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Kathy Marshack News

Asperger’s Syndrome and Depression – A Deadly Combination

Monday, January 12, 2015


asperger syndrome and depression is often linked with suicideA large number of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome suffer from depression. Scientists don’t know if this is a result of the struggles and rejections they face in life or if it’s because of the way their brains are hard wired. As Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen said in a recently published study on Asperger’s and depression, “Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome often suffer with secondary depression due to social isolation, loneliness, social exclusion, lack of community services, underachievement, and unemployment.”

What we now know, regardless of the causes, when your loved one has Asperger’s Syndrome and shows symptoms of depression, alarm bells to go off. The study mentioned above found that there’s a significant increase in suicidality among adults with Asperger’s. They are ten times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicidal attempts than the general population, which is even more than those who have psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Up until now, studies on Asperger’s Syndrome and depression have been concentrating on preadolescents, and they show a low rate of suicidal behavior. So, even though previous studies have shown that there’s a link between autism and suicidal thoughts, these findings about adults with AS come as a surprise to many. What concerns me is that many adults with Asperger’s have lived their lives undiagnosed, so they haven’t sought help from a mental health professional unless they’ve experienced severe mood or psychotic changes.

Nomi Kaim of Asperger/Autism Newtwork (formerly Asperger’s Association of New England or AANE) describes poignantly how depression affects someone with Asperger’s. She highlights the paradoxical battle that goes on inside in the following areas of life:

  • Those with Asperger’s focus on and gain comfort from their special area(s) of interest. Depression steals any delight in doing such activities. This leaves an immense sense of emptiness.
  • People with Asperger’s Syndrome deal in concrete, black and white thinking. Depression forces them leave the comfort of these thoughts as they have to learn to deal with overwhelming emotions they are unprepared to handle.
  • People with Asperger’s Syndrome find comfort in being alone. Depression makes it essential to seek out others so they don’t spiral into self-destruction, which causes the pain of socializing to become more pronounced and threatens their sense of being self-sufficient.
  • People with Asperger’s Syndrome hate to be touched. Depression creates a need for physical yearning to be held and comforted, which, in turn, may leave them feeling violated.

This study highlights the need for us to be alert and prompt about seeking professional help for our Aspie loved ones who are depressed. If you live near Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, please contact my office and schedule an appointment. Together we can create new ways for them to cope with this situation before it becomes a tragedy.

We have the Winners!

Friday, January 09, 2015


coping with partner who has asperger syndrome bookcoping with a spouse with asperger syndromeDuring the month of December I ran a "Feedback" Contest on Facebook asking for your heartfelt thoughts about my two books on the topic of Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m happy to say the winners have been posted on my Facebook page.

Yes! There are two winners! When it came down to the final decision, I just couldn’t decide – so both of these people will receive their own 20 minute remote education call with me during the next few months. I’m really looking forward to getting to know them better. I’m hoping they’ll share with me how I can better serve this NT/AS community.

I just wanted to share with you their winning comments. I’m using initials to protect their privacy.

Jules NZ commented: “Out of Mind – Out of Sight. For me, this book has given me permission to follow my instincts and trust myself again after 30 years of invalidation and dwindling self esteem. The chapters about zero empathy from the Aspie spouse, and invisibility of the NT partner were revelations for me, and there are simply too many other topics that are for me, like gold. This book has become my bible and I refer to it frequently to help me understand the craziness that has been my life, parenting with my Asperger husband.

Going over the Edge has been a life saver for me, I have used the knowledge within to understand and learn about Asperger Syndrome in my relationship with my husband. The practical examples are so easy to relate to when you live this life. Dr Kathy must have been talking about me? how did she know?? I have read this book over and over and each time find another gem to support myself and remind myself I am ok, that what I am experiencing is normal for life with a spouse with Aspergers.”

JB commented: “I read Going Over the Edge. I am married to an undiagnosed man who shows many traits described in the book. I was most impacted by the young girl's drawing and discovering the busy brain. Like most challenges we face if we become aware and accept them they become manageable and even tolerable especially when you know there is support available for you. I don't love my situation but the book did give me hope and settled me down. It caused me to sit back and look at things from a new perspective. I have to read parts of it from time to time to wheel me back in when I start to feel crazy. Thank you.”

Their comments really touched my heart as I can see that my work is truly helping them. And yes, I do consider myself to be one of the winners, since I get to connect with wonderful people like you. Please come on over to my Facebook page and congratulate our winners.

Learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome:

  • Schedule a 20 minute educational call with Dr. Marshack for Asperger Relationships Remote Education.
  • Download a free chapter of Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD).
  • Download a free chapter of Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going over the Edge? Practical Steps to Saving You and Your Relationship.

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”.



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