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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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PARTNERSHIP, COMMUNICATION AND ASPERGER SYNDROME

 Copyright  1999 Roger Meyer

All Rights Reserved

 

 

     [The following essay is a slightly edited version of an Email message to a woman in a long-time marriage with an AS man.]

 

     Linda:

 

     So good to hear from you.  Congratulations to you both for your upcoming thirteenth anniversary!

 

     I've been doing a bit of reading in connection with a counseling ethics course I will be taking and one of the issues discussed in one of the readings centers around marital success and similarities of perception between the marital partners.

 

     A number of studies have shown that what apparently contributes to the solidity of the marital bond is an on-the-same-page perception by both spouses that they are at the same place.  The perception or impression that both spouses have is the thing, not the objectively determined similarity of their actual behaviors.  If both spouses believe that they are moving in a common direction, such a belief takes precedence over any differences in behavior they manifest, because the perception is the deeper reflection of a commitment that the marriage will work.

 

     I've seen this phenomenon in my work with families whose young adults are moving towards post home-life adult independent living.  Where the family members all believe the same thing about the progress of their adult child, the actual transition to independence is a lot smoother than if they continue to harbor doubts and anxiety about the rate of the young person's traversal towards life beyond the immediate family's control.

 

     I am currently working with two families where on the one hand a difference in perception has retarded the young person's full commitment to independence, and on the other, agreement about the ultimate goal of independence and acceptance of the rate of movement, however slight, has provided the young adult with a firm basis for risk-taking and testing of the waters.

 

     In both cases, the young adults' AS was diagnosed late.  In the instance where there is a chasm of difference in perception, it is because the mother still is in the throes of self-doubt, guilt, and anxiety about what she might have contributed to her adult son's attitudes towards striking out on his own.  Her doubt is mirrored in the hesitancy of her son to take even small steps towards independence.  In the other instance, the parents have another child, four years younger, who is not on the spectrum and has moved seamlessly into independence.  The success of their other child's continued transition is also helped by the fact that the family is intact.  That isn't the case with my first client, and I find myself constantly having to hop back and forth between two parents who haven't been with one another for twenty years as I work with their son.   Both of them want the best for him, and each, in their own way, is very supportive.  The difficulty in this case is that their messages are slightly different.  One set of messages comes from a mom who hasn't been involved on a daily basis with her adult son, yet loves him deeply and wants to do "all" of his planning and preparation work.  She has a hard time "letting go."  The other perception and set of messages comes from a father who is on the spectrum and in profound denial.  He is also an alcoholic, and for the past four years, his adult son has been with him in a very isolated retirement and recreation community cut off from all social services.  He views his kid as a "buddy," and this has made it hard for him to think of him as other kinds of a person at the same time.

 

     The reason I go into this detail is to remind myself how different each person is, and how important sharing of the same view, even for the shortest of times, can be in resolving problems.  I don't call differences "conflict," because most people view conflict, which I believe is inevitable, as either essentially negative, or, at the most, neutral.  All along, I've viewed conflict as a positive and undeniable force, the engine behind effective and long-lasting problem solving and a constant reminder of just how changeable we all can be.

 

     It is good that in your marriage you have the influence of your religious faith as a third "leg" to the milking stool.  It has done you well, and even if it isn't shared in the same way by John, his benign acceptance of its impact on you appears to have strengthened your hope throughout the years.  This is one of those less than openly acknowledged commonalities which impel couples to remain committed to their relationship with one another.

 

     It may well be that John will never be on the same wavelength with your in areas which you feel are beneficial, but something is obviously holding you together.  I doubt it is just your fear of "failing" and falling away from a second marriage that has had its constant challenges.

 

     One thing you may discuss with your counselor is bringing more to the surface the common processes which you and John actually share in your relationship.  I've alluded to a couple of them above.  I mention this because I've learned that I'm at my best as a counselor when I concentrate on the process of a relationship -- its dynamics -- rather than the contents of a relationship when working with families and individuals.  The way in which people interact are far longer-lasting, and are the bedrock to their understandings.  Most of the time people aren't aware of just how important much of this unacknowledged process stuff is.  They become so, however, when the process either hasn't accomplished what either person expects, or it never had a chance of succeeding for a variety of reasons.  Where they are stuck in process, they are stuck in conflict.

 

     Over the past thirteen years you have developed a substantial process base to your relationship, and where you have found strength over the years is where both of you have relied on the unstated often unconscious but supportive aspects of a dynamic to pull you through a crisis.  To put it another way, your participation in the process is participation in a problem-solving exercise.  Much of the conscious work both of you do "in process" relates to the content of a problem or a challenge that is up for addressing.  The way that both of you emerge from the shared experience has been the fuel to your partnership. 

 

     Each of you may have a completely different view of what you just accomplished, and such a difference of view is perfectly expectable, since you each experience an event through your own "lens."  Your mutual agreement about the unstated rules of each of your successful processes is what keeps you going.  Each of you may express yourself differently about those rules once you look at the process itself, and it may well be that John either doesn't see the rules or would be capable of talking about them.  Doing that may not be important, because the real fact is that he acknowledges the power and effectiveness of the process by behaving according to its unstated rules.  The behavior, in the end, is what counts.

 

     I'm happy to hear that despite your discomfort in providing direction his acceptance of it seems unquestioning.  At the deepest level, that is proof of his trust in you, and, of equal importance, trust in himself by following your lead.  In many ways, you probably follow his "lead," although you may not be consciously aware of it at the time you do it, just as old dance partners rarely have to check in with one another while negotiating familiar steps to music they both enjoy.  It is only when the music is new or the steps are unfamiliar that your communication system gets a workout.  And that's when you realize the difficulty and express it clearly.  In his own way he probably perceives the challenge, but his "style" doesn't allow a similar outward expression, or expression in a language known to both of you.  Much of his expression, his "language," and his actual movement is "internal."  For as long as he will be AS, that's most likely the way it's going to be.

 

     Expressive beings that we all are, we feel a need not only to display our wants in language clear to others, but to have them acted on.  For some of us, this remains an unattainable ideal.  That the completion of this need-expression-acknowledgement cycle remains a challenge rather than a reality for many of us with AS is something we have to live with, as do our partners, friends, and acquaintances.  We live through our lives pushing this invisible wheelbarrow full of unexpressed but still felt needs only hoping that we don't constantly bump into other's shins and that they can see us coming.  For those of us around one another longer, we become "naturals" at the process, but for all of us the effort required to push the wheelbarrow will remain a life-long drag, much as a dragging brake impedes the perfect ride on an otherwise well-tuned bicycle.

 

 

Copy Right Issues

    This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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