Here, Professor Tony Attwood, patron of Different Together, answers some pertinent questions raised by NT partners.

When a person first suspects that their partner might have Asperger's Syndrome, could you suggest what their initial steps might be?

With long waiting lists between referral and diagnosis in many parts of the UK, what practical steps can be taken to keep families together in that interim period?

Much of the focus on adult AS/NT relationships seems to put the responsibility for its success or failure onto the NT partner. Assuming the AS partner is also motivated to save the relationship, can you give some examples of what they could do?

Why is it that even visual reminders to the AS partner, for example a whiteboard list, to say or do particular things, don't appear to work for longer than a few days?

In setting up Minds and Hearts and developing knowledge and services around people experiencing Asperger's Syndrome, what would you consider to be the most successful programmes?

Can social skills be taught to adult partners experiencing Asperger's Syndrome?

How can the relationship between AS parents and their children -- especially in the teenage years -- be improved?

What would be the one piece of advice you would give to the neurotypical (NT) partner to enable them to have a fulfilling relationship?

What would be the one piece of advice you would give to the partner with Asperger's Syndrome to enable them to have a fulfilling relationship?

You have talked about a "spectrum of behaviour" and autism only constituting a problem when it becomes disabling. To whom would you consider it disabling?

What would you say to those who say that Asperger's traits are just 'men being men' or, in a woman's case, women displaying male tendencies?

Can you explain why someone with Asperger's Syndrome can appear to be flat emotionally but be so prone to outbursts of anger? If they can have that intensity in feeling anger, why do they seem unable to feel the same intensity of positive emotions, such as joy?

We know that some people with Asperger's Syndrome have difficulty picking up on different emotions in others. Can this be taught -- and if so how?

How would an AS partner learn to pick up the ability to pick up on the emotions of others?

Is it possible for an AS partner to take relationship direction/training/ coaching from a professional third party?

What value, as a resource, do you think Different Together brings to partners of people affected by Asperger's Syndrome?

What would you say are the pre-requisites for a relationship counsellor to have for the AS/NT couple?

What would you consider needs to be done to address the immediate pressing need for more AS trained counsellors throughout the UK?

What is your opinion of the idea that a person affected by Asperger's Syndrome cannot empathise with others?

How do AS/NT couples find mechanisms to reduce stress?

Do you think strategies such a mindfulness can be helpful to people affected by Asperger's Syndrome?

My Story

I have been with my wife for more than 12 years, much of which I feel has not been either contented or fulfilled for her, although I have not felt like this on my part for most of our time together. I have always felt that there was a shadowy block in our relationship, a problem that I could perceive but not understand, like experiencing something through frosted glass. Until this relationship, the closest one I have ever had, I hadn’t been aware of this.

My wife, an outgoing NT, had been getting more and more frustrated by my lack of responsiveness to her way of loving, and started to investigate why we might be having these difficulties. I went for a diagnosis a year ago at which I was told that I had Asperger’s traits. I do not feel that I have very obvious social shortcomings (my opinion!) but I had not distinguished fully between work and social relationships and an intimate one, as part of a couple.

This diagnosis has helped in many ways and hindered in others. It has made me better aware of some of the behaviours that have caused us trouble in our relationship, so that I do not react angrily through little understanding when she expresses her frustrations. On the other hand, it has engendered impatience from my wife that I cannot change my behaviour immediately, on the basis that, now I know what is getting in the way of improving our relationship, ie my Asperger’s traits, I should be able to ‘be different’.

I want to make my wife happy, but I do find it hard to be consistent with this over time, not through a lack of intention but more due to a difficulty in reading the signs at the right time, so that I often try to ‘fix’ something that has been discussed in the past that is now not the most important or relevant issue.

I give too much attention to my work, which I love, but means that my wife feels that our relationship is not the most important thing for me. This misalignment has brought a further degree of confusion into the mix now as I don’t know whether I am being unreasonable in our relationship because of the Asperger’s or whether I am just a totally self-centred person, not something I had previously considered. I have always enjoyed work, where I do not feel challenged on an emotional level, and therefore am generally more comfortable in my ability to operate effectively.

Another question in my mind that now troubles me is how I can determine whether my wife and I are just not compatible. My uncertainty about my judgement in these areas and inability to work these things through have made the last year very difficult for us both, such that we are now talking about whether we should stay together. I am getting counselling to try to work through this lack of certainty for myself. In addition, we are considering couples therapy so that any decisions we make about our lives are based on the best knowledge, rather than ignorance, irritation and despair.

Anonymous 2014

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