I want to thank Valerie Montgomery for her article which is a combination of parts between discovering both her relationships have been touched by undiagnosed autism and how her clients also present their lives in the same way. It is a truly fascinating read.
Today I am going to tell you about a phenomenon that has come to my personal and professional attention over time. That is, how could I have married two men with undiagnosed Autism and dated one in between my marriage? What is it about my history that allowed this phenomenon to occur?
This was actually the content that I was studying in my PhD work.
Oh, didn’t I tell you, I am a PhD dropout.
For background, just know that I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in Colorado and a National Certified Counselor. I have a Master of Arts degree in Counseling and Human Services and a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work.
Undiagnosed Autism Spectrum
How did I come upon the phenomenon of the Developmentally Traumatized woman who is in a relationship with an undiagnosed Autism Spectrum (Formerly Asperger Disorder) male? Quite honestly.
For some reason, as yet to be determined, I had a suspicion that one of my young adult clients had Asperger traits. Her mother and caregiver agreed. One day in a used book store I saw a book called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adults with Asperger Disorder by Valerie L. Gaus. I bought it and started reading it to learn more about how to help my client.
When I got to her explanation of how a person on the Autism Spectrum violates Thomas Grice’s “Four Maxims of Discourse,” I got excited. I recognized how my husband at the time was violating these maxims. I showed the book with the list to my teenage step-daughter who was at home doing homework. She said, “That sounds like dad.” Then, I showed them to my husband. He said, “That sounds like my brother.”
This experience started me thinking. Are there other traits besides these conversational skills that my husband exhibited? In a more subtle way than most would recognize, indeed no one had ever recognized the Autism in my husband.
I ticked off each trait.
I told a colleague who is a psychologist whom my husband and I both had worked with. She asked me what made me think that my husband had Asperger Disorder. I sent her the diagnostic traits and how my husband exhibited features. She said, “Nailed it.” I had a corroborating professional. I was on to something.
Understanding this phenomenon was going on in my second marriage became a watershed moment. My life looking back was like a fisherman’s line that was stretched above the water. In reverse order, I could see the relationships that had defined my adult life. They were like those submerged crates to fish with being able to be seen. The path of relationships I had traveled. They had this phenomenon in common.
I had married two men with Autism traits.
Look, I know the language Autistics prefer is to be called Autistics. In my case, the men had no knowledge of what I had discovered. Without their consent and buy-in, I feel it is premature to call them Autistics.
The dance of the man with Autism traits and his neurotypical spouse played out in my life for decades. What is it any wonder I was able to help women in my clinical practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor with their highly distressing marriage relationship?
After working with this young woman, I encountered the phenomenon in a couple. By the fourth session, my observation was confirmed. Yet, I had not been taught in my academic or professional training to identify Autism in my clients.
Autism is considered a Developmental Disability and in the Child Development portion of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM). There is a hole in the culture. A no man’s land, so to speak.
What made me notice this could be a possibility to even ask? My own experience.
I sought consultation with a psychologist who specializes in Autism. We had a meeting and she gave me some insight. She said that sometimes undiagnosed Autism can mimic Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I began to notice these magnetized women in my practice. The ones who could not stop talking about their husbands and focus on themselves. After all, I was the woman’s Counselor, not the Couple’s Therapist.
And, I started asking her the diagnostic criteria for Asperger Disorder, at that time. If she was willing to understand and learn how her husband exhibited the traits she could then make informed decisions with her life.
What ended up happening over and over again for 10 years now is I was able to notice the patterns. I was able to support these women as well as notice their husband’s unique version of Autism. I recently made a document called “7 Signs You May Be Working with a Neurotypical Partner.”
I created this list as a handout for a presentation to other mental health providers. Here is the list:
“7 Signs You May be Working with a Neurotypical Partner
1. She has trouble focusing on herself.
2. She is over-functioning in the social and emotional aspects of the family.
3. She keeps getting stuck in communication with her partner.
4. Her children or child has Special Needs of some kind.
5. She has some developing medical problem.
6. She has been told to get Counseling because the people in her life don’t know what to do or say, or:
7. She talks to no one.”
I’m including the main points here for brevity but also insight. There are more details on the actual handout.
What I would like the reader to understand is that these are some of the most identifiable tendencies of the Neurotypical Partner.
She is in a great amount of distress.
When I encounter this woman and her patterns emerge in the Counseling space, there is a gentle opportunity to support her journey, her choices, her self-agency. And part of that support could be becoming aware of the dynamic that may be operating in her marriage.
Until she faces this potential reality, she will keep blaming him, expecting him to be Neurotypical, be emotionally stressed and stretched, and become overwrought.
I also want to tell you that some other professionals may not recognize what is happening in this couple or family. There is a good reason for this. Asperger Disorder was added to the DSM in 1994. Even with this addition, it takes time in the culture for the “new” diagnosis to be taught. So for anyone who grew to adulthood before this date, there was not a medical category for diagnosis. Which in the United States means that it doesn’t exist.
The educational, medical, and mental health profession is behind on this phenomenon which is why I wanted to write this article. Not just to tell my story, but to offer a platform for learning and stability for these women, couples, and families. Staying in reality about how the traits show up for each individual can be the key to supporting the woman, the family, and the culture.