HOW TO SPOT ASPERGER’S SYNDROME
Why should you know how to spot a man who has Asperger’s Syndrome?
Relationships are all about communication. Yet, autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which include Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), are all about communication challenges and lack of emotional understanding.
People with Asperger’s syndrome do not possess “Theory of Mind” abilities, which means they aren’t able to recognize and understand the thoughts, beliefs, desires and intentions of other people in order to make sense of their behavior. The result is a person who is “mindblind,” which means blindness to another person’s needs, feelings and desires. This adversely affects the important quality of empathy, which is vital to a successful and fulfilling relationship. People involved in relationships with a mindblind partner report feeling invalidated, unsupported, unheard, unknown and uncared for. They suffer from severe, ongoing emotional deprivation that results in depression, loneliness, anger, low self-esteem, emotional breakdown, PTSD and physical illness.
Men with Asperger’s Syndrome are not able to recognize their own lack of empathy or their other deficits.
“Do not minimize the extent of my having been changed from a vivacious, sensual, happy, loving, athletic, healthy, wealthy, bright, articulate, fairly socially adept human to being melded and molded to accommodate an autistic adult into exactly the opposite of who I am for the sake of a one-sided relationship.”
Why would a woman become romantically involved with a man who has Asperger’s?
Initially, a woman may admire the man’s intelligence, knowledge, good manners, old-fashioned sensibilities, unconventional charm, child-like qualities, and his practical, rational way of looking at the world. He may have a good job, often as an engineer or in an IT-related field, such as computer programming.
Although the deficits of a man with AS become painfully clear in time, they often present as normal in the beginning of a relationship. Men with Asperger’s may not disclose their disorder to you. Some purposely try to hide it. They are unable to understand that it will cause significant problems for you and for the relationship, so they see no reason to tell you. There are many classes, coaching programs and websites that offer training to help them act like a neurotypical (NT, or “normal”) man. Many study the words and behavior of NT people around them, and copy it. They learn exactly what they should do and say in a romantic relationship, since none of it comes naturally to them. It’s an act, one they feel they must put on to win you. No one can keep up an act forever.
“The person with Asperger’s Syndrome may have developed a superficial expertise in romance and dating from careful observation, and by mimicking actors and using the script from television programs and films… Some partners have explained that they never saw the real person before they were married, and after their wedding day, the person abandoned the persona that was previously so attractive.” (Tony Atwood, The complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome)
Here are the words of David Finch, a writer with Asperger’s Syndrome:
“We dated for a year, a period of time that, in some ways, felt like a twelve-month-long audition. Be cool, I told myself, roughly ten-thousand times a day. Look normal. Act normal. We got engaged, and still I did everything I could to impress her, because, as I understood it, that’s what a person did when they landed themselves a fiancée. I showered Kristen with affection and praise, went out of my way to act supportive, and never once voiced a negative thought or feeling. What was not to love about that guy? After we were married, and we were living together around the clock, Kristen began to understand exactly what was hard to love about that guy: he wasn’t entirely real. By our third anniversary, the illusion I’d created had been shattered… It can so thoroughly destroy a relationship that at one time seemed invulnerable. If it’s well-hidden, and you’re not specifically looking for it, the condition can reveal itself slowly, one misunderstanding and baffling meltdown at a time. And it makes me wonder… How many of us are struggling with something that reveals itself in such cruelly deceptive ways?”
“Talking with my ex-husband is like smashing my head against a wall or drowning in a river. We were not talking the same language and misunderstandings were the rule. I learnt the hard way what Asperger Syndrome was.”
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger´s Syndrome (AS) is one of the autism spectrum disorders. Affected individuals display considerably impaired capacity for social interaction and communication.
A diagnosis of AS includes social impairments, such as:
- the lack of social and emotional reciprocity;
- difficulties in understanding social situations and other people’s thoughts and feelings;
- tendency to think of issues as being black and white, rather than considering multiple perspectives in a flexible way;
- frequent tendency to say things without considering the emotional impact on the listener;
- lack of spontaneous interest in sharing experiences with others.
AS also includes restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, such as:
- preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted pattern of interest;
- inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals;
- stereotyped or repetitive motor mannerisms.
Many incorrectly believe that those with AS—considered a “high-functioning” Autism Spectrum Disorder—have a mild disability and need next to nothing in the way of support. The fact is that people with “high functioning” Autism Spectrum Disorders are often quite severely disabled. They need support and services in the areas of relationships, social care, living skills, respite and community integration, health, housing, education, employment, etc. “High-functioning” means that they are higher functioning than other people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, not that they are high functioning in relation to the typical population. (Myths and Truths)
Asperger Syndrome is demonstrated by deficits in communication, social skills and reciprocity of feelings. The person with AS is unaware of what their loved ones think or feel, and even when told, he can only see things from his point of view. With limited empathy for others, connecting with a loved one is extremely difficult, so those with Asperger Syndrome go through life focused on their own needs and wants and often miss what is going on with others.
“There is zero desire to hear the other person’s perspective. There is no compassion or empathy for the struggles the other person is going through. There is an air of superiority, and there are many demands to have his own way. And it’s all making me sick.”
What are the signs that a man has AS?
As individuals with AS age, most develop a wide variety of coping skills and discover ways to mask their behavioral traits so that under many circumstances they can “pass for normal.” You must be very astute to pick up on clues of AS in the beginning of a relationship. Men with AS need—and often have been given—explicit instructions to ask you how your day was, to send you flowers, to send flirty or loving text messages every morning, to hold your hand when you walk down the street, to avoid giving monologues on their “special interest,” etc. Many men with AS are unaware they have the disorder, and in that case it’s far easier to spot. With that said, here are the signs:
- Their speech is pedantic, meaning that it is filled with obscure, minute facts and details; is overly concerned with formalisms; displays a narrow concern for book learning and formal rules; and is overly concerned with the precise meanings of words.
- They have difficulties with pragmatic, or social, language. This includes saying inappropriate things, not taking turns in conversations, speaking in a way that is not appropriate for an informal social setting, or speaking in the same manner to a two-year-old and an adult.
- They may speak too fast, have a monotone or robotic voice, or speak too loudly.
- They have difficulty with semantics, such as understanding the meaning of words within different contexts. They may not understand that you “love” pizza in a different way than you “love” your mother.
- Their speech is marked by the use of “technical” or “scientific” words, or even a “high-brow vocabulary.” They often sound pretentious, although at first you may be too impressed to see it that way. They don’t understand that speech used during social conversation is different from speech used in learning situations or in books. Often, they speak in a way that requires a high level of knowledge in their particular area of expertise, an expertise they know you do not have. If they were speaking to a group of scholars or students of the subject, it would be appropriate. They cannot adapt their speech to suit their audience. Without that flexibility, they aren’t truly communicating—they’re merely bombarding their audience with words that make no sense because they are unable to take into into consideration the person who is listening.
- Conversely, they may not take your existing knowledge into consideration. For example, if they tell you they washed their car they may describe to you every single detail of washing a car, as if you’ve never washed one before.
- They usually have an obsessive, consuming interest in one subject, to the exclusion of others. Examples include knowing every fact possible about The Beatles, the Federal Papers, Buddhism, train schedules, cycling, the stock market or Star Trek. Their obsessive interest may even be something that could land them in hot water, such as explosives, deviant sexual interests, computer hacking or firearms. A celebrity (or even YOU) could become their special interest and experience unwanted attention, harassment or stalking.
- They can come across as “The Professor” because they have a tendency to go into long, pedantic monologues about their obsessive interest, not recognizing the other person is bored or isn’t being given a chance to speak.
- They come across as arrogant.
- Because many of them can only take things literally, they usually have trouble with euphemisms (polite expressions used in place of phrases that might be considered harsh; such as “bit the big one” or “between jobs”); jokes; sarcasm; teasing; colloquialisms (informal, ordinary or familiar words or phrases, such as “go bananas”); cliches; neologisms (newly coined words or phrases that aren’t formally recognized yet, such as “muffin top,” “staycation,” and “bestie”); turns of phrase (“there’s more than one way to skin a cat”); and common humorous expressions. To us, such phrases immediately convey the general idea intended. A person with AS may hide his confusion by staying silent, laughing along with you or in some way pretending to understand. Or they may engage in the dissection of a phrase they don’t grasp, giving obsessive attention to the exact, precise meaning of each word or the consideration of alternate words that would have been the exact and perfect ones instead.
- They cannot “read between the lines,” so they interpret everything literally. Their thinking is concrete.
- They have difficulty in generalizing. This is known as the “forest through the trees” issue, or, more aptly for someone with AS, the trees through the leaves.
- They have theoretical understanding of other people’s emotions; however, they typically have difficulty acting on this knowledge in fluid, real-life situations. For example, if you’re upset about something they may not know that you need to be comforted, or how to go about doing so.
- When they hear a difference of opinion or an attempt to explain a different perspective about a situation, they become defensive because they see it as conflict, or a criticism of who they are. They can become quite defensive when asked for clarification or a little sympathy. The defensiveness can turn into verbal abuse as the man with AS attempts to control the communication to suit his view of the world.
- They are prone to ruminating or fixating on bad experiences with people or events for an inordinate length of time.
- They often have a very difficult time hearing the negative emotions of others. They may refuse to communicate, and then lash out in a very hurtful way later on.
- They are always right. ALWAYS. They will frequently say that you are being irrational or illogical.
- They misinterpret the experiences, feelings and ideas of others, and therefore come to the wrong conclusions. This is often the biggest problem in relationships for people with AS. If they cannot understand someone else’s experience they cannot feel empathy, and if they cannot feel empathy they can’t convey it. Empathy means recognizing how someone else feels, understanding it, caring about how they feel, and then expressing that care. People with AS are not capable of empathy. Some acknowledge their inability to “read social cues” and will tell you that if only you let them know how you’re feeling, they’ll care. Not true. They’ll still invalidate your feelings.
- You often find their behavior exasperating or even infuriating. You may find yourself saying, “You’re not listening to me!” or “You don’t understand. You think you do, but you don’t” or “That’s not what I was saying; you’ve come to the wrong conclusion,” but they will continue insisting that they do understand, perhaps telling you that you’re the one who doesn’t understand—even when it is your own experience or feelings that you were trying to convey. This is the main thing that frustrates partners of people with AS. First, it’s the lack of understanding and empathy; then it’s the lack of being able to understand that they don’t understand; and then it’s the insistence that they do understand and that you’re the one who doesn’t get it. You will feel that they don’t really “know” you or “see” you (they don’t; they aren’t able to), and you will be unable to resolve any conflict you have with them.
- They have poor impulse control and easily become frustrated and angry.
- They may not enjoy kissing or physical affection. They may “act” affectionately in the beginning, but they will not be able to tolerate it indefinitely. Sexually, their partners describe them as lacking passion and as being rigid, repetitive, unimaginative, robotic or technically perfect in bed without paying attention to their partner’s need for an emotional connection and foreplay before intercourse. People with AS may be sexual in the beginning of a relationship, but 50% of AS-NT couples quickly become celibate. In fact, in ongoing relationships there may be “no affection or tactile expression whatsoever. (Fifty percent) is quite high when one takes into account that some of the respondents had not been together for more than two years… it is often the male client with AS who has withdrawn totally from the physical side of the relationship.” (Asperger Syndrome in the Bedroom, Maxine Aston, 2012)
- They tend to be bad drivers. They often become extremely frustrated in heavy traffic, pull out in front of oncoming traffic when there is not enough time to do so safely, and have trouble merging. Although we may not realize it because it comes naturally to us, merging requires a great deal of non-verbal communication between drivers. It is often other drivers on the road who avert these potential disasters.
- They follow rigid routines and get very frustrated and upset if those routines are interrupted.
- They often eat the same foods at each meal, every day. They may act like they’re adventurous with food on dinner dates, but if you delve into what they eat for breakfast and lunch, you may discover they have a repetitive diet.
- They have an unusual sensitivity to things other might never notice. They may not be able to tolerate the labels in their clothing or the seams in their socks, or the barely perceptible hum of a refrigerator. They are hypersensitive to many textures, smells, lights and sounds. They are often unable to tolerate a new pair of shoes, preferring to wear the same ones over and over. One man with AS had his socks prominently marked “LEFT” and “RIGHT” because he felt they “molded” themselves to the shape of each foot, and wearing the wrong one on the wrong foot was intolerable.
- They are physically clumsy. Some may have problems with manual dexterity.
- They are hurtfully blunt and casually critical. If you wonder if your bum looks big in those jeans, your AS partner will tell you; there is no need to ask. If they don’t like something, they won’t hesitate to express it. This is one man who will actually notice you got a new haircut, and he won’t hesitate to tell you how awful it is. This behavior comes across as insulting and hurtful. They cannot understand that honesty delivered without kindness is cruelty, and even if you tell them so, they won’t stop because they see their blunt honesty as a virtue, even though it’s a manifestation of their social ineptitude. People with Asperger’s tend to say what they are thinking without the social filters neurotypical people employ.
- A man with AS may display unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact or eye contact that is too intense, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures. For example, they may sit up usually straight, or they may have an odd way of walking, such as taking steps that appear too short or slightly waddling from side to side.
- They may exhibit overly formal manners and politeness.
- They may engage in repetitive, sterotypical movements such as finger strumming, tapping and drumming on objects, and even rocking or hand-flapping, which they know are socially unacceptable and will hide from others. These repetitive movements, which are known as “stimming,” relieve stress and help manage negative emotions.
- They are extremely naive, gullible and overly trusting, and they are easily taken advantage of. They can display a foolish lack of worldly wisdom. They may not be able to recognize a potentially dangerous neighborhood, location or situation. One woman who dated a man with Asperger’s Syndrome reported that in order to keep his car from possibly being scratched, he would park behind restaurants (which were usually dark and isolated locations) when they went out to dinner. He refused to change this habit despite the fear she expressed. Apparently, his car was more important to him than her fears. If they do realize they’re naive and gullible, they may become paranoid to compensate for it.
- They may rely heavily on rules, following them to the letter. They don’t understand that many rules have exceptions.
- They can become very upset at being just a few minutes late for anything, even if the circumstances are beyond there control. Being late causes them extreme stress. One man with Asperger’s who believed he’d be a few minutes late for a coffee date was pulled over for driving 95 mph in a 55 mph zone. Another made his date abandon a barely touched restaurant meal because they had tickets to see a band that he liked. The concert was two miles away, didn’t start for another 45 minutes, and two warm-up bands were scheduled; but the thought of being late made him frantic.
- Although they may first appear to be highly intelligent, you will notice that their knowledge is restricted to a few narrow subjects and is quite lacking in a general sense. Among individuals with Asperger’s, those with high intelligence are a minority (just as they are in the general population). Their reputation of being highly intelligent is a myth.
- If you talk to them about a problem you’re having, instead of being supportive they will often reply with a statement that invalidates your feelings, such as “just forget about it,” “you’re too sensitive,” or “just stop thinking about it.” One woman disclosed a serious surgical error she suffered that continued to impact her life, and her AS partner responded by yelling, “What are you, a victim? What are you, a victim? What are you, a victim?”
- If you end the relationship, they may seem to forget about you immediately and even replace you with someone else right away, like a widget. They might tell you that it’s fine you want to leave; they’ll just find someone else to do their laundry. Conversely, they may continue to pursue you long past what would be considered normal. You may become very uncomfortable and tell them that you do not want any further contact in any form, but they will keep contacting and pursuing you. They cannot respect your boundaries because all they can consider are their own feelings, due to their mindblindness. All of these things stem from seeing you as an object instead of a human being.
“I have lived with an AS spouse for 14 years. It has been a long, lonely and frustrating life. Walking on eggshells is the ‘norm’ for living. Enduring repetitive verbal abuse and witnessing adult tantrums has become a routine event. AS individuals learn coping behaviors that allow them to “act” their way through social situations and personal intimacy, but that they don’t actually invest any feelings or emotions in them. It is simply an action that is expected of them. A social convention. A NT spouse feels empty, unheard and frustrated. Life is short. Find a healthy and well functioning partner or live with a dog. Life will be far more rewarding.”
“I dated someone who had Asperger’s syndrome and it led to me having a breakdown and suffering from severe depression. He denies to this day that he has done anything wrong… He is a high-achieving professional but lacked the capacity to understanding that his actions and words were deeply damaging. If someone told me they had Asperger’s now, I would run in the opposite direction.”
“I‘m 12 months out from a 9 month marriage to a man diagnosed with AS (diagnosed after our marriage). He changed literally overnight, the warm emotions that he was so good at role playing disappeared once he had the ring on my finger and a housewife to look after him. I’m still recovering from the emotional trauma and physical effects that almost have killed me. My advice, if you’re dating a man with AS: run, don’t walk, don’t look back, just get out NOW.”
“I am heartbroken, angry, confused and terrified. I have recently been considering some kind of online affair type thing to try and get some of my needs met because I am DYING inside. *deep sigh* Its just CRUSHING to be trapped in this situation. Girls considering marrying an Aspie, you are kidding yourself. They cannot love you, they can *act* NT for short periods of time but that’s it. Run far and fast. Seriously.”