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Kathy Marshack News

How to Help Your Asperger Loved One Bridge the Empathy Gap

Thursday, January 01, 2015


help your asperger loved one bridge the empathy gapHave you noticed that your Aspie struggles to understand that someone is “pulling their leg”? Or they’re confused by irony, pretense, metaphor, and deception? Their “mind blindness” and difficulty with empathy cause them to be clueless in social situations such as these and they need help to navigate through them.

Empathy is a complex system of emotional empathy and cognitive empathy and multiple transitions between the two. To help clarify this issue, I wrote an article for PsychCentral discussing the difference between emotional empathy and cognitive empathy and how you can help your loved one bridge the empathy gap. I’d encourage you to click here to read the entire PsychCentral article. (And while you’re there, will you share this information from your favorite social media platform, too?)

Most Neuro-Typicals make the transition between emotional empathy and cognitive empathy very easily, and thereby strike an easy balance between the two. Aspies, on the other hand, find it very difficult to accomplish this. The resulting disconnect between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy really defines Asperger Syndrome.

They struggle to recognize where someone’s distress is coming from (Cognitive Empathy) and they struggle with knowing how awful someone is feeling (Emotional Empathy). And they can’t easily move between the two and they’re unable to put personal needs aside for the moment and reach out to comfort another. Another factor is that true empathy also requires the ability to talk about this integration.

Don’t misunderstand. Those with Asperger’s can be deeply moved by life experiences. Yet they’re unable to speak to those responses through their own mental reasoning. And because those feelings can become so intense without having any way to express them, those with Asperger’s shut down to protect themselves. They avoid eye contact, because it adds to the emotional overload. It’s hard for them to hear your words and change their focus when their feelings are so overwhelming.

Because those with Asperger’s can’t bridge that gap, family member must make a bridge for them with comforting, supportive and loving words. One way to reduce the emotional overload for Aspies and NTs alike is to have a calming and knowledgeable professional to help sort things out.

If you anticipate an emotionally trying time approaching, such as the death of a loved one, a psychologist can help your Aspie reason through what’s happening to himself and to the dying loved one. An objective professional can put words to the emotions that well up. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, please contact my office and schedule an appointment. With practice in therapy, your family may be able to talk about the events to come and plan a course of action, thereby averting the need for, and the resulting trauma of, any unprepared sudden emotional transition.

New Research: Is the Risk of ASD or ADHD Increased by Taking Depression Medicine during Pregnancy?

Thursday, November 13, 2014


depression and pregnancyResearch shows that genetic factors play a large role in autism spectrum disorder. However, not as much is known about the role of medications prescribed during pregnancy. Do antidepressants and antipsychotics increase the risk of ASD and ADHD? Or is it the mother’s depression a greater contributing factor? That’s what researchers are trying to find out.

New research suggests that increased risk of autism after medication use during pregnancy may actually be reflecting the increased risk associated with severe maternal depression instead. According to SFARI (Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative), “Women who have a history of bipolar disorder or depression are more likely to have a child with Asperger syndrome than classic autism.” They base this statement on a study published in the 2012 issue of Autism Research and Treatment.

PsychCentral reports on a study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers, which discovered, “While a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder was more common in the children of mothers prescribed antidepressants during pregnancy than in those with no prenatal exposure, when the severity of the mother’s depression was accounted for, that increased risk was no longer statistically significant.”  They did, however, discover an increased risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And antipsychotic drugs sometimes used to treat severe, treatment-resistant depression appeared to increase the risk for autism.

The senior author of the report, Roy Perlis, M.D., M.Sc., M.G.H., made this comment, “Untreated depression can pose serious health risks to both a mother and child, so it’s important that women being treated with antidepressants who become pregnant, or who are thinking about becoming pregnant, know that these medications will not increase their child’s risk of autism.”

Depression is not something you want to ignore because you’re afraid of what medication will do to you or your unborn child. There are a variety of depression treatment options available, with medication and without medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and a holistic health approach are beneficial in helping anxious or depressed people lower medication requirements. Please discuss these options with your doctor. You don’t need to stay in the darkness. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and set up an appointment so we can discuss the best treatment for you.

Wondering if you or someone you love has depression? Take the online PsychCentral Depression Quiz. If depression is indicated, please contact your physician or a mental health professional immediately.

Read more on my website: Overcoming Depression.

How to Protect Your Children and Yourself from Parental Alienation Syndrome

Thursday, November 06, 2014


Parental Alienation SyndromeHave you ever seen children who relentlessly belittle and insult one parent without cause? This is so heartbreaking, yet is becoming more common. It can get so bad that they even view that parent as evil. A person is most likely to see this situation during high conflict divorces where children become pawns in the battle between mom and dad.

Psychiatrist, Richard A. Gardner coined the phrase, “Parental Alienation Syndrome” to identify this behavior. He describes it as…

"A disorder that arises primarily in the context of child custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child's campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent's indoctrinations and the child's own contributions to the vilification of the target parent."

How and why does Parental Alienation Syndrome happen?

Many attorneys and marriage counselors suspect that high conflict divorces involve at least one partner with ASD (or another type of empathy disorder). This is because of the Empathy Disorder. Lack of empathy, unregulated emotions and a desire to control the outcome can lead to alienating the children, without regard for the serious damage the children suffer.

What are some alienation techniques that are used? The magazine Psychology Today lists the following behaviors:

  • “Bad-mouthing the other parent, 
  • Limiting contact with that parent, 
  • Erasing the other parent from the life and mind of the child (forbidding discussion and pictures of the other parent), 
  • Forcing the child to reject the other parent, 
  • Creating the impression that the other parent is dangerous, 
  • Forcing the child to choose between the parents by means of threats of withdrawal of affection, and 
  • Belittling and limiting contact with the extended family of the targeted parent.”

This painful issue of “Parental Alienation Syndrome” causes many to fear divorce, so we will be discussing this problem and how to protect yourself and your children at our next local Meetup - Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with AS on Saturday, November 15. If you live in the Vancouver, WA/ Portland area, please join us. If you’re unable to attend in person, please join the international teleconference on November 21, which will cover the same information for our global community. While not all on the Autism Spectrum will engage in Parental Alienation Syndrome, the underlying empathy disorder is still an issue in any divorce.

How Can You Teach Your Aspie Child to Love?

Tuesday, November 04, 2014


mother teaching autistic son to loveLove seems such a natural part of our lives that we tend to take for granted that our children will learn it as they grow. However, for those who parent children with Asperger Syndrome, it’s far from that easy. In their black and white world they need to have everything explained to them, and that becomes difficult, because love is so many things. Yet teaching love to your child is the most profound work a parent can do.

Because I know how heartbreaking it can be, I want to help as many as possible learn valuable strategies that work. To reach more people, I wrote an article for PsychCentral outlining how, in my practice, I’ve found a very effective way to assist children with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s by defining the many different types of love for them just as the ancient Greeks did. What are the Greek words for love?

  • Agápe refers to true love.
  • Éros is passionate and romantic love.
  • Philia means friendship.
  • Storge means affection.

In the full article, I show how to explain each one to your child; therefore I really encourage you to click here to read the entire PsychCentral article. (And while you’re there, will you share this information from your favorite social media platform, too?)

Does information like this help you? I’ll let you in on a secret…this article is based on my book: Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD). If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, you can purchase it as either a kindle edition or paperback. Not only does it have true-life experiences, tips and strategies, it also contains the science behind why they do what they do. If your family member has ASD, this resource will enhance your ability to understand and to cope.

If you’re a neuro-typical person who has an adult family member with Asperger’s Syndrome, think seriously about joining our Asperger Syndrome – Partners and Family of Adults with AS group. If you live in the Vancouver, WA area, join our local meetup. Otherwise, please join our international teleconference, which, I’m excited to announce, now has members from all the continents on this globe except for Antarctica.

Autism Alert: Will Broccoli Sprouts “Cure” Autism?

Monday, October 27, 2014


broccoli sprouts being grown to treat autismNo doubt you were as thrilled as I was to hear the recent news reports about a new treatment for autism…sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts. It’s especially abundant in broccoli sprouts. (Watch the CBS News report here. Read the clinical report here.)

The compound, sulforaphane, has been found to be efficacious for protecting cells from the oxidative stress that sets off cancer. It also bolsters the body’s natural defenses and it stimulates the body’s heat-shock response (the way the body protects itself from stress caused by the high temperature from having a fever).

Perhaps you, like other parents, have noted that your children’s autistic behavior improves while they have a fever. In 2007, Dr. Andrew Zimmerman and his team tested this anecdotal trend clinically and found it to be true. This discovery led to the research group studying sulforaphane’s effect on ASD, with very promising results.

Scientists at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine studied the reaction of 40 males (ages 13 to 27, with moderate to severe autism) to a daily dose of sulforaphane compared to those who received a placebo.

During the four weeks of testing, those who received the compound “experienced substantial improvements in their social interaction and verbal communication, along with decreases in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors, compared to those who received a placebo.” Dr Singh noted that, “It appears this supplement corrects underlying cellular problems.” However, once the dosage stopped, all subjects returned to pretreatment levels. This is exciting news!

But before you rush out and start supplementing your child’s diet…here’s a word of caution: Just because this compound is a product of a natural source, the high dosage needed to get results should be given under the supervision of a physician who can do blood work to monitor its effects. The study showed an elevated liver enzyme count, which could possibly be a precursor to liver inflammation. Always talk with your pediatrician before using supplements such as broccoli extract.

Is getting your children to eat more veggies a good idea? Most definitely, yes. It gives the cells the resources they need to heal and provides valuable fiber for proper elimination. Many have also found relief by eliminating foods that contribute to inflammation and toxicity or that trigger immune response such as artificial ingredients, gluten, sugar, and casein. Others have noted improvements by adding digestive enzymes, probiotics, and more fermented foods such as non-dairy yogurt or kefir that heal the damage to the gut.

Learn more on my website: Holistic Health for optimal health practices.

Webinars to Help You Recognize if your Loved One Has Undiagnosed ASD

Thursday, October 16, 2014


help does my husband have autism spectrum disorderDo you suspect your loved one may be on the autism spectrum, yet they haven’t been diagnosed? ASD is more common than most people think. There are large segments of the population that are undiagnosed, which means they are going without the support and intervention they need. There are three groups of people especially who are often unidentified or incorrectly identified for ASD. Who are they?

Females – More males have been diagnosed because the description of ASD is based on what ASD looks like in males. Hence the tools for identifying ASD are skewed and miss females.

High Functioning Individuals – Bright kids with ASD often are dismissed as not needing services until some resulting emotional and behavioral problem arises. Too often they hear, “Just try harder. You can do it.” Then their behavior is addressed without getting to the cause – ASD.

Those with Catatonia – This disorder affects a person’s speech, movement and behavior, often manifested in stupor. Researchers estimate that between 12 to 18 percent of adolescents and young adults with ASD have catatonia (Wing & Shah, 2000). I’m happy to report that Catatonia is now recognized as a specifier for ASD in the DSM-5.

I want to alert you to a resource that may help you recognize whether or not your loved one is in one of these categories of undiagnosed ASD.

There’s going be a webinar series starting on October 20th. It’s produced by The Ziggurat Group with host psychologists, Ruth Aspy, Ph.D. and Barry G. Grossman, Ph.D. They wrote the award winning The Ziggurat Model, a book about designing interventions for students with Asperger’s Disorder and high-functioning autism, which has been adopted at the district-wide and state-wide levels. These webinars will provide strategies and solutions for better identifying and serving each group mentioned above. Each class costs from $50 to $100. This is a small price to pay for changing someone’s life.

Parenting a child with ASD, especially when you’re parenting with an ASD spouse, is no easy task. My new book, Out of Mind - Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD), addresses these issues. Click here for more information.

For more information on Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit Asperger Syndrome - FAQ.

If it Feels Like Abuse…It is Abuse!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


broken hearted because it feels like abusive asperger behaviorWhat a dilemma! Is it abuse when your loved one with Autism Spectrum Disorder says the meanest things to you, your children or others? If they have an empathy disorder, do you excuse this behavior? Is it less abusive because there’s a reason behind the behavior? How much abuse should you tolerate because you’re trying to help?

You know that there are some things that your Aspie partner can’t change. But what about the things he or she could change but just doesn’t want to put the effort into doing so? Are you required to overlook it? What is that doing to your self-esteem… your health?

My opinion is that if it feels like abuse, it is abuse, and it should not be tolerated. But then what do you do about it? How do you confront your Aspie loved one? How do you stand up for yourself when they will never understand? This is a conundrum. And when passive aggressive behavior turns to life threatening actions, you must keep your children and yourself safe, but will you have enough strength to do so?

Patricia Evans quotes an important aphorism in her book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship:

"Sticks and stone can break my bones, but words can break my heart."

I know I’ve raised a lot of questions in this blog post. Now let’s get together and discuss some solutions. Join me Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 1:00pm PST at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup in Vancouver, Washington as we explore the topic, If It Feels Like Abuse…It Is Abuse! We’ll discuss how to manage the abuse, how to stand up for yourself, and how to put the responsibility squarely on the abuser. This is the first step for taking back your life, which is your real mission. Sign up to learn more about this group and find the details for the location.

If you’re unable to attend in person, you can also join our teleconference Meetup on the same topic on Friday, October 24, 2014 at 2:30pm PST. I’m so excited that we have members from every continent around the world, so you’ll be able to connect with callers from Canada, USA, New Zealand, Great Britain, Germany, India, Dubai, South Africa, South America and so on.

One member recently wrote me and said this:

“Really sorry to have missed the last teleconference, I knew it would be illuminating. NOTHING will stop me from attending Friday's meeting on another great topic! After exploring the subject of NT/AS marriage since 2009, this website has become more valuable than ever.”

Let me just take a moment and thank you for allowing me this summer break. It’s certainly renewed me and I’m anxious to meet with you again. While you wait for this next Meetup, let me ask you…Have you grabbed your copy of Out of Mind - Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) yet? It continues where “Going Over the Edge?” left off. It’s not just a parenting book but also another look at this life, when children, even grown children are involved.

Dating Advice for People with Asperger's

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


asperger dating adviceAny romantic relationship will have ups and downs due to human nature in general. When Asperger Syndrome is part of the mix, the challenges easily mount. It’s important to note that people with Asperger's Syndrome want love in their lives. They feel love for others and they want to be loved. The difficulty occurs because they struggle with showing and understanding emotions.

A recent NPR interview highlights some of the challenges that those with Asperger’s face while dating. Jesse Saperstein, a 32-year old man with Asperger’s Syndrome candidly shares his experience in his new book, "Getting a Life with Asperger's: Lessons Learned on the Bumpy Road to Adulthood."

Here are some points I appreciate that Mr. Saperstein shares:

  • “Be up front in telling your date that you have Asperger’s.
  • Sincere interest can all too often be perceived as creepiness.
  • Relentlessly pursuing a relationship, i.e. 100 phone calls a week, doesn’t work. People view this as stalking.
  • When someone demands to be let alone you have to respect that.
  • Don’t invest a lot of money the first or second time you meet someone, because you can’t buy their affection.
  • Success with autism or any kind of challenge comes from knowing you have incredible things to offer. Mistakes don't mean you're a loser.”

Kudos to Mr. Saperstein for candidly sharing his experiences. It’s my hope that everyone with Asperger’s can find a specialist trained in Asperger's who can help them navigate more smoothly through life.

What can parents do to prepare their child with Asperger's Syndrome for dating?

They need to be given proper guidance to develop relationship skills throughout the course of their life. Starting at a young age, the child’s parents need to focus on the necessity of developing healthy friendships that will also promote stronger self-esteem. Once they have reached adolescence, there’s an ongoing need to teach an accurate portrayal of attraction, dating, and sexuality. It would be a good idea to have a trusted friend or family member meet possible dates. They can give insight and perspective on whether that person will be a good choice before the dating process begins.

Can AS/NT couples make it work? It does take a lot of commitment and work. You have to go into the relationship knowing that the quality of the relationship will be different than a Neuro-Typical relationship. It’s helpful for the NT’s to help their Aspie date create rules of engagement that tells them what to do and when to do it in an acceptable manner.

Read more on my website: Asperger & Marriage and my two books “Going Over the Edge?” and “Out of Mind-Out of Sight”.

Caring for Someone with Autism? Make Time for Yourself

Friday, September 05, 2014


Out of Mind Out of Sight Parenting with a Partner with Asperger ASDHow do you blunt the stress of parenting a child with disabilities? Do you feel like you can’t take time for yourself? A recent NY Times article, When the Caregivers Need Healing, reminds us all that it’s vital for caregivers to make time for themselves so they have enough emotional and physical strength to continue to care for others.

All parents experience stress-filled moments when raising their children. However, parents of children with autism often experience more stress, depression and anxiety. That’s in part because the care for their autistic child is relentless – day in and day out for the rest of their lives. Plus there are the worries over how to pay for the necessary therapies.

Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, the director of Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine sums the situation up, “Having a child that has a disability is all-encompassing. You can see how people would lose themselves.” The article reports that researchers at Vanderbilt University tested the effectiveness of mindfulness training and positive adult development as solutions for the stress of being a caregiver.

The study did not focus on sharpening parental skills, but rather on teaching parents to tackle their stress in positive ways that helped them accept life as it is. Both methods resulted in significant reductions in stress, depression, insomnia and anxiety. Which method worked best?

The ones in the mindfulness treatment group who practiced meditation, breathing exercises, and qigong saw greater improvement than those who received positive adult development training on curbing negative thoughts, practicing gratitude and reclaiming life as an adult.

What solution is best for your specific circumstances? Enlist the help of a trained psychologist to help you create a strategy for managing the stress you deal with daily. I also share in both of my books invaluable, practical tips that I’ve drawn from years of experience helping families to thrive despite the affects of Asperger’s. If you haven’t grabbed your copies yet, now would be a very good time to do so.

Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going Over the Edge? is available on Amazon and AAPC Publishing.

Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) is available in Kindle edition and paperback.

Read more on my website: Depression and Stress.

Can Bipolar Disorder Be Treated?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


hope for those who suffer with bipolar disorderOur hearts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Robin Williams as they suffer such a terrible loss. It’s heart breaking that anyone, whether famous or not, suffers so much emotional and mental pain such as he did.

What especially concerns me right now is that some who suffer might to be frightened that they too could reach a point where they feel there is no hope. It is important for anyone, whether you have severe depression, bipolar disorder or a serious health condition such as Parkinson’s, to know that you can get treatment that will help you cope. Suicide is never the right option.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health “about 2.4% of people around the world have had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at some point in their lifetime. The United States has the highest lifetime rate of bipolar disorder at 4.4% (more than 10 million people).”

The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms for bipolar disorder. The manic phase can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Poor judgment
  • Rapid speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation or irritation
  • Increased physical activity
  • Risky behavior
  • Spending sprees or unwise financial choices
  • Increased drive to perform or achieve goals
  • Increased sex drive
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Easily distracted
  • Careless or dangerous use of drugs or alcohol
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Delusions or a break from reality (psychosis)
  • Poor performance at work or school

Symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder can include:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Sleep problems
  • Low appetite or increased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities once considered enjoyable
  • Problems concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Chronic pain without a known cause
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Poor performance at work or school

The sypmtoms in children are much harder to diagnose and needs immediate attention from a doctor trained to recognize both bipolar disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. Why these two disorders in particular?

Did you know Asperger’s Syndrome often displays the same symptoms as bipolar disorder? Oftentimes people with Asperger’s are misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, which can lead to the wrong treatment.

If you struggle with any of the above mental health issues or feel like life isn’t worth living, please don’t wait another moment to get help. Talk with someone you trust and consult a doctor trained in Bipolar Therapy and Asperger Syndrome. You deserve to receive an accurate diagnosis. If you live in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington area please contact my office to set up an appointment.

For more information, visit Overcoming Depression.



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