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Kathy Marshack News

What Is It Like Living with Someone Who Has Asperger’s Syndrome?

Wednesday, January 04, 2017


When asked, “What is it like living with someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome?” your answer will likely not be believed because it’s so far from normal.
In many ways, living with a spouse or partner who has Asperger’s Syndrome is like always being the only parent even when dealing with an adult on the Autism Spectrum.



  • You cover for their social blunders.
  • You walk on eggshells because you never know when an uncontrolled temper tantrum will erupt.
  • You constantly hear, “That’s not right” because they don’t ever see things from another’s perspective.
  • You don’t receive the natural and genuine warmth and closeness that others experience – no pillow talk or romance.
  • You’re only acknowledged when you’re needed to fulfill their agenda.
  • You live with unresolved and unfinished business all the time.

It’s so depressing and infuriating. It crushes your spirit.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “It can’t be as bad as that!” You have no idea! It really is that bad and worse. Because the NT (Neurotypical) person is all alone. No one sees what you deal with daily. To the outside world, the Aspie seems like a good guy (or gal). And you end up looking like the bad-tempered, overbearing person.

It’s a huge problem for NTs to find ways to explain our lives with high-functioning ASD family members. Many of us feel misunderstood at the best and shunned at the worst. The reactions we get from others cause us to pull away and live quietly with our despair. Of course this is understandable but the last thing you should do.

I wrote my two books to help get out the word about what we live with. "Going Over the Edge" and "Out of Mind - Out of Sight" have brought interesting feedback regarding this problem of understanding. From NTs around the world I have been told that my books are like “oxygen in a life without air.” From some with ASD I am told that they have a window into the world of their NT loved ones. But from many with ASD the feedback is hostile. I can count on one hand the feedback I receive from NTs who do not live with ASD.

It might be true that the only understanding we may get is from others who live this life. That's a start. But it's still pretty isolating isn't it? What we need to do is stop hiding in plain sight. We need to talk about what we live with and never be stopped by a lack of understanding. We need to trust our instincts and press ahead with what we know is the truth even if others are hostile.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD group, please join our free international teleconference on Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 2:30 PM on the topic of: Why are we so misunderstood? We’ll be discussing practical things you can do about it. (If you’re a NT with an AS family member, please feel free to join our Meetup group. There’s no charge.)

If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and you need some 1-on-1 with me to discuss your situation privately, please feel free to contact my office and we’ll schedule an appointment to discuss your options for creating a more secure and fulfilling life.


Theory of Mind - A Necessary Component of Empathy

Monday, December 26, 2016


Theory of Mind, the ability to recognize that a person has beliefs, intentions, desires, and perspective differing from your own, is a component of empathy.In order to have empathy for another person, you must have a Theory Of Mind. That is, you must be able to recognize that another person exists and has beliefs, intentions, desires, imaginations, emotions, etc., to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that differ from your own. The Theory of Mind perspective kicks in the other aspects of empathy, such as understanding and nurturing.

Recently a New York Times article reported on new research that shows that pregnancy changes the brain in the regions associated with Theory of Mind. They report:

“Only the pregnant women showed gray matter reduction, thinning and changes in the surface area of the cortex in areas related to social cognition. Changes were so clear that imaging results alone could indicate which women had been pregnant. The researchers said they did not yet know what was being reduced in size: neurons, other brain cells, synapses or parts of the circulatory system.”

Researches are hypothesizing that the brain is pruning away portions of gray matter as a process of specialization, thereby increasing the mother's ability to resonate with her baby.

Understanding this may also help us to understand Theory Of Mind when it comes to autism. If development of theory of mind is biologically important for the survival of a newborn, the lack of this vital element surely affect relationships in general.

What feels so natural to us NTs and especially to mothers is not learned, but biological. This means that we have to build "workarounds" with our Aspies if we are to communicate effectively.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our low cost Video Conference on Thursday, January 12, 2017, at 9:00 AM. We’ll discuss “Theory of Mind is vital for survival”. This video call is an opportunity to learn more about the mind of your Aspie and how to reach them...but also to take better care of your need to connect with others who have a "theory of mind."

Do You Have Trouble Reading Facial Expressions? Take This Test and See

Monday, December 12, 2016


Do You Have Trouble Reading Facial Expressions? Take This Test and SeeEvery day we’re confronted with interactions where we have to figure out what other people are thinking and planning on doing. Will that child dart across the road in front of your car? Will your spouse be receptive to your request? Does the new girl you just met really like you? Is there a way to tell?

While the spoken word gives you some indication of what someone is thinking, it’s not reliable in and of itself. Someone may be pulling your leg by sarcastically complimenting you while keeping a deadpan face. To know what they really mean, you have to learn how to read what their eyes are telling you.

The eyes and the surrounding areas are the most expressive part of a person's face. Once you know how to read a person's emotions through his or her eyes, you're much closer to being able to predict their behavior.

Judging a person’s mental state, also called having a “theory of mind,” is an important skill that most of us develop early in life. However, the brains of people who have Asperger’s, a high functioning form of autism, develop this skill only partially or not at all. This helps us to understand why our Aspies lack empathy and have trouble socializing.

When you can empathize, you feel what the other person feels, and you connect with that person on a deep level of understanding and trust. Empathy comes from being able to reading emotional cues, such as the message being sent through the eyes, the tone of voice and body language, in addition to the actual words spoken and the context in which they’re said.

Would you like to take the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) that Simon Baron-Cohen developed? It presents a series of 36 pairs of eyes, and you have to pick one emotion out of four possible emotions being communicated. It’s so effective it’s been used as a tool to help point toward a diagnosis of Asperger’s. I’d love for you to come over to my Facebook page and report your results. The good news is that taking the test over and over again can help train your brain to improve in its ability to read the emotions revealed by the eyes. It’s a fantastic way to improve your ability to understand other people.

If your results indicate you may have Asperger’s, don’t despair or feel embarrassed. Take it as the first step toward creating a more rewarding life. If live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment for a proper diagnosis. This may be exactly what you need to put you on the path toward healthier and long lasting relationships.

How to Avoid ASD Meltdowns During the Holidays

Friday, December 09, 2016


If you avoid family Christmas parties because of your Aspies unpredictable behavior, try these ten tips to help your Autistic child cope with holiday stressPlanning is the key to enjoying any special occasion. This is especially true when you have family members on the spectrum. With their normal routine disrupted, it’s important to prepare them well in advance so as to minimize their anxiety and potential meltdowns.

Don’t be afraid to start some new holiday traditions that make the holiday times less stressful for you. Here are 10 simple tips that can help you and your Aspie child enjoy the holiday season more:

1. Invite your Aspie child to help decorate your home, so he or she is actively involved in changing their environment. Sounds, smells, and bustling activity can cause sensory overload, so you may need to limit the type and quantity of holiday cheer. For example, you may want to limit the volume and time you play holiday music. You may want to choose subdued lighting instead of the flashing and twinkling lights.

2. Rehearse the scheduled events with your child (either in written or picture form). If you create a wall chart that counts down the days, post photos of all the people who will attend and help your child get to know them in advance. Talk about what activities will take place, where they will happen, how loud it will be, how many people will attend, and what behavior is expected. Knowing what’s next helps ASD children feel less anxiety.

3. Make treats that your child can eat so he or she doesn’t feel left out. Be sure to make enough to share. When it’s on the table amidst the other goodies, it makes your child feel like they fit in. Don’t give in to the peer pressure of, “But this is the holiday; let him have some of this cake…” You know how eating certain foods contributes to meltdowns. Instead, offer one of your special treats.

4. Make your child’s sleep schedule a priority. If traveling away from home, it may be helpful to bring your child’s normal sheets and pillows so he or she can sleep more peacefully.

5. If you need dress clothes for family pictures, change your child into soft clothes as soon as possible. Avoid the temptation to make your child wear new clothes from grandma, until you’ve washed them several times and removed the tags.

6. If you’re going to travel by plane, bring earplugs so your child can listen to a favorite program or music. It will drown out the noise of the plane and surrounding people, and it’s calming.

7. Take a few of your child’s favorite toys, games or books. When your child needs some downtime or distraction, there will be something familiar to comfort them.

8. Give your child a code word to use if he or she feels overwhelmed. This provides a feeling of control and helps them remain calm. Be sure your child knows that you will respond right away when this code word is used.

9. Briefly explain Asperger’s to supportive family and friends so they know what to expect and how to respond. If you have a few people who will act as a buffer against those who refuse to understand, it gives you some breathing room and you won’t feel so alone.

10. Make sure someone is always committed to watching your child. If you do this in shifts, everyone will have time to have fun. Have a pre-assigned way to tactfully “tag” the next person when their shift begins.

I hope these tips help you experience a happy and enjoyable holiday season!

What if the person with Asperger’s is your spouse? Don’t forget that the holidays can be stressful for them as well. You may want to pick up a copy of my book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD). It also explores the science behind Asperger’s. It will help you understand your Aspie better. Get a free chapter by clicking on the image below.

Finding Your Way to Normal Despite Your NT/AS Relationship

Monday, December 05, 2016


Doesn’t the holiday season make you wish for true love, a warm and hearty Christmas dinner with family, and better times ahead? It almost makes us believe, like little children who believe Santa grants wishes, that our heartfelt wishes might come true.

But then you realize with a sinking feeling that it can’t possibly happen, because your life isn’t like everyone else’s. You don’t get to live a normal life, because you’re living with someone who has Aspergers. And that realization makes you withdraw even deeper into your protective invisibility.

If no one notices that you’re not normal, you can pretend that what happens to you is okay. That you really didn’t want to attend the dinner with friends. That it doesn’t matter that no one kisses you under the mistletoe. That you won’t get a gift that makes you feel like a desired lover and partner. That it’s impossible for you and your Aspie to have a good time together. That you don’t feel special anymore. That you’re invisible.

I never really thought about invisibility before I learned about my mother’s Asperger Syndrome. But in looking back through the years, I realize now that I have been invisible all my life, and I believe it’s a condition that plagues a lot of NT people in Asperger/NT families

Whenever I explain my experience of family holidays to friends and colleagues their eyes glaze over. I do get some satisfaction from this, because it confirms my suspicion that my life is not normal. But it’s still a painful reminder. . . that I am alone.

Since the holiday season is particularly poignant for most of us, it’s time we gather together to discuss how you feel about this conundrum and what to do about it. If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our free international teleconference on Thursday, December 15, 2016, at 1:30 PM. We’ll discuss “Finding Your Way to Normal”.  I'm not saying that you can really find your way back to normal. That ship has sailed. But perhaps you can create a new normal for you; a normal that helps you stay healthy, and loving and mentally centered. . . amid the chaos of living with those on the Autism Spectrum.

If your depression is worsened by the holiday season and it’s getting to be too much for you, please contact your medical or health care professional immediately. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment so we can find ways for you to achieve happiness again.

And if you’ve been putting off getting a copy of Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) because you thought it was just about parenting, don’t wait another moment. You’ll hear my story and that of others who feel invisible. It also explores the science behind Asperger’s. Get a free chapter by clicking on the image below.

What To Do When Your AS/NT Relationship Makes You Feel Less Than Normal

Monday, November 28, 2016


What To Do When Your AS/NT Relationship Makes You Feel Less Than NormalIt may be slowly dawning on you that you aren't normal. You may have started out that way many years ago, but after life with an Aspie it's clearly not possible to be normal anymore. You’ve been "aspergated!"

What do I mean by “aspergated”? After years of adapting to your Aspie loved ones, many Neuro-Typicals feel as if they have one foot in the NT world and one foot in the ASD world. . . not quite fitting into either. Is that how you feel? Please take heart.

Recognizing that it’s happened to you is the first step to fixing it. It’s not too late to switch gears and create a new identity for yourself. You can even do this while making your NT/AS relationship thrive. Just don’t give up on yourself.

I do believe there is “New Life Ahead” for you. During this season of giving, how about giving yourself the gift of appreciation for all that you do and how wonderful you are? Ironically the wear and tear you have suffered in your life with an Aspie has made you much more aware. Use this consciousness to actively and purposefully build a new life.

Think about all of the gifts you need to give yourself right now! How about that quilting convention you've always wanted to go to? Or perhaps you've wanted to start meditating? What about finishing your degree? Kayaking anyone? Start planning now for a New Year filled with appreciation for “A New Life Ahead”.

Join the next low-cost video conference, A New Life Ahead. It will be held on Thursday, December 8th at 9AM PT. You’ll be inspired by our discussion! If you can’t make it, please check back for future Meetups or book a one-on-one educational session with me. While this is not therapy, you will get a lot of your questions answered.

I want to give you the courage and motivation you need in any way that I can. That’s why I’ve written about my experience and that of others, so you can see that if they did it, so can you. If you haven’t purchased your copy of my books on how to make your NT/AS relationships thrive, here are links with more information:

Out of Mind - Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome

Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going over the Edge?


Read more on my website: Asperger Relationships.

Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More Resilient

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More ResilientAs we enter this season of thankfulness, it’s good to reflect on how often we ask ourselves, “What am I grateful for today?” Not only does a daily gratitude practice like gratitude journaling make us more pleasant to be around, gratitude also improves our health.

Asking yourself this simple question every day is powerful enough to change your brain’s chemistry! As a result, people who look for reasons to be grateful experience better mental health, emotional wellbeing and resiliency in the face of difficulties. Why does gratitude have such power?

When you experience gratitude, neural circuits are activated in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin production increases, and these neurotransmitters produce calming results. The more you stimulate these neural pathways, the stronger and more automatic they become, which is an example of Hebb’s Law that states, “neurons that fire together wire together.” The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

This means that if you’re looking for the negative, the neural pathways for negative thinking become stronger. But if you begin a daily gratitude practice, you will start noticing what’s going right in your life instead. This is great news! You can remake yourself into a positive person, even if you’ve tended toward being negative your whole life.

One interesting study on gratitude was conducted by the Department of Psychology, at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. They partnered with Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation to see how “gratitude ratings would correlate with activity in brain regions associated with moral cognition, value judgment and theory of mind.” Dr. Glenn Fox describes their research and finding:

“The stimuli used to elicit gratitude were drawn from stories of survivors of the Holocaust, as many survivors report being sheltered by strangers or receiving lifesaving food and clothing, and having strong feelings of gratitude for such gifts. The participants were asked to place themselves in the context of the Holocaust and imagine what their own experience would feel like if they received such gifts. For each gift, they rated how grateful they felt.
When the brain feels gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic decision-making and self-reference. These areas include the ventral- and dorsal- medial pre-frontal cortex, as well as the anterior cingulate cortex."
A lot of people conflate gratitude with the simple emotion of receiving a nice thing. What we found was something a little more interesting. The pattern of [brain] activity we see shows that gratitude is a complex social emotion that is really built around how others seek to benefit us.”

In other words, gratitude doesn’t just show up in the brain’s reward center. It involves being a morally and socially aware individual who is able to display empathy. (This may help explain why you feel unappreciated and unloved by your partner who has Aspergers. Their brain functions differently so they are socially awkward and lack the ability to deeply empathize with you.)

Why not begin a gratitude journal today? Write down five things you’re grateful for. As your list grows, you’ll look at life differently, plus you’ll have something encouraging to read when you’re feeling down. High on my gratitude list is that you’re part of my community.

Diagnosing Asperger’s – Is It also Pathological Avoidance Disorder, Narcissism or OCD?

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Those with Aspergers may also be diagnosed with Narcissism, Pathological Avoidance Disorder and OCD, yet it’s wise to focus on treating the Empathy DisorderAs we seek to understand our friends and family who have Asperger’s Syndrome (a high-functioning form of Autism Spectrum Disorder), we discover a myriad of potential diagnoses that could fit, such as Narcissism, Pathological Avoidance Disorder and OCD. But before you wander down the Rabbit Hole with these variations on the theme of Autism Spectrum Disorders, it’s important to pay attention to the underlying problem for all of these disorders. . . namely an Empathy Disorder.

People who lack empathy are unable to step outside of themselves. They can’t tune in to what other people are feeling, thinking or believing. This self-centeredness often results in personal conflict, communication breakdown, and an adversarial attitude.

Research shows that empathy is "hard-wired" through a variety of neural pathways, some of which have mirror neurons. Regions of the brain actually light up in when you become aware of another person's emotions. Literally, you do feel what she’s feeling.

In the normal course of events, a person can lose his (or her) ability to be empathetic by becoming too self-absorbed, or he can increase his ability to be empathetic by retraining his brain.

However, the brains of people with ASD don’t function in the same manner. They can, however, develop other ways to navigate the world of personal growth and social interaction. Interestingly, research shows that when we find ways to manage our anxieties, we actually reduce our narcissistic and OCD behaviors. So too with Aspies.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our free international teleconference on Thursday, November 17th, 2016 at 1:30 PM. We’ll discuss “Is it Pathological Avoidance Disorder, Narcissism or OCD?” In this teleconference, we will discuss the challenges to empathy-disordered individuals. Regardless of their diagnosis, or the way they choose to adapt to their anxiety and empathy disorder, we want to speak to the underlying empathy issue, not just the symptom.

And if you’ve been putting off getting a copy of Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) because you thought it was just about parenting, don’t wait another moment. It also explores the science behind Asperger’s. It will help you understand your Aspie better. Get a free chapter by clicking on the image below.

What to Do When Your Asperger Mate Makes You Feel Invisible

Monday, October 31, 2016


What to Do When Your Asperger Mate Makes You Feel InvisibleYou fell in love with your husband because he was kind, attentive and very intelligent. He wasn’t like the other guys you dated. He made you feel special. Now the specialness has worn off, and you feel as if you are living with a robot that has no feelings for you. (This can also apply to a man married to a woman with AS.)

But it is not true! He still loves you, but Asperger's or AS makes it hard for him to convey what is in his mind and heart. Because he can’t read faces or body language well, and because he can’t show you with his eyes or his gestures, a huge chunk of interpersonal communication is lost between the two of you.

You’re holding your breath, waiting for him to come alive with you and share the pleasures of life, but instead you see the years disappear as you getting older. This lack of nonverbal connection that means so much to most of us feels like a rose trying to stay alive on the desert.

You long for the type of bond between lovers that evolves over time from all of those small touches, glances, and whispers that we expect between couples. But it’s not there. Instead you feel invisible.

With their lack of empathy, Aspies fail to send us signals that we are recognized, heard, affirmed, and loved. But after years or even a few short months with an Aspie, the sense of invisibility is hard to shake, isn't it?

Even when we are with friends who do affirm us, or even when we have accolades for our community or career accomplishments, we still feel invisible. We long to belong . . . to be understood . . . to be cared for . . . without doing anything except to BE.

This phenomenon of invisibility is about as hard to shake as other symptoms of PTSD. Remember that PTSD or OTRS (Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome) is a normal reaction to abnormal stressors. This is why our sense of invisibility is so hard to shake. It’s our reaction to living with a lack of empathy for our very existence.

Our next video conference, How to Shake Your Invisibility will be held on Thursday, November 10th at 9AM PT. If you can’t make it, please check back for future Meetups or book a one-on-one educational session with me. While this is not therapy, you can get a lot of your questions answered. Knowledge is power, so with a deeper understanding of how we became invisible, we should be able to come back out into the Light and Love, where we are meant to be.

How to Explain Asperger Syndrome to Others

Monday, October 10, 2016


Trying to explain Asperger’s Syndrome to others is tough, because people just can’t understand that a normal-looking person can be so difficult to live with"Aren't all men like that?"

"It takes two to make a problem and two to resolve it."

"No one's perfect."

"Look for the silver lining."

"I would never allow someone to talk to me like that!"

"If it's that terrible why don't you leave?"

These are only a few of the comments we receive from our family and friends when we try to explain our plight with our ASD loved ones. After being shut down several times, many of us don't even try anymore, for fear that we'll be blamed for complaining yet again. In fact, we might even believe we’re at fault for the failure in the relationship, so we suffer alone in silence.

Recently the New York Times published an article on "Who Blames the Victim?" I think this article sheds some light on why it’s so difficult to explain ASD and our Asperger loved ones. First, of course, autism is complex, so coming to terms with our Aspie's Mind Blindness, Context Blindness and lack of Empathy has taken a lot of work on our part, let alone helping others understand the theories.

Second, it’s a stretch to consider ourselves victims. No one likes that. However, this group is about just that. Recognize that you are being victimized and that it’s time to take back your life. It matters not that your Aspie doesn't intend to harm you. Simon Baron Cohen considers the Aspie as having Zero Degrees of Empathy. Zero means that you are left holding the bag over and over again, with no sympathy from your Aspie, or those who blame the victim.

Third, a bulk of the population tends to blame the victim for breaking the rules of loyalty, obedience and purity. A minority understands that to truly understand the victim, you need to care about an individual and consider fairness. Truly enlightened people understand that you can be harmed by an Aspie who doesn't intend to harm you. And they want to help. They will listen to our complex story.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our free international teleconference on Thursday, October 20, 2016 at 2:30 PM. We’ll discuss “How to explain Asperger Syndrome to others”.


And if you’ve been putting off getting a copy of Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) because you thought it was just about parenting, don’t wait another moment. It also explores the science behind Aspergers. If you want to understand your Aspie better, this is a must read. Get a free chapter by clicking on the image below.



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