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Kathy Marshack News

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.

What’s Happening to the Aging Autism Population?

Saturday, September 20, 2014


What's happening to the aging autism populationAutism was first described as a syndrome in 1943 by Leo Kanner. That’s over 70 years ago. However, most of the autism research still mainly focuses on children. This is important, as we desperately want to understand how to best assist children to reach their potential.

However, the challenges of autism follow these individuals throughout their lives. And some of them are well into their 70’s. How does autism affect the different stages of life?

CNN contributor, Francesca Happe, reported recently on a number of studies of older ones with autism. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Adults with autism have higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and obesity. This might be because they can’t communicate health difficulties and due to their sensory issues, they can’t tolerate the standard physical exams that physicians give.
  • One group of severely affected older adults with autism showed high rates of Parkinson-like movement problems. They can only speculate as to reasons at this point. More study is required to discover the answers.
  • There is some good news. At the International Meeting for Autism Research last weekend Marsha Mailick, director of the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shared data gleaned from 10 years of following the lives of more than 400 people with autism, starting in 1998. It found that “Autistic symptoms, such as impaired verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, and rigid/repetitive behaviors, decreased over time among one-third to half of the study participants, and stayed stable in many others. Independent living skills remained stable in this group, as well.

The evidence indicates that people with autism need continued research, support, and services throughout their lives. Since they are more prone to anxiety and depression, it’s vital that their mental health is evaluated and assisted by a specialist trained in autism spectrum disorder.

And not to be forgotten are the life long caregivers for those with ASD. They require continued support as well to cope with the demands put upon them. Are you ready to reach out? Do you need to talk with someone who understands the dynamics of a relationship with someone with autism? If you live in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area, please contact my office and set up an appointment.

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.

Let’s Support Northwest Autism Foundation Art Walk on Labor Day

Thursday, July 24, 2014


North West Autism Foundation Art WalkThe Northwest Autism Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides valuable education to those with autism, their families, caregivers, and health care providers. Their services include:

  • Publishing a detailed Autism Resource Directory of local and national resources for ASD information and services. (Download the Directory here.)
  • Continuing education to the medical professionals in Oregon.
  • Sponsoring workshops and lectures about the most up-to-date ASD topics.
  • Organizing and sponsoring the annual Autism OASIS conference, which enlists the best scientists and doctors to speak on the most effective treatment options.

They can now add to this list an annual Art Walk that raises money for worthy organizations. Their goal this year is to raise $25,000 for the Victory Academy, Oregon’s only year-round accredited school for children with autism. Victory Academy’s mission is “to provide children affected by ASD with an integrated academic and therapeutic program, carefully designed to address an individual’s strengths and challenges. They foster the development of meaningful relationships and the achievement of life-long learning.”

To support this Art Walk, you can either sponsor your own team or donate to one of the fundraising teams listed here. They are also looking for sponsors and volunteers to help them get this event off the ground. If you’d like to help you can email them at: autismnwaf@gmail.com.

This fun for the family event will be held at Clackamas Community College, 19600 Molalla Ave., Oregon City, Oregon during Labor Day Weekend on Saturday, August 30th from 11-3pm. I’m going to be there. Will you be able to come and support this worthy cause, too? If so, visit my Facebook page, (https://www.facebook.com/Kathy.Marshack.Ph.D), and click on the upcoming event “First Ever Northwest Autism Foundation Art Walk” and say you’ll attend. And please share this with your friends and neighbors. I appreciate your help in getting the word out.

Learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder – Asperger's Syndrome.

Does Trying to Converse with your Aspie Partner Wear You Out?

Sunday, July 06, 2014


difficult talking with asperger partnerPleasant conversation is governed by unspoken rules. We listen carefully, ask relevant questions, make eye contact, show genuine interest in the one we’re conversing with and we don’t interrupt or go off on unrelated tangents. All of this social give-and-take is very difficult for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Their lack of social awareness and empathy allows them do insensitive things or blurt out inappropriate comments.

Because of not knowing or understanding the rules, our Aspies tend to either control or avoid the conversation or the situation. Because they don't really understand where their partner is coming from, they feel really anxious, and they conclude that the best solutions to their discomfort is to dominate the conversation or avoid the subject entirely.

Often those with Asperger’s find it impossible to say “No”. If they receive an invitation and they want to participate, they can easily say “Yes”. However, they resort to the avoidance mechanism rather than actually decline an invitation. It’s just too much to acknowledge the person and say "No". So they avoid the person that invites them until it all blows over.

Another social norm that Aspies struggle with is saying “Thank you”. You might ask him if he would like a cup of coffee. Rather than answering, the Aspie just talks on about something that interests him. When he gets the cup of coffee, he takes it and happily drinks the beverage, but acknowledging it is just too personal for him.

How can it be that these simple interchanges are so difficult for our Aspie loved ones? The simple empathic process that Neuro-typicals use daily to acknowledge the other person is lost on Aspies. Why is that?

More importantly, are these simple not-so-ordinary moments wearing you down?

Join us Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 1:00pm PST at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup in Vancouver, Washington as we discuss the topic, Aspies Tend to Avoid or Control. We’ll discuss the reasons behind this behavior and the best ways to cope. Sign up to learn more about this group and find the details for the location. If unable to attend in person, you can also join our teleconference Meetup on the same topic on Friday, July 25, 2014 at 2:30pm PST and connect with our international group of supporters.

Notice: This is the last Meetup until October 2014 due to a very busy summer schedule. I will continue to check in daily with our Meetup postings, so let’s keep the spirit and conversation alive.

Read a free chapter of “Our of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”. This book discusses the science behind Aspie behavior and how you can initiate the rules of engagement that help your Aspie give you the emotional support that you need.

Would You Marry Your Aspie All Over Again?

Monday, May 12, 2014


Would you marry your aspie all over again?If you knew then what you know now…would you marry someone with Asperger’s Syndrome? Of course, second guessing yourself is a recipe for depression. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be learned when you ask yourself this question. If you knew about Asperger’s then and if he or she knew it too… and if both of you were committed to building an “interface protocol” would it all have worked out better?

What do I mean by interface protocol? Another way of say it is, what rules of engagement would you have implemented early on? This involves creating a template for how you and your Aspie relate to each other. While it might be distasteful to think of having to design rules to live by, it’s pointless to expect your Aspie partner to give what they are incapable of delivering, such as empathy. However, if your Aspie partner can master the rules of engagement, even though true empathy is lacking, you can accept their intentions as honorable. They can learn to express their care for you with the right responses while really not understanding the empathetic reasons for doing so.

For example, a husband may leap up to help his wife if she trips and drops something. That’s the right response, but when questioned, his motivation might be, “because she’ll be mad if I don’t”, not the empathetic “she might have been hurt and needs comfort”. You can help your Aspie understand the rules of engagement by explaining, “This is how it works. Since men are macho and may not want help, the rule is that you can offer help once to a guy and if he refuses, it’s okay to let it go. But if a woman trips, I want you to offer to help her at least three times and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. She really wants your help even if she says ‘no’. Okay?”

Would creating a rules of engagement playbook have helped you prevent the anguish and depression? Would you have moved on more quickly? There are a hundred questions. Within these questions we’ll find seeds for healing.

If you are a Neuro-Typical who wants to discussion this topic: “Would you do it again?” with a group of empathetic listeners, join us May 17, 2014 at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup in Portland, Oregon. Sign up to learn more about this group and find the details for the location. If unable to attend in person, you can also join our teleconference Meetup on the same topic on May 23, 2014 and connect with our international group of supporters.

Would you like to understand more of the scientific reasons why our Aspies do what they do and what we can do to help them? My new book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) is packed full of insightful, scientific research discussed in layman terms, so you can not only grasp the concepts but have sensible suggestions to apply in your own situation.

New Research Helps Those with ASD Recognize Compound Emotions

Monday, May 05, 2014


helping those with ASD to understand facial expressionsIn grade school art class we learned that our crayon box had primary colors and secondary colors. The primaries are red, blue, and yellow. When you start mixing these colors together you get the beautiful rainbow of endless colors. But what does this have to do with emotions?

A recent CNN article by Jacque Wilson explains that until recently, scientists classified happy, sad, fearful, angry, surprised and disgusted as the six basic human emotions. While scientists aren’t sure if it’s biological or learned, we use the same facial muscles to express these specific emotions.

In a new study, Aleix Martinez, associate professor at Ohio State University, and his colleagues have identified 15 additional “compound emotions”. He explains why this is important: “The problem with (only having the 6 basic emotions) is that we cannot fully understand our cognitive system ... if we do not study the full rainbow of expressions that our brain can produce.”

How does this research on facial awareness benefit us? Scientists plan on using these new categories while mapping out the brain activity of those who suffer from schizophrenia, PTSD, and autism spectrum disorder. By identifying the genetic and chemical changes in the brain, they can develop better therapies and medicines to treat these mental disorders. Also, by teaching those who lack facial perception (mind blindness) to recognize these additional categories of emotions, imagine how much their social interactions will improve.

Japanese engineers are also applying this to computer science. They are already working on creating a robot that reads facial expressions and thereby interacts naturally with the elderly, since there is a deficit of young caregivers.

What are these “compound emotions”? "Happily surprised", "happily disgusted”, “sadly fearful", “sadly angry”, “sadly surprised”, sadly disgusted”, fearfully angry”, "fearfully surprised", “fearfully disgusted”, angrily surprised”, “angrily disgusted”, “disgustedly surprised”, “hatred”, “awed” and “appalled”.

How good are you at recognizing facial expressions? Check out the faces in the CNN story and see if you can identify the compound expressions that have recently been classified.

Are you dealing with an ASD family member and are experiencing difficulty with communicating your emotions? Please reach out to a trained mental health professional without delay. If you live in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington area, please contact my office to schedule an appointment.

Brain Research May Unlock ASD Facial Perception

Monday, April 28, 2014


brain research may unlock autism spectrum disorder facial perceptionScience is making giant strides in brain research. Many scientists are devoting time to studying the brain from various angles. A recent article on CNN, “Scan a brain, read a mind", discussed some of these ongoing studies.

Here are some highlights from these studies:

  • ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, Kyoto suggest it’s possible to decode our dreams based on brain activity.
  • The BrainLab at the Georgia Institute of Technology is trying to create thought-directed wheelchairs and artificial limbs, which would greatly assist people with disabilities.
  • University of Washington researchers are studying how brain signals can cross the internet – so far they’ve been able to control the hand movements of the second participant.
  • A University of California, Berkeley group is trying to determine how the brain responds to language. They hope to eventually be able to decode our very thoughts based of brain activity.
  • Marvin Chun, professor of psychology at Yale is working on studying what happens when people's minds wander or are “zoning-out”.
  • Dr. Josef Parvizi, a neurologist at Stanford University, is working on how the brain retrieves memories.

The study that interests me the most is the one that could, in time, assist those with autism to “read” faces so that they can respond more appropriately in the social situations.

Alan Cowen, while an undergraduate at Yale University, conducted a study using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans. The brain was scanned as a person viewed hundreds of pictures of faces. The researchers noted what areas of the brain were reacting to the facial images. They then used a computer to generate what was recorded in the brain mathematically. The CNN article has a bank of pictures showing the actual images and then the computer-generated image based on the brain activity patterns. (Click here to see them.) It’s remarkable how identifiable they really are. Wouldn’t it be terrific if they could pinpoint and fix the area of the brain that causes the perception disorder in Autism?

Until that time, how can we assist those on the Autism Spectrum Disorder? Since this is still Autism Awareness Month, join me on Facebook at (https://www.facebook.com/Kathy.Marshack.Ph.D) and share what you’re doing to help an individual or an organization dealing with Autism.

Tips on Finding the Right Support Group For You

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Finding the Best Support Group for YouWe all need someone to talk with that understands our unique situation and non-judgmentally supports us as we travel through our journey of life. A good Support Group will provide you with needed emotional support and often give you information on the latest treatment or research on your particular concern. In today’s technological world, you can either attend a local Support Group in person or you can join an online Support Group.

But you may have some questions before joining … How can you be sure the group you’re joining is going to be a healthy environment for you? What are some ways of identifying a good Support Group? I found an informative article written by John Grohol Psy.D, founder of PsychCentral.com that can help you identify characteristics of a good Support Group. Some of these are listed below:

A good Support Group has a community that is stable. You can determine this by how well it’s moderated and how long it’s been functioning. A group that has a moderator AND an administrative team will be able to continually bring new resources to you without the group leader burning out and shutting the group down.

Find a Support Group with members who are welcoming, non-judgmental and open to sharing. You want to be encouraged, not discouraged, in your chosen group.

The best Support Group has a non-techy, user-friendly site. If you’re stressing out over the tech stuff, you won’t be reaping any benefits from the group.

A reasonable Support Group clearly posts its guidelines and rules of conduct so everyone knows the boundaries of what’s acceptable and what’s not.

A secure Support Group guards your privacy so nothing you say is splashed across the worldwide web inadvertently.

Look for a Support Group that offers you the features that are important to you. Are you interested in just reading what people have posted or do you desire more, such as mood tracking tools, treatment or product reviews, or a live chat room?

I facilitate two very supportive and secure Meetups. One is for Entrepreneurial Couples and Families. The other is for Partners & Family of Adults with Asperger Syndrome. Both of these Groups have local Meetups and International Teleconferences that are uniting members around the world.

I’m very excited about my newest Support Group – a Meetup for ENTREPRENEURS-Making It Work for Couples and Families. We focus on learning to balance Work and Love, the two things entrepreneurial families cherish most. The local Meetup is held once a month in Vancouver, Washington.

The Meetup for Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with AS has been supporting Neuro-Typicals who care for adult Aspie family since 2009. At our last call our international AS Group included people from around the globe. The local Meetup is held once a month in Portland, Oregon.

I am passionate about providing ongoing education for these two diverse topics. My team and I are working hard to provide you with a secure environment the gives the support you crave and deserve. If you have any questions about either one of these Meetup Support Groups, please feel free to contact us.



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