Monthly Archives: March 2014

I Tried the Aspie Way, and it Didn’t Work!

If you have adopted the Aspie Way philosophy and it isn’t working, there are several possible reasons. First, please read the About page here.

But if you’re basically healthy, your ASP is basically healthy and the Aspie Way still hasn’t worked, there are other factors to consider.

First and most important: the Aspie Way is a way of life, not something to “try” here and there. It requires consistency and repetition and patience. For my ASH, it took six months for his meds to start working, as compared to the 90 days the same meds take for an NT. During this six month period, I was learning to change. I slipped up *a lot.* I did not see results until I had truly changed and could consistently keep things low stress with my ASP. It really didn’t take him that long to start trusting me once I had really changed. But when I was full of doubt and was bouncing in and out of depression and in and out of the Aspie way, there was no basis for the trust required for the Aspie Way to work. For ASP to trust me, I had to be trustworthy, and the occasional low-stress conversation, alternating with upsetting ones, just didn’t cut it. The low stress environment had to be the primary environment for a few weeks before I started to see the benefits.

Another situation that could make the Aspie Way difficult, if not impossible, would be if you are in a long distance relationship and have little contact with each other. For many Aspies, “Out of sight is out of mind.” Let’s face it, Aspies are visual and are quite focused on the risk/reward ratio of any situation. If he hardly sees you, if you’re not there to offer him the support and love and compassion he needs, and if his contact with you is risky (in other words, sometimes he’s gets a weepy, complaining, high-stress you instead of the compassionate, accepting, loving you), chances are he will avoid contact with you and will simply build a new life for himself without you. If this has happened, there may be no way for you to build trust with him or the fresh start that is needed for the Aspie Way to work. I’m not saying you will definitely fail if you’re in a long distance relationship, but I am saying that it becomes crucial that you make sure every interaction with him is as low stress as possible. And you may not be able to do this. I don’t think I could have. I needed my few months of regular, daily practice before I could really change.

On the other hand, let’s look at a long distance relationship with your ASP from a more positive view: maybe having less contact could work in your favor. Maybe you’ll find that it’s easier for you to control yourself when you know it’s only for a short time on the phone or on Skype or however you connect. Then, once the contact is over, you can cry or yell or get support from a friend or otherwise work through your stressful emotions safely away from your ASP. If you approach it this way, your long distance relationship could be a blessing.I think it all depends on you and what you can do. Everyone is different.

Consistency is key. Be patient. Believe in yourself. If you can do this, I believe you can do the Aspie Way.


Communication Breakdown: Where’s the Context?

There are times when my ASP says words to me yet leaves me clueless as to what he means. I could understand the words he said, I just couldn’t see how they were strung together or what they had to do with anything relevant. This problem is always worse during an argument, when he will respond to my perfectly logical responses with some off-the-wall tangent that seems meaningless to me. It often feels like he’s intentionally trying to de-rail the conversation, and without fail, he does this every time I logically prove my side of the argument. At best, it seems that learning I’m correct about something sends him into “Aspie Overload” and he ceases to function in any sort of normal way. At worst, he can’t stand being wrong and so refuses to validate me, trying to distract me instead. My reactions to this problem have ranged from fury to just having to laugh. Usually fury though.

Now I know from practicing the Aspie Way that this problem, like all of the others, is stress related. Now when I’m careful to keep things low-to-no stress, we don’t argue and therefore there’s nothing to send him into overload or any reason for him to try to derail me. Now that our environment in general is one of love, trust and compassion, he rarely approaches me out of the blue with random thoughts that are meaningless to me. I’ve come to believe that the Aspie brain works faster when under less pressure. This is the opposite of how I work. The more stress I’m under, the faster my brain seems to fly, trying to find solutions.

So why does a slower brain help ASP make more sense? I believe it’s because of how ASP retrieves information from his brain. I think it stems from the lack of theory of mind that all Aspies have. The Aspie brain, for whatever reason, can’t access the information needed to provide communication tools – mainly a context – that are customized to their audience. In order to find a context that will make sense, he has to “scan” his brain for all the information he has available to produce a context that will make sense to *me*. NT brains seem to do this instantly and automatically. But the Aspie needs a low stress, calm environment so he can take the time to scan the relevant information to provide what will allow his audience to know what he means.

Let me use an example. Imagine a little boy has a special toy duck. He says “duck” to his mother because he wants that toy. But Mom doesn’t know if he means he wants the special toy duck, the rubber bath duck, or if he wants to go to the park and feed the ducks. The NT little boy would quickly learn that Mom calls his special duck his “duck buddy,” and so he will say “duck buddy” when talking to his mom. But if he’s talking to his babysitter, he’d know she doesn’t know the nickname “duck buddy,” and so he would learn to ask for “my special toy duck.” Do you see how the theory of mind plays in here? The boy has to understand his audience and what they need to hear in order to understand him. He has to figure out what context is needed for his particular audience. Now consider the Aspie boy. He has no easy way to retrieve the theory of mind information that would tell him to give Mom the context clue “duck buddy.” He only knows he wants his duck and so he says “duck.” He gives no context because he doesn’t realize mom’s point of view or that mom can think of three different things he may mean by “duck.” Mom has to ask little Aspie, “Do you mean your duck buddy?” Then little Aspie can say “Yes.”

So bring this forward to the adult Aspie. He probably knows enough to know that context is needed. Yet finding the right context for each situation requires really processing and thinking it through. But if he’s under a lot of stress, especially if he’s in an argument, his brain is jumping all over the place, trying to keep up with all the information being thrown at him. He has no calm time to process and find that context. So out comes seemingly random thoughts, words without context. He knows what he means and how it’s connected, but his brain is so jumbled up by stress that he can’t sort it out enough to explain to his audience. Take away that stress and give him plenty of time to process, and then ASP can find the correct context to share. Suddenly he’s making sense and you’re having a productive, albeit slow, conversation. I’ve found I strongly prefer this to all the yelling and fury I used to produce from trying to make sense of thoughts without context. I know ASP likes it better this way too.

When getting ASP to do Chores is a Chore

We had a serious problem getting chores done around here and the problem lasted for years. I don’t have a job outside the house, and ASP and I both entered this marriage thinking I’d be the housekeeper, cook, maid, laundromat, and so on. My expectation changed once I started homeschooling and saw that other families treated homeschooling as a job and both partners contributed to the remaining work. Even so, I was happy to do most of the work, but I wanted him to be considerate of me and, most of all, appreciate all that I did. We resolved all this, over a period of years, before I knew anything of the Aspie Way.

Applying the Aspie Way to this problem would mean asking him, every day, over and over, to do all the things I want him to do. The Aspie Way does require patience and repetition, but I believe it would require super human patience to be able to do this every day, all day, for every task, for as long as needed, maybe years, maybe forever. I believe handling it this way would lead to eventual learning by the ASP, but maybe the way my ASP and I handled it could help speed things along.

[update: it’s been three years of doing The Aspie Way and he’s learned so much that I don’t have to ask him for regular stuff anymore!]

The goal here, as with anything when dealing with your ASP, is to keep the stress level down.

The resolution was that we assigned chores, very specifically, between us. I made lists, I made spreadsheets, I made flashcards, and I made post-it notes. Aspies tend to be visual learners, and so I did all I could to get the visuals in front of him so he might remember without my constant reminders. We even had who was the “boss” for the kids on different nights: Monday, Thursday and Friday are my nights “off.” He has off Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tuesday is family night and we work together. I am in charge of laundry and dinner, he is in charge of yard work and after dinner kitchen clean up. Everything else is my job to manage but he does most of the actual labor as I direct. (“Would you please vacuum the stairs?” “Would you please mop the kitchen?” etc. etc.) The Aspie Way has taught me how to direct him in a way that doesn’t lead to meltdowns for either of us.

I’ve told him repeatedly that I want his appreciation, but he never really understood this until after I’d modeled it for him for a few months. Now that I say please and thank you so much, he does too. He goes out of his way to comment when he notices something I’ve accomplished (of course he misses a lot but it’s still nice.) Also I’ve learned that he does appreciate all that I do or he wouldn’t be so willing to go do whatever he thinks I want. So your ASP is telling you, in his language, that he appreciates you when he cleans up as you ask. It will take time and patience, and in the meantime, you’re still dealing with years of patterns that are hard to break. It’s tough. But stick with it as much as you can, and before you know it, your home will be just as you want and you won’t have done all the work alone.

Why ASP Avoids You, and Learn the Golden Rule

This may be hard to hear, but chances are, he’s avoiding you from fear of what you might say or do. I’m not saying you’re doing anything wrong. What I’ve learned is that perfectly normal behavior on the part of the NT can be terrifying for the AS. This is just the nature of the different brain types. I’ve also learned that the NT is better equipped to figure out the problems and set the example to make things better.

So my suggestion to you is to find out what your ASP is afraid of. Is it sarcasm? Do you get emotional with him? (Scary to an ASP). Do you threaten him or bully him out of frustration because nothing else has worked? I did all of these things and worse. I had to really take a look at myself from my ASP’s point of view and stop the behaviors that made him want to avoid me. Instead, I had to learn to remain calm and to treat him with the same kindness I wanted in return. Aspies go through so much abuse trying to get along in the world that they really need a safe place while at home. I learned that I would only be allowed to share that safe place with him if I proved to him that *I* was safe and that he had nothing to fear from me. This took a few months of unnatural behavior on my part, but the rewards have been worth every difficult moment along the way.

Like any marriage, It’s an ongoing journey. I just found out yesterday that he’s been hiding his stress from me, which led to the first meltdown he’s had in ages, and I realized that I’ve been unkind to him lately because of my own stress. I’ve been expecting too much from him, I’ve been expecting him to handle things well when I haven’t been. His meltdown was a (horrible) cry for help, but it’s put me back on the right path of expecting no more from him than I can give myself. I must treat him how I want to be treated, which means learning his fears and being careful of them, just like I want him to do for me.

It’s the golden rule: treat him the way you want to be treated, and soon, you’ll have again the man with whom you fell in love.

Why ASP is at His Worst When You Need Him the Most

I was so buried in self pity and hopelessness for so long that I couldn’t see a single thing that my ASP did “right.” It took my friend pointing things out to me before I learned to recognize all the ways my ASP was trying and the ways he communicated his love for me. All I could see were all the things he wasn’t doing as I wanted and expected.

It’s by focusing on the good in my ASP that I learned to minimize the bad. The ways he messed up that made me so angry didn’t seem to matter as much. I took a step back and saw a bigger picture where he was trying so hard, rather than focusing day in and day out on every little time he communicated badly or otherwise disappointed me. I started to try to understand what he meant rather than getting all wrapped up and offended when he stuck his foot in his mouth. I learned he loved me and meant well but just lacked tact and the natural ability to say the “right” thing, especially in an emotional situation.

The more emotional the problem, the more he screwed up. This is why my illness brought out the worst in him. Not because he didn’t care but because he *did* care. Those emotions just twist him up and bring up his walls and make him say the most hurtful things. Or, even worse, he would avoid me, but this was out of fear of hurting me. All I knew was that he wasn’t there for me.

Now I know he was protecting me as best he could. So here’s how to use the Aspie Way to have a true partner in your time of need: let him know you understand his fear, let him know you appreciate his trying to protect you, let him know it’s okay if he isn’t perfect, and then let him know you need him now. Do not remind him of his failures. Try to let go of the expectation that he just “know” what to do. Tell him and say please. This approach has allowed my ASP to really be here for me when I need him now.

Being Spoiled by My Aspie: The forest and the bad tree

I’ve found that ASP likes to spoil me when he believes he’s making me happy. This is part of why it’s so important to remove emotion from my face and tone when I’m upset by something. When he can tell I’m upset, he thinks “All this stuff I do doesn’t make her happy. So I shouldn’t do it.” Just one upset is a bad tree in the forest and it’s all he can see. He forgets the huge forest of good things he’s done and any happiness those things have brought me. So, I have to make sure I let him know how pleased I am with all he does and express any concerns using the Aspie Way so that he continues to enjoy doing things that make me happy. I have to remind him of the forest while discussing any one tree.

Does this mean I have to “pretend” to be happy all the time? Not at all. There is nothing pretend about the Aspie Way. This means that you have to be vocal about your sincere happiness with the things he does to please you, usually just by saying “thank you,” no pretend happiness required. It can be the dullest thanks in the world, but as long as he hears it, he will know he has done right by you and will keep doing so. If, like me, you’ve been buried in anger and bitterness for years, you may have a hard time seeing those things he does, but I promise you, he does them. Sometimes there are things he does that are for you that seem like things he should be doing anyway, so you may not want to praise him for them. For instance, it took years for me to convince my Aspie that he should help around the house. He *should* help. So now that he’s helping, we’re at a sort of baseline, a sort of normal, so why in the world should I praise him? The reason is the reward. I thank him every time I see him doing the dishes or taking out trash or any of the other myriad of tasks that I want to take for granted. I’ve learned, with my Aspie, to take nothing for granted. Instead, I sincerely appreciate what he’s doing, and I tell him so. No pretending required. And the reward is that I feel his love now in everything he does for me, and I’ve learned that almost everything he does, is *for me.* That’s the forest we both need to remember.

You can use the same emotionless “thank you” as you use to express your concerns the Aspie Way. It’s so simple once I got the hang of it. At first, talking in a monotone with a blank face felt really awkward. It seemed like my upset would be so obvious talking this way, or that he wouldn’t believe I was grateful because I wasn’t bubbling with happiness when I thanked him, but ASP really can’t tell what I’m feeling when I do this. I just have to remember to be polite, saying please and thank you. This shows how the Aspie’s lack of theory of mind can be such a benefit! And when I calmly can tell him about a problem, he can hear me and respond because he continues to believe he’s successful at making me happy, which he is overall. He just can’t see the forest for the trees, so I have to remind him (and me!) of the forest when discussing a bad tree.

The Aspie Way Philosophy

Before you read this, please see the “About” page for this blog.

Our hypothesis is this: Aspies are suffering with crippling anxiety. They often don’t even know it because they don’t understand their own emotions. All the hellish traits we have to deal with are all because of this anxiety. So the key to the Aspie Way is to communicate in a way that does not trigger stress. Once stress is triggered, ASP can’t learn, will forget, and will either meltdown or withdraw, either immediately or later.

We also believe that underneath every ASP is a scared little boy who wants to please us more than anything. The problem is that every time they believe they’ve failed, that little boy goes deeper and deeper inside himself, where, you guessed it, he can’t learn how to please us.

So the answer? Get that little boy to trust you. Show him that he can make you happy by being very vocal about your appreciation of his gifts. You have to watch for those gifts, so many of them are easy to take for granted because they’re things we think they “should” do anyway. But regular tasks are more difficult for them and should be appreciated. So say lots of “thank you’s” over every day basic things. Say it even if you don’t feel it. As long as you don’t sound sarcastic or upset, he will hear it, will know he is succeeding at making you happy, and therefore will keep trying.

What about all the things he’s *not* doing “right?” You simply ask for what you want. Ask politely without emotion. Emotion scares the little boy. Just ask for what you want without explanation and always say please. Never add stuff like “…like I asked you already.” This will shame him and bring his walls up. Keep it very simple, monotone, blank face.

Depending on how bad things are you may have to start with small requests. You will have to ask for things you want him to figure out for himself. You will have to accept that he might not be capable of knowing what you want unless you tell him. You will have to change your expectations to be in line with his disabilities.

I am also a strong advocate for professional help for both the NT and the AS in the relationship. Medication for anxiety, ADD and depression for your ASP can bring miracles. The NT may need medication just as much to be able to control herself while learning the Aspie Way. I think the Aspie Way will work without meds, but I believe it will be a longer and more difficult road.

Last but not least, making these changes is hard. Expect to slip. It’s okay. Your ASP will forget bad days when they’re replaced by good ones. Go easy on yourself and take good care of yourself. Do what you need to do to process your anger and set boundaries for yourself. There’s no way I could have done any of this when I was drowning in bitterness and hopelessness. I had to fix me first. I think often the first thing the NT must address is sleep deprivation. Good sleep = calmer you. And a calmer you = a you your ASP can trust.

What do you think? Any thoughts?

Cassandra Syndrome

I wrote this over six years ago. Since then, I’ve learned to follow the Aspie Way and am happily married to my ASP. It amazes me that my loving and attentive husband is the same man I wrote about here:

I was an emotional wreck when I met him, I was 25 and divorced with an 18 mo daughter. He represented the security I longed for. He was the strong silent type, good-looking, the perfect husband. So what if he was a little cold and distant? I figured this was the price of security. Emotional guys are losers, right? I’d learned this the hard way. Before we married, I fell in love with his idea of what family life looked like: Loving, protective father, stay-at-home-mom, a few kids. I already wanted to be a sahm, so I felt fortunate to marry a guy who not only supported that dream, but shared it. So I made the biggest mistake of my life: I put complete trust in my spouse and quit my career.

The first couple of years were okay. I gave up my friendships and spent all my time trying to be Mrs. Cleaver. I kept house, catered to his every whim, and all was well. The problems started when our baby was six months old and couldn’t sit up. That began several months of hell for me. I was told my sweet baby boy might never walk or talk. And to make matters worse, dh was completely unaffected. He didn’t miss a minute of work for any of the many tests, doctor appointments, or therapy sessions our little boy needed. He didn’t seem to care at all.

My little fantasy of our perfect family fell apart. This began years of rocky-marriage with constant fighting. I did most of the yelling and screaming and the only crying. He always seemed so calm and rational that before long, I believed him. I was the problem. He was normal, rational, and strong. I just needed to be more like him. We’d fight and I’d feel so worthless. I talked to my family about it, but even they didn’t see the problem. Even they thought I was the one who needed to change. The stuff I complained about was dh just being a regular man. All men can be self-centered, all men get obsessed with games (or sports or whatever), all men have trouble communicating, all couples fight about money and sex and parenting and household chores. I just needed to accept him, this is what dh said and this is what everyone else said too.

So I tried. And to be honest, I did learn a lot of good stuff during those years. I learned to process my emotions and gain some control myself. We had another child, and I agreed to homeschool our kids rather than go back to work or school as I’d wanted. As dh was quick to show me, all the research shows homeschooling is best for the kids, and my sweet little boy couldn’t function in a regular school setting. Both our kids have sensory processing disorder and we now know that ds has Asperger’s. Dd might too but it’s harder to tell with girls. I reached out to a local church community and have developed friendships and a spiritual life (alone of course, dh stays home to play video games). But these choices and improvements came at a great cost: my health.

Have you all heard of Cassandra Syndrome? It’s worth Googling.

The stress of being married to him all those years with no one understanding what was going on made me sick, leading to Cassandra’s Syndrome: depression, terrible self-esteem, and ultimately, physical disease. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis four years ago. I am partly disabled and couldn’t go back to work now, even if I felt I could put my special-needs kids in the school system. I am completely and totally trapped. Stuck. Smothered. Miserable.

After ten years married to an Aspie who didn’t know he was an Aspie, and after years of trying to explain to people why I was unhappy, telling people that dh isn’t the super-great perfect guy everyone thinks he is, I left Tony Attwood’s book in the bathroom. I was reading up on Asperger’s for our son and was sure that dh had it too but he wouldn’t listen to me about it. The ploy worked! Dh picked up the book, read it, and said, “Hey, I have Asperger’s Syndrome.” At first, I was thrilled. “Finally! He’ll realize that everything is not my fault! He can learn about his disorder and we can make some progress!” I was so relieved. I have a degree in psychology and used to see myself as a very intuitive person who could solve any problem with communication. After a decade with my Aspie, I’d lost all confidence in my skill-set. Now I could regain my confidence, now I could be validated! I was also upset to be right because I knew that it meant dh would never be the loving, romantic, empathetic guy I wished for. But at that point I was desperate to be validated; I was ready to settle for just about any improvement.

That was two years ago and things are worse than ever. I’ve received no validation. The only significant change is that his behavior is more extreme, like he doesn’t have to try anymore. The worst part is the tantrums. He admits he has Asperger’s but can’t see how it affects his day-to-day behavior. He’s still as inflexible, obsessed, self-centered, self-righteous, and cold as ever (except when he’s yelling and screaming during a meltdown, the only time I see any emotion from him). I’ve changed so much that I’m often the calm rational one now, which seems to only make him worse. It’s like he doesn’t hear me if I don’t yell and I’m tired of yelling. Mostly, I’m just tired. I need my energy to take care of myself and my own disease, my kids and their special needs, and, if I have anything left, I’ve got a big house, a garden, and several pets to take care of. I just want him to go about his business and let me go about mine, but, when I least expect it, he flies off the handle and slams me right back into hell.