness and education. It is important for me to explain that counseling will not fix or cure the AS person that the AS person is neurologically wired differently and although Asperger’s can cause challenges to a relationship, the goal is not to “fix” or “change” the AS individual. The wiring that makes this individual exceptional in a career/field of study is only part of the reason relationships can be difficult to navigate. We have many inventions and advances in our arts, sciences, technologies etc. because of this neurodiversity/wiring. The marital issues/challenges are not solely the result of Asperger’s. It is important to dismiss/dispel myths about what AS is and is not. Phase two is to examine marital expectations from both the NT and Aspie side of the equation. What does each person want or expect from the relationship? Where has each person felt hurt or been wounded by expectations/lack of connection/harsh words? The NT spouses has valid hurts and wounds experiencing what some call Cassandra Phenomenon or Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome (OTRS) (FAAAS, 1997). This phase also examines at the criteria/traits of Asperger’s and examines its impact on the marital relationship. Common issues: lack of reciprocity, lack of / not showing empathy, communication issues, lack of shared enjoyment, parenting together, and feeling a marital bond/teamwork. Since AS is by definition an emotional/relationship/communication issue these are going to affect a marital relationship. In this phase we look at expectations in the light of Aspie- NT challenges.
Aspie Spouses were asked about living with/marriage to an NT and how it affects them:
- Constant conflict/arguments make me shut down or walk away
- Being blamed for our marital issues/problems/conflicts is not accurate
- Spouses has threatened to leave/separate/divorce/ causes feelings of inadequacy /rejection
- Not everything is my fault 100% of the time
- Sometimes I think she uses the AS label to dismiss/ignore/ reject my ideas/wishes/desires/thoughts
So the final phase of counseling is long –term. I want to know what each spouse wants/needs from the marriage and we examine together modifications each will need to make to reach the goal. Often times Aspie-NT marriages will require long-term care. A common complaint from an NT wife, “He starts off doing what we agreed upon but within weeks is back to his old pattern and nothing has really changed.” Or “In the office with you he agrees to do this and that but follow through at home is lacking and when I remind him of our agreements he says I am nagging.” There are many complex issues and goals the NT spouse may wish to implement but I find ordering the goals and working on one at a time although slow and tedious will yield the best results long-term. To me there is no question that partners in an Aspie- NT marriage require solid cognitive-behavioral marriage counseling but it is just as crucial to have a therapist who understand the Asperger’s and its impact on the relationship. It has been a long time coming, but there are a few great resources I refer to often by Maxine Ashford and Ashley Stanford specifically as well as others. I advise couples to be careful of blogs as many paint a bleak picture of marriage to an Aspie and yield more discouragement than encouragement. I am asked if having an official diagnosis matters. In 2013 the DSM-5 was published and the same manual that introduced us to the term Asperger’s Syndrome has deleted it from its manual and now we only have the label Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which many adults are reluctant to have placed upon them. Does Asperger’s still exist? Yes. The DSM is an American manual. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is widely used around the world and its most recent edition slated for publishing in 2016 still includes the term Asperger’s Syndrome. As I work with couples and see “traits” of Asperger’s unless it is important to the individual to have the official diagnosis I do not insist on an official diagnosis. If the spouse recognizes these qualities and is willing to work on the challenging areas we move forward in counseling sometimes with an official diagnosis received from a health care provided, but often we work on clinical impressions.
Aspie- Nt marriage is a complex marital counseling situation. This DVD set is useful to both couples and therapist to better understand nuances of Aspie- NT marriage. Stephanie C. Holmes has put her best workshop material into a DVD seminar you can watch from home.
Stephanie C. Holmes, M.A., is an ordained minister, a Licensed Christian Counselor, and a Certified Autism Specialist. Stephanie’s career path changed when her eldest daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2004. She then began to focus on helping families deal with the frustrations and challenges of having a special needs child and works with Aspie- NT couples across the country through Skype consultation. She speaks nationally about AS/ASD and families, Spectrum Teens, and Aspie- NT marriage. Her newly published book Confessions of a Christian Counselor: How Infertility and Autism Grew My Faith explores her personal journey and gives practical advice to families. With leading ASD researcher, Dr. Tony Attwood, Stephanie has published articles in Autism /Asperger’s Digest on issues Spectrum Teens face.