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Kathy Marshack News

Married to Someone with Asperger’s? You Are Not Alone

Tuesday, January 07, 2014


You Are Not AloneMuch has been learned about Asperger’s Syndrome since Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger first described it in the early 1940’s. As more becomes known of this Autism Spectrum Disorder, those who live with it will be treated with more dignity and respect. More programs will be created so they can function in the world they have trouble relating to.

On the other hand, not enough is said about people who feel alone because a family member has Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s why I wrote my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight, Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome.” I know the emotional pain you’re going through. And I have a comforting message for you – “YOU ARE NOT ALONE”.

I was thrilled that the Kirkus Indie Review of my book focused on that message. Let me share the review with you.

It calls Out of Mind – Out of Sight “A useful and enlightening guidebook offering new insights and practical advice for dealing effectively with a spouse or child diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.” It goes on to say…

“In Part 1, she discusses common behaviors of people suffering from Asperger’s and of “neurotypical” family members who are not impaired but trying to cope. She offers a poignant account of her own bewildering experience raising her eldest daughter, whose Asperger’s presented itself well before the diagnosis was generally understood by the medical community. Readers will empathize with the author’s “helicopter mom” behavior with her socially impaired child and will feel her pain as she’s ultimately forced to let her daughter go.

In Part 2, Marshack reveals the condition as essentially an empathy disorder and discusses the works of experts such as Simon Baron-Cohen (who studied neuroscience and empathy disorders), Adam Smith (who advanced the Empathy Imbalance Hypothesis) and Peter Vermuelen (who examined the concept of “context blindness”). She also introduces the idea of “Rules of Engagement,” which sufferers can use as a way to relate to people without feeling true empathy.

Parts 3 and 4 offer additional insights into the lives of neurotypicals, who often feel invisible and ignored, and elaborate on coping strategies introduced in earlier chapters. The author mercifully keeps the clinical jargon to a minimum, and the prose is cogent and well-organized throughout. At the end, she provides links to online support groups, websites, phone numbers and other helpful resources. Her personal accounts of her family life and clinical practice should resonate with readers seeking to understand Asperger’s and may help to assure them that they are not alone.”

Please, if you have Aspie family members, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I’m here to support you and give you the benefit of my years of experience so you can cope and thrive in your family. If you know someone who would benefit from this information, please share it with them, so they too can receive this comforting message. You can read more about my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight’ here.

Out of Mind – Out of Sight is available at Amazon.com in a paperback or Kindle edition edition. Check it out today and begin the healing process.

Why Wandering Away is a Serious Concern for Parents of Children with ASD

Monday, December 30, 2013


young girl with autism spectrum disorder wandering awayFor most parents being away from your children, like sending them to school, is something that doesn’t normally cause undue fear. However, parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder live with an unimaginable, daily fear that their child will go missing.

Drawing awareness to this problem, executive director of the National Autism Association, Lori McIlwain, recently wrote in the New York Times about when her 7-year old son with ASD went missing. As more children are diagnosed with ASD, the spotlight needs to continue to shine on this problem so that there is more awareness.

What causes children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to wander away? Usually it’s one of two reasons: they are searching for a personal fascination (bodies of water and busy roads are at the top of the list) or they are bolting from a situation that caused fear. According to a recent article in Pediatrics, “49% of children with autism have attempted to elope at least once after the age of 4, 24% were in danger of drowning and 65% were in danger of traffic injury.”

Whether you call it wandering, bolting, eloping, or running away, the fear that your child will go missing is a very real and daily stress for parents of ASD children. Usually the children who are most severely affected by ASD are the ones that go missing. Since ASD causes impaired communication and social skills, they are also the ones least capable of coping with the situation. If your child can’t answer to his name and avoids strangers, the search becomes extremely difficult. The Pediatrics article concluded: “The results (of their study) highlight the urgent need to develop interventions to reduce the risk of elopement, to support families coping with this issue, and to train child care professionals, educators, and first responders who are often involved when elopements occur.”

Parents are quite literally lying awake at night, because they don’t know how to keep their children safe from wandering. There have been few resources for support or information on how to prevent this type of behavior. In addition, the common and uninformed misperception in the community is, “It’s your fault. If you were a better parent you’d keep an eye on your children.”

If you find yourself in this situation, you are not alone. Seek out a therapist who specializes in autism disorders. They will be able to help you find ways to develop your child's cognitive skills as well as help you to cope with the stress caused by a constant state of vigilance. Contact my office for an appointment if you live in Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington.

For more information on Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit Asperger Syndrome Frequently Asked Questions.

Why Do those with Asperger’s Syndrome Struggle with Apologies?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Asperger Syndrome Partners and Family of Adults with ASD Meetup It was just an honest mistake but your loved one with Asperger's won't accept your apology. You know he loves you and he doesn’t intend to hurt you. But it’s more than you can bear when time after time he can’t understand that his lack of empathy causes a deep and lasting emotional hurt. His “good intentions” just can’t erase the tremendous pain he’s inflicting.

Does this sound familiar? Have you ever wondered why your Aspie accuses you of ill intentions when you make a mistake? And why is it so hard for those with Asperger’s Syndrome to apologize for their errors and omissions? The answer is pretty simple. Aspies believes that they have good intentions toward their loved ones, so if they erred in some way, the good intention covers it all. They don’t see that they are accountable for the harm they cause when they didn't intend it to be hurtful.

On the other hand the Neuro-typical believes in apologizing for ones actions even if no harm is intended. However, it is hard to apologize to an Aspie when they hold that your mistake represents ill intentions toward them.

Unintended consequences create a moral dilemma. Let's meet to discuss this problem of how to hold Aspies responsible for their unintended consequences when they don't use empathy to resolve problems. And how do you get past their mind blindness when you are accused of bad intentions?

On November 16, 2013, Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Families of Adults with ASD will be having our last Meetup for the year in Portland, Oregon to discuss the topic, "Unintended Consequences.” We’ll be sharing stories and input from those who have walked in these shoes so you can learn how to cope with this difficult situation. Come and join us and share what you know about "unintended consequences." Visit our Meetup page for more details.

Download a free sample chapter of my new book, Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD): Out of Mind – Out of Sight. When you better understand the NT/AS dynamics, you’ll be empowered to cope and thrive in your family.

Does What You Read Affect Your Social Skills?

Thursday, October 24, 2013


reading literary fiction is good for your social skillsDo you enjoy reading? Many families like to read together as a way of connecting and spending time with each other. That helps the social skills within the family. Did you know that reading can improve how you interact with others in general? According to a recent study, the benefits depend on what kind of literature you chose to read. It found that social skills are improved by reading literary fiction.

Why does literary fiction work this way? Unlike popular fiction that focuses on the plot, literary fiction explores complex personalities and relationships that cause the reader to put him or herself into that person’s shoes and to think, “What would I do in this situation?”

The New York Times recently spoke about this study in their article, For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov. They reported, “Reading literary fiction enables people to do better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.” One of the tests asked the participants to see if they could accurately “read” the expression in the eyes of the people in the photographs. Those who read literary fiction first scored better than the groups who didn’t read anything or who read popular fiction.

The researchers say, “The reason is that literary fiction often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to emotional nuance and complexity.” This promotes more empathy. When we are better able to read body language, then our social skills improve.

Could this help someone on the spectrum? Perhaps. Those with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome don’t always respond appropriately in social situations. However, it has been proven that parents can train their children on the spectrum to recognize emotions in pictures and then in people’s faces so they learn how to respond to someone when they see that same expression in real life situations.

There are inseparable connections and complicated interactions that take place between the mind, body and our environment that impact the kind of people we are. If you would like to improve your social skills, therapy can help. Make an appointment in either my Portland, Oregon or Vancouver, Washington office.

Read more about the connection between your mind and body on my website – Mind and Body Health.

What People Are Already Saying About My New Book “Out of Mind – Out of Sight"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Out of Mind Out of Sight Since I first published on the subject of Asperger Syndrome in 2009, there have been many exciting discoveries. This is especially true in the areas of genetics and neuroscience and how they interact with psychology and social learning. I use these discoveries to help make sense of the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the parents and children described in my new book, Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD): Out of Mind – Out of Sight. Knowledge is power. The more you know about Asperger Syndrome, the better able you are to parent, coparent, co-exist and even thrive within your AS/NT family.

I’ve received numerous comments from people anticipating this book. I ’d like to share a few of them with you. Out of respect, I’ve withheld their names to maintain their privacy.

“I was wondering when the book Parenting with a Spouse or Partner with Asperger Syndrome: Out of Mind –Out of Sight was going to become available to purchase? I have read the sample chapter, and I need more. It is brilliant, just like the other book Going Over the Edge? - A sanity saver. I am desperate to get my hands on it as soon as it is available.”

“Thank you so much for your books. I ordered Going Over the Edge? today and am eager to get the book on parenting with an AS spouse, Out of Mind – Out of Sight. My husband is a wonderful man, but after we had children his mood deteriorated rapidly. It has been hard on all of us. Since I realized that the reason is AS, my reality has been altered in a way I have had trouble articulating. Your book did it immediately. It gave words to my life, and I am profoundly grateful to feel understood. I have a relief valve, at least for now.”

“What is your update on release timing for the book Out of Mind – Out of Sight about AS parents? I’m looking forward to reading more. It helps me think through and prioritize my issues as I go through custody battle issues – what will be a big deal, and what won’t be.”

“I just learned of your new book about parenting when your partner is on the autism spectrum. Thank you for writing on this subject. My wife and I are on the spectrum as are our children, and we are rare in our ability to work collaboratively. I train parents in how to more effectively collaborate and raise their children on the spectrum. I’m repeatedly asked if there is any books on the very subject you’ve written on, and yours is the first I’ve heard about. I’ll gladly let my clients know about it. Thanks for writing this book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight.”

Out of Mind – Out of Sight is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle edition.


You can download your free chapter of Out of Mind – Out of Sight here to get started reading it today.


In an Asperger Relationship? Learn How to Heal Your Broken Heart

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


All relationships have their ups and downs. When Asperger Syndrome becomes part of the mix, the challenges easily mount. Relationships are built on communication and showing love, affection and empathy, all of which are difficult for the Aspie partner. It’s no wonder that broken dreams and broken hearts crop up in these relationships. While many NT/Aspie marriages can work, many others end in divorce. Either way, the NT partner can become worn out from trying so hard to make it work. In addition, friends and family may not understand what you’re going through and your children may even blame you for the difficulties in the family because all they see is that you’re tired and irritable.

Just about the time you think you have healed your heart from the grief of shattered dreams, something else pops up and whaps you in the head. It can be a holiday, or a piece of dinnerware, or your Aspie-ism that triggers your grief and takes you by surprise. Those feelings don't ever really go away. They surface again and again and wear you out.

On Saturday, October 19, 2013, we’ll be meeting in Portland, Oregon so we can discuss, “Healing Your Broken Heart.” At this Meetup we’ll share strategies for healing ourselves. We’ll explore how it’s possible to carry on by growing emotionally and making new spiritual connections, so you can create a new more beautiful and exuberant life. I encourage as many as possible to attend. If you cannot, visit our private Meetup page and join our online community. We’ll be sharing what we learn there.

For more information about Asperger’s and Marriage - Download a free sample chapter of Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going Over the Edge.

How Can Children Learn to Control their Emotions?

Saturday, September 21, 2013


help children learn to control their emotionsIt saddens me to hear so many news reports of young people who cause tragedies to themselves and other families through acts of violence. Youths with out-of-control emotions are evident in the rising incidents of school violence, bullying and teen suicide just to name a few of the problems facing children today.

Many people are trying diverse ways of helping people learn to control their emotions so as to prevent future tragedies. One way is that thousands of schools across the United States are considering adding Social Emotion Learning (S.E.L.) to their curriculum. The goal of S.E.L. is to “instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.”

We can’t expect children to know how they’re supposed to react to situations inherently. Starting back as far as the 1980’s researchers have been studying whether “emotional intelligence” over “academic intelligence” is a greater indicator of how well a child succeeds in life. Evidence is pointing to the truthfulness that emotions outweigh academics. In fact, Maurice Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers University and director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab calls emotional learning “the missing piece in American education.”

A recent article in the New York Times, “Can Emotional Intelligence be Taught?” explores some of the pros and cons of this approach. It gives examples of teachers who are implementing Social Emotional Learning into their classes with mixed results.

To properly act on our emotions takes practice because you first have to master 3 steps:

1) feeling your feelings, 2) interpreting your feelings correctly, and 3) act upon the feeling information. Children need guidance in order to master these steps.

The best example your children can have for proper emotional responses is from you, the parents who love them best. But this can become very difficult when your partner has Asperger’s Syndrome and doesn’t know to read emotional indicators for him or herself, let alone be able to teach it to your children. Are you in this situation and would like some insightful help? I’m soon going to be releasing a new book with help for this specific situation, outlining how to make your life more manageable and enjoyable. It’s called Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome. If you’d like a sneak preview, you can download a chapter and start reading now

Read more on my website – Parenting.

Parents – How to Help Your Child Do Well in School This Year

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


help your children do well in schoolAs the new school year begins in Oregon and Washington, many parents happily send their children to school expecting them to receive a good secular education and to learn the social skills needed for life as an adult.

Each classroom is filled with children who have a wide range of abilities and personalities – those who will have minimal problems, those who will be straight A students, those who will struggle, those who are average, and those who get left behind because they require special attention that they’re not receiving.

Where will your child be in this diverse group? We all hope for the best. But if your child is experiencing difficulties, how long will it take for someone to call it to your attention? It is so much better to stay involved and aware of your own child’s situation, because no one knows your child like you do. As an example, your child’s behavior may be interpreted by someone as an uncooperative attitude, but you may see it as struggling to remain connected out of boredom.

When children have trouble fitting into the classroom setting, their academic achievements suffer. The more they fall behind, the harder it is to catch up. So, parents have tough decisions to make. They have to figure out whether it’s normal awkwardness or is it an indicator of a more serious problem? Is it a physical problem, perhaps a child needs glasses or has low blood sugar? Is it an indicator or a psychiatric condition such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome? Is it an indicator that your child is gifted and needs extra challenges to stay engaged?

Perhaps you’re hesitant to acknowledge and address the issue, thinking your child will simply outgrow this stage. Perhaps you suspect there is a problem, but you’re in denial or are grieving the changes this will bring to your entire family. Perhaps you’re afraid that if you pursue this, your child will be stigmatized or will identify with being “labeled”, that it will become a crutch and excuse for not trying to do better.

A recent news report highlighted the fundamental truth that if you don’t seek a diagnosis, you can’t use the special services available to your child that can begin the process of understanding, accepting, and supporting your child to get the best out of school and life.

If you see that your child is struggling and you don’t know why, don’t put off seeking help. Consult either your child’s pediatrician or a licensed psychologist for help in assessing your child’s situation. As a parent of a child with Asperger’s, I know how valuable early intervention is for their success. Feel free to contact my Portland Oregon/ Vancouver, Washington office and set up an appointment.

A Hard Truth about Asperger Relationships - Empathy is not the same as Caring

Friday, August 30, 2013


unlock the empathy you needHarper Lee wrote a wonderful line for Atticus Finch in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. He told his daughter, "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." That’s a great definition for empathy.

This may be “a simple trick” for some, but it’s not for those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Empathy is usually lacking in a relationship with an Aspie. This lack can cause deep emotional pain to the neurotypical (NT) partner, because empathy is very important for feeling connected and loved.

A troublesome dilemma for many NT partners is the realization that empathy is not the same as caring. Your Aspie may care about you and love you. But if they have Zero Degrees of empathy (as described by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen) it just doesn't feel like love or caring. And that can leave you bereft . . .or depressed.

Just imagine this ironic story showing how an Aspie can care about someone, yet not have empathy. Imagine the wife is deeply depressed one day, so she wraps herself in a blanket, and huddles in the recliner to nap away the day. Her Aspie husband noticed this and asked if she’s Okay. When she says that she’s not doing well, he offers to get her a Pepto Bismol. He cares so he tries to help, but it’s way off the mark of what she really needs.

So, what is a NT partner supposed to do? You understand intellectually that your ASD partner cares, yet is incapable of extending empathy to you. Do you really have to give up your need for empathy, for the kind of connection that means so much? How do you continue to appreciate that they do care, even when you’re not getting what you need? If you’d like to find a group of people who understand what you’re going through and who can support you online, check out Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD.

For those of you who are in a relationship with a person with Asperger’s and live near Portland, Oregon, you can connect with others who can empathize, by joining us for our next Meetup locally. Come prepared to share your stories of empathy v. caring. Let's find ways to cope with this dilemma. It’s on Saturday, September 21, 2013. Click here for more information.

Raising a Child with Asperger’s Syndrome – Challenging but Rewarding

Thursday, July 25, 2013


father and child playingYou think it can only happen in the movies, but sadly that’s not the case.

When I read this recent report about an adult man with Asperger’s Syndrome who was locked inside a basement for two years, abused and neglected – a bucket for a bathroom and food shoved through a hole in the wall – I feel so badly for all involved. Of course, I can’t comment on this particular case since I don’t know the details. But it does heighten the public’s awareness of this issue. If only the person with Asperger’s Syndrome had gotten proper attention when he was young, if only the mother had received the necessary support and education to be able to handle the situation…

Raising any child is hard work and when your child has autism it is all the more challenging. I see so many parents educating themselves and working hard to care for their children and these efforts are making a difference. They deserve to be recognized and commended for their hard work. So I wanted to just take the opportunity to tell parents with children who have Asperger’s Syndrome that we appreciate all of your tireless efforts.

Parents need support and training to keep their own lives and emotions balanced when they care for the special needs of a family member. If you’re feeling like it’s more than you can handle, contact my office and make an appointment in Portland, Oregon or Vancouver, Washington.

Many times if your child has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome you realize that you or your spouse has it as well. To read more about these family dynamics check out my soon-to-be-released book, Out of Mind - Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome.


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