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|Posted on November 29, 2021 at 3:00 AM|
Yesterday, a friend of mine shared a funny story with me that further illustrates the natural responses that other human beings compulsively elicit from us.
My friend was at the golf nets practising his shots, when a golfing acquaintance using the next net began to offer some advice. My friend knows that this guy plays well, so is aware that his advice may well be valid, but there are some aspects of this guy’s behaviour that he has observed to be quite odd, so he doesn’t necessarily want to change his style based on this guy’s advice alone.
The guy proceeded to tell my friend what he was doing wrong, and instructing him how to position himself and his golf stick instead. My friend went along with it, not wishing to offend him.
And this is the point of me sharing this story. What is it about us that compels us to feel obligated to follow the instructions or guidance of another when it is not what we want to do? I imagine it’s because we are typically polite, and to refuse to follow could be seen to be rude and even causing conflict. Yet, it was actually the other guy who was rude and imposing, correcting, criticising and giving directions rather than asking if my friend minded, or was interested.
I see this situation as illustrating another aspect of what happens in relationships where one partner is on the autism spectrum (ASD) and one is not (Neurotypical). We know from the years of personal stories that many adults on the spectrum can be very controlling in their relationship and home environment. They seem to have a set way they feel things need to be done, and they are never backward in imposing those ways on those around them, frequently correcting and directing in such a way that the partner feels compelled to comply, often out of fear of upsetting the adult on the spectrum. They seem so adamant that there’s only one correct way, and their very survival and well-being seems determined by it being done that way.
To push back, or to refuse or try to reason or argue is seen as disloyalty, as being against them, as causing or creating conflict, and the ordinary “typical” person doesn’t want to be accused of these things because it’s not our nature to be quarrelsome, so we comply.
Funny that. So, once again we note that it’s the person on the spectrum who is actually in control of the home environment. Their position seems unmovable, inflexible … we are adaptable and flexible, so we adjust and compromise … until we’re really just lined up next to them on their terms, a clone as it were, a paper cut-out, with no agency of our own.
The ASD person typically seeks to adjust the environment to meet their needs, whereas those who are “neuro-typical” typically adjust themselves to fit the environment. The perfect partner, responsive and functional, but invisible.
|Posted on November 29, 2021 at 2:35 AM|
These days I find myself often thinking about the characteristics of partners. Those who in good faith have entered a relationship with an adult who is eventually exposed as having significant characteristics of autism. Often the realisation comes quickly after a marriage contract is entered or cohabitation commences, sometimes it comes when the demands of life increase, sometimes the signs were there, but the significance wasn’t appreciated. The “benefit of the doubt” was given, assuming the occurrences were a “one off” … until the occurrences become the norm of everyday life, and we berate ourselves because we saw it, we knew.
But we are highly empathic individuals. Normally neurotypical, but on the high end of the empathy scale. We marvel at how many of us have found ourselves sharing life with an individual at the other end of the empathy scale. A strange selection process that ensures the survival needs of the ASD individual are met by a highly intelligent, empathic, functional partner, but that cruelly denies the survival needs of that partner for connection, for collaboration, communication, care, joy, love …
What is it about us? One of our educators asks this question of us, encouraging us to explore and understand ourselves, our tendencies that led us into these relationships in the first place, and why we stay … long after many others would have abandoned ship. Truly we are beautiful, caring, loyal human beings, but we’re sharing life with one who only throws us the occasional crumb of love. We wait around for the next, never knowing when, but believing the existence of a crumb means a whole loaf and many more could appear if we just hang in there.
It bothers me to realise that the very deficits of the disordered individual elicit empathic responses from the partner, instinctively and compulsively. We are wired to respond. We cannot help it. We cannot go against nature. We see a need, we perceive an inadequacy, we sense a fear, we experience uncovered bases … we meet the need, we function on their behalf, we take care of situations that stress them, we step up and cover more bases … until we realise we are taking responsibility for everything, filling a functional capacity for both of us, but have control of nothing.
Put this alongside the realisation that most of our ASD partners will also have PDA (pathological demand avoidance), meaning they experience demands (or requests or expectations) as a crisis, and we have a dilemma indeed. One partner avoids requests, demands or expectations and one partner compulsively responds to requests, demands, expectations and needs. Perhaps this is the greatest inequality and injustice of these neuro-different relationships. The avoidance of demands by one, and the compulsive responding and over-functioning of the other. Who resources the over-functioning partner? Who meets their needs? Certainly not a demand-avoidant partner, with whom lies control as he/she can’t be influenced to reciprocate the care and function they are benefiting from.
The role of the empathic partner is that of a functional resource, while remaining unresourced themselves from within the relationship.
That cannot go on indefinitely.
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|Posted on November 29, 2021 at 2:25 AM|
Of recent times, my mind has been playing with the idea of Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). It is thought that this plays a part in the autism profile of characteristics. In simpler terms, as explained by one of our educators, an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder (incl Asperger’s Syndrome) “experiences a demand as a crisis”, to be avoided.
Stop and think about that for a moment … in the context of families and relationships. Relationships rely on an exchange of requests or polite demands in order to stay functional – we ask for help, we respond to requests for help, we ask for favours, we do favours, we ask for tasks to be done and we do tasks for others in order to achieve something important for each other or the family, etc. This is how humans get things done. A collective, working towards collective benefit.
Without a reciprocal exchange between two people in a relationship, or between multiple family members, what do we have? Two or more individuals all living under the same roof as isolated, disconnected, unsupported, independent individuals. This is not a relationship, nor is it a family. This is aloneness. This is ships passing in the night. This is depression. This is loneliness. This is vulnerability.
So, if a partner in a relationship, or a member of a family is on the autism spectrum and has this PDA as part of their profile of characteristics, what are we looking at? One person who is disconnected from the other and who experiences the panic that accompanies a crisis whenever a request or demand is made of them. Many of us who’ve lived with an adult partner on the spectrum know very well what happens when a crisis is encountered by the ASD adult – we’re either confronted by complete shut-down and avoidance behaviours, or a melt-down and rage with torrents of sharp and hurtful word-spears designed to shut us down and send us back to our corners, where we try to figure out what just happened. It was just a request. And nothing out of the ordinary.
So how does a couple or family continue to function when this could potentially occur multiple times every day? I know for a fact, because it happened to me, that eventually partners avoid asking for help or participation. The reaction and aftermath is just not worth the emotional distress and trauma it creates for us. It does help to finally understand the traumatic effect a request or demand can have on the ASD adult, but once again the NT finds herself/himself relinquishing needs and adapting again to the vacuum of non-participation and non-support that pervades these “relationship” situations.
This may offer more sense to the ASD adult’s apparent tendency to assign and implement roles, tasks and routines to couple and family life – this would, in their minds, eliminate the need for daily negotiation, spontaneity and discussion of course – those wretched demands and requests that create a crisis. It’s been declared by them, or manoeuvred (if the passive type), and the right of reply is denied. Were we to open our mouth we risk creating another crisis, that of unpredictability, preventing time for preparation of an answer. Silent, I stand.
As I contemplate the crisis of a request or demand, I wonder if it even extends to the presence of expectations – one cannot avoid having expectations in relationship – social and cultural norms establish reasonable expectations to have in relationship, which we naturally have of our partners. But does the avoidance extend even to these? If it exists, if it is “out there”, expressed or not – a request, a demand or an expectation – then it is to be avoided. One puzzles as to why.
Perhaps the terms are not their own and the initiation is not from them? Perhaps they don’t know what actions are required, they feel exposed or at risk of making a mistake. So we wait, and hope for a move on their part – of care, of tasks attended to, arrangement of affairs or events to benefit not just themselves, a favour, a benevolent gesture, a gift, a celebration or symbol of love, protection, shared experiences, a warm and genuine smile, affection, of reciprocation of all the nurture we’ve invested into the institution we believed we were creating with them.
And then it’s a decade or two later. It’s no longer ok.
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