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Kathy Marshack News

Lessons I Learned about Helicopter Parenting from My ASD Daughter

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


I was a classic helicopter mom to my daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome, and these are some of the lessons I learned and wish I’d done differently.When you discover that your child has Asperger’s Syndrome, it makes you feel utterly helpless. I know, because I’m a trained psychologist, with a master’s degree in social work and a doctoral degree in psychology and I still felt that way about my own daughter who, by the age of 14, was officially diagnosed with ASD.

Recently I wrote an article for PsychCentral about my experience, hoping that it would let others know they’re not alone. (You can read the full article here.) One aspect that I wish I’d done differently is that I became a classic helicopter mother.

I found all kinds of ways to work around the school system. I hired tutors to coach her. I negotiated high school credit from outside activities. I tried Brownies, soccer, piano lessons, and summer camps. I forced her to audition for a prestigious private choir because of her marvelous singing ability—even though she was frightened of the other choir members. I tried everything I could think of to make my autistic child smile.


Being a helicopter parent is a natural outcome of the crazy-making AS/NT world. Our natural instincts are to protectively hover over our children when they have such a serious disability.

However, there are serious drawbacks to helicopter parenting. It leaves you very little time to relax and enjoy your children. As the super-responsible parent, you circle your child with help while not leaving enough time for hugs and play.

Lessons I learned from my ASD daughter:

Helicopter parenting is a natural by-product of loving your very dependent child. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are over-reacting. Your strongest asset is your heart.
  • Channel your helicoptering into finding a good psychologist or Asperger Syndrome specialist.
  • Join a support group like Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD
  • Read everything you can about Asperger Syndrome.
  • Join your local Autism Society affiliate. It’s important that you socialize with other parents and spouses who share your experience.
  • Don’t blame yourself for your mistakes. Love yourself enough to keep on creating a meaningful life in spite of them.
  • Take time to relax and play.

Yes, there have been tremendous improvements in understanding Asperger’s Syndrome. But we have a long way to go to help our AS/NT families. I’ve made it my mission to be a source of knowledge and support. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an in-person appointment. If you live elsewhere and are seeking information on ASD, please take advantage of my online education.

Does Contempt Signal the End of a Marriage or Committed Relationship?

Monday, June 05, 2017


Does Contempt Signal the End of a Marriage or Committed Relationship Do you agree with John Gottman, Ph.D. and author of "Seven Principles that Make Marriage Work"? He tells us that once a couple has descended to the level of contempt for each other, the marriage is irretrievable. I don’t totally agree with his assessment, especially since I’ve been working with so many couples who are dealing with Asperger’s in their marriage or committed relationships.

Contempt is a very strong emotion – the feeling that a person is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. Generally, one doesn’t get to that emotion over night. It usually takes a gradually erosion of respect. (Unless there has been one particularly horrific act that destroys all respect and love. Certainly when the love is gone it probably makes no sense to try anymore.) Yet, there are ways to reverse the erosion and rebuild your relationship.

As awful as is contempt, it actually comes fairly quickly in ASD/NT relationships. Why is that? My theory is that the Aspie doesn’t have empathy, so they may resort to saying pretty awful things to their partner, but contempt is not on their mind. NTs on the other hand take these unkind comments as contemptuous. Sometimes we build up resentment, too, and then our Aspies are puzzled by our anger. Such a crazy, painful, mixed up situation.

If you’re feeling contempt, or you believe your Aspie does, we need to talk. This is no way to live. Contempt, like passive-aggressive behavior is a counter-productive solution. We need ways to be open about our feelings, respectful of our differences, forgiving of others, and expecting forgiveness from our loved ones.

This last one is important isn't it? I sure would like forgiveness if I get frustrated with my Aspie loved ones, or really lose my cool and yell or withdraw. We’re only human and contemptuous comments are hurtful.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, I invite you to please join us for our free teleconference: Cleaning Up Contempt on Thursday, June 15th at 3:00 PM PT. Let’s get these feelings out in the open and figure out how our words and actions can help us cope.

Also, if you haven’t read my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”, you can get your first chapter free by clicking here. This book has become an important resource for those who want to understand their Aspie partners better.

Muffled Love – Why Aspie Love Is Different

Monday, May 08, 2017


I’ve often been criticized for saying Aspies lack empathy; perhaps another way to consider Aspie love is that it’s muffled – they feel but can’t express it.One morning I was trying to fathom how Aspies love. I’ve often been criticized that I’m wrong to say that those with ASD lack empathy. Perhaps another way to consider Aspie love is that it’s "muffled;" filtered through a system of fits and starts and blind alleys and occasionally smooth sailing.

Empathy is far more than a collection of sensitivities. For example, the human body is 90% water with some chemicals mixed in, but I doubt that anyone would think this concoction of water and chemicals constitutes a human being. The same is true of empathy. Empathy is much more than the sum of its parts. Empathy is a marvelous symphony of instruments, musicians, composer, conductor and audience. It’s an interaction that creates the thrill of the concert. Just the same with love; it’s the interaction that makes it the art of loving.

I suspect what is so confusing about an Aspie's love is that it’s not complete. They may feel love in their heart, but never express it to you. They may melt into tears when they see an animal in distress, but have no compassion for your suffering. They may bristle with defensiveness if criticized but feel no compunction when criticizing you. The occasional offering of love stalled by a moment of disconnect is not loving, is it?

I’ve known enough Aspies to realize that they do feel love, of a sort, but it isn’t the reciprocal love we expect and have with others. The love is there inside them but it’s hidden by those blind alleys, so we have to assume it’s there. How confusing.

If you’re a member of my Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, please join us as we discuss this topic during our next free teleconference entitled: Muffled Love. It will be on Thursday, May 18th at 3PM PT. If you’re a NT in an Aspie/NT relationship and haven’t joined yet, please feel free to do so. Not only will you learn a lot, but you’ll find a group of very supportive members who understand what you’re going through.

If you’d prefer a one-on-one with me to ask questions, please take advantage of my Asperger Syndrome Remote Education. It’s not therapy, but it will help you have a deeper understanding of how Autism impacts your life. Not sure what we can talk about? Reading a free chapter from my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”, will give you a place to start. Click on the image below to download your complimentary copy.

Walk in the Shoes of Someone with Asperger’s Syndrome

Wednesday, May 03, 2017


Here are some resources – videos, articles, and more to help you understand what it’s like to live with Asperger’s Syndrome as you walk in their shoes.From time to time I come across information that helps my readers “put themselves in the shoes” of those with Asperger’s Syndrome. When you don’t have it, you can’t fully understand what they’re dealing with. This empathy is so vital. It makes it possible for you to help but also to regulate your own emotional responses toward your autistic friend or loved one.


So I was excited to find a wonderful resource recently in a New York Times article that features a video by Joris Debeij called Perfectly Normal: Autism Through a Lens. It shows what it’s like to be a high-functioning autistic man. Jordan is able to drive a car, hold a job, and have a stable relationship with his girl friend, Toni. Yet it’s easy for him to become overwhelmed as he balances reality with his imaginary world.

At the 6:45 minute mark of the documentary, it swirls into a chaotic experience of sound and visual imagery that lets you experience the sensory overload that people with autism experience. After you see it, you’re going to understand why they choose to be off by themselves in their own world.

Toward the end, Jordan does make a profound observation: Because he feels that no one is completely normal, he says it’s important to see everyone as a person with a disability, not as a disabled person.

The author of this excellent piece, Eli Gottlieb, has a brother who is severely autistic and has been institutionalized most of his life. He describes his experience here. There is also an Autism Speaks YouTube video on their story - click here to view it. Your heart will go out to them as they reveal the struggle their family has gone through to come to terms with living with Autism


Perhaps you see similarities to your own experience. If you suspect someone you care for has Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of Autism, please consult with a mental health professional who specializes in Asperger’s Syndrome to make sure you arrive at the proper diagnosis. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

More Asperger’s Syndrome resources: Many people view my newsletter, books, Meetup Group, and Remote Education as lifesaving resources. It’s so important for you to know that you’re not alone. If you’re new to my website, please click on the image below to download a free chapter from my book, "Out of Mind - Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)". It helps you see the science behind ASD.

Criticism – Why This is a Big Issue for Those With Asperger’s

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Since people with Aspergers Syndrome are sensitive to receiving criticism, yet they’re very good at giving it, you and your family need to learn how to copeHave you noticed that those with Asperger’s Syndrome are very sensitive to receiving criticism? Often they hear criticism where none is implied. AS men in particular interpret a difference of opinion or a different perspective as a criticism of whom they are as a person. And they hear criticism of a family member as a criticism of themselves, so they may respond by refusing to communicate or end up lashing out in a very hurtful manner.

Doesn’t it boggle your mind that you’re accused of criticizing when all you do is ask one little question? Why does this happen? Questions and the criticism come from very different perspectives. While we ask questions to clarify and to open up discussions, the Aspie takes a different tack. Aspies rarely ask questions for clarification because that would require a Theory of Mind. Instead, their focus is to answer (or ignore) our questions as they attempt to close down the discussion and focus on a black and white solution. They rarely pick up that we’re trying to work toward collaboration. Thus our questions are confusing to them and bring the accusations that we’re criticizing them.

Ironically, while those with Asperger’s Syndrome are hypersensitive to receiving criticism, they are unaware that they often give criticism. This can be very exasperating and can even break your spirit if you’re constantly on the receiving end this abusive behavior.

Are you exasperated and with all of the criticism leveled at you by your Aspie? On Wednesday May 3rd we’re going to address this problem during our free teleconference entitled: What's with all the criticism? It will help you finally understand this convoluted interchange and develop strategies to deal with it. You’ll learn how to keep your sanity despite this double talk. And more importantly you’ll discover how to avoid the blame associated with collaborative efforts.

If you’re not a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, be assured it’s a safe place for you – the neurotypical partner to someone with ASD. Why not join us today?

Also, if you haven’t read my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”, you can get your first chapter free by clicking here. This book has become the go-to resource for many men and women who want to understand their Aspie partners better.

Empathy 101: Understanding the Neurotypical/Asperger Relationship

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Empathy 101: Understanding the Neurotypical – Asperger RelationshipEmpathy is a complex, multi-faceted skillset that allows a person to clearly recognize the other person, while holding constant their own feelings and thoughts. It’s respecting the boundaries of the other person. You don't confuse their pain or thoughts with your own.

Furthermore, the highest level of empathy is what I call "Radiant Empathy," or the ability to care for the feelings and thoughts of others without any need for reciprocity. It takes a lifetime to develop Radiant Empathy because it’s the combination of a healthy brain and life experience.

Asperger’s Syndrome is an empathy disorder, the result of the person not having a Theory of Mind. Basically, they don’t easily recognize that another person has beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings and perspectives that differ from their own (unless it is specifically pointed out). Empathy is a complex system that requires the brain to connect Emotional Empathy and Cognitive Empathy.

Neurotypical persons in relationships with those with Asperger’s Syndrome expect and need empathy, but they don’t receive it. This makes them feel so alone, depressed, and socially isolated. They suffer from numerous stress-related chronic illnesses, because no one really understands what they’re going through.

Once you understand the quality of empathy that is part of every breath you take… and is totally absent in your Aspie, you can better navigate this life. Furthermore, this understanding also helps you redirect your energy to take better care of yourself and to embrace a more loving reality. This doesn't mean everything works out; it just means that you're more in charge. That can feel good.

If you’re a member of our Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, please join us for the next teleconference, Empathy 101 on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 3:00 PM.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to read a free chapter of “Out 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.

ASD Emotional Sensitivity is Not the Same as Empathy

Wednesday, March 01, 2017


ASD sensitivity isn’t the same as Radiant Empathy, which is the highest level of empathy where you care for others’ feelings without needing reciprocity.John Elder Robison, whose Asperger’s Syndrome was undiagnosed until he was 40 years old, gets a lot of play for his books on his life with autism. His latest book about undergoing transcranial stimulation, "Switched On" leads readers to believe that for a short period of time he experienced empathy. This is simply not true.

Empathy is so much more than being sensitive. In fact many NTs are stumped by their Aspies because they appear to be very sensitive and they might be. Parents make this mistake often with their ASD children. Because your ASD child loves you or bursts into tears when they see a pet hurting doesn’t mean they have empathy.

Empathy is a complex, multi-faceted skillset that I sum up as Namaste – "the Soul in me recognizes and honors the Soul in you." It’s the ability to clearly recognize the other person, while holding constant your own feelings and thoughts. It’s respecting the boundaries of the other person even if you sympathize. You don't confuse their pain or thoughts with your own. Furthermore, the highest level of empathy is what I call "Radiant Empathy," or the ability to care for the feelings and thoughts of others without any need for reciprocity.

John Robison never experienced the state of empathy, but with transcranial stimulation, he was more aware of his own feelings and he was even more unable to regulate them (typical of an Aspie). If you have Radiant Empathy you can regulate your feelings and not run amok.

It takes a lifetime to develop Radiant Empathy because it’s the combination of a healthy brain and life experience. But science will keep trying to discover the components of life as if the sum total of a human is nothing more than the sum of its parts.

We’ll discuss this very important subject at our next TELECONFERENCE: “Sensitivity is not Empathy” on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 2:30 PM. Our approach won’t be so much from an intellectual point of view but for two reasons…

1) When you better understand that your Aspie is operating in the relationship without empathy, you can more easily find ways to communicate.

2) You may find that you can be freer to strive for Radiant Empathy, which actually makes your life more joyful.

If you’d like to learn more about the science of Asperger’s Syndrome, click on the image below and download a free chapter of my book. And don’t forget to invite the ASD professionals you know to join the special Meetup I’ve created for them…Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists.

 


3 Tools to Help Psychotherapists Understand the Impact Asperger’s Has on the Whole Family

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


If you’ve tried psychotherapy for your ASD/NT relationship and it didn’t work, don’t despair, because with further education and the right approach it can.It was a relief to Mandy (not a real person, but her story illustrates the life many of you live) to have finally found the reason for her husband’s puzzling and hurtful behavior during their 23 years of marriage. She knew he loved her in his own way, and he didn’t intentionally want to distress her. He just didn’t seem to know how to show love like he ought to. His diagnosis of a high functioning form of ASD, called Asperger’s Syndrome, explained a lot.

But over the last year, she’s discovered that there is a big gap between understanding why he does something and finding ways to cope with it. She and Brian had tried couples counseling. And while she and the therapist quickly connected, Brian sat there staring out the window.

Mandy had found a very good therapist, (I wasn’t so lucky when I was searching for help with my daughter!) but the therapist hasn’t specialized in how ASD impacts a marriage, family dynamics or parenting children. Psychotherapy that works for neuro-typicals doesn’t work for those who have the mind blindness of Asperger’s. While there are many caring, intelligent, trustworthy psychologists and social workers who want to help, they need education. And often for families with ASD as part of the mix, it rests on you to educate your therapist.

Remember you’re forming a working partnership with your therapist. You’re on the same side, so don’t feel intimidated. When you keep your appointment with your therapist, provide him or her with the following tools:

First, be brave and don't let them talk you out of what you know to be true about your relationship.

Secondly, encourage them to read books on Asperger/Neuro-Typical Relationships. I have two books on this topic, plus there are others available. A good therapist is open to learning more. They want to expand their consciousness; so help them do that.

Third, suggest they get consultation from an expert. Invite them to join my new Meetup group, Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists.

Aspies can benefit from psychotherapy. However, they need coaching more than therapy because of their lack of empathy, theory of mind and insight. But there are ways to get our Aspies on board for therapy! We’ll be talking about the how to do it at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD video conference. It’s entitled: “Why psychotherapy doesn't work and what to do about it”. It will be held on Thursday, March 9th at 9:00 AM. There are only limited spaces on this call, so register your spot soon.

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 ways to improve your situation.


How Different Are Men and Women on the Spectrum?

Friday, January 27, 2017


How Different Are Men and Women on the Spectrum? It comes as no surprise that men and women are different. At the best of times, relationships can be challenging just because of the differences in upbringing and background. That’s why there are endless numbers of books written on the subject of relationships and how to figure out the opposite sex. But when you throw Asperger’s or ASD into the mix, it gets really confusing! And even more challenging, are the relationships where the NT (neuro-typical) mate doesn’t even realize that their spouse is on the Spectrum!

Does gender really make that much difference in a NT/AS relationship? Does a wife with Asperger’s cause a NT husband more heartache than an AS husband causes for his NT wife? And will a NT husband be stronger and more able to deal with the emotional neglect than a NT wife?

Truthfully, when it comes right down to it, an Aspie, whether male or female, will make you feel lonely, confused and quite possibly even depressed. It’s how we learn to handle our Aspies that makes a difference in the quality of our lives. This is where we see individual differences.

That’s why I’ve created the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD group to be a safe place for men and women to meet and freely discuss their lives with the Aspies. (If you’re a NT with an AS family member, please feel free to join our Meetup group. There’s no charge.) If you’re a member, please join our free international teleconference on Thursday, February 9, 2017 at 9:00 AM to discuss the topic: How different are men and women on the Spectrum? We’ll be speaking about how gender plays a part in NT/AS relationships AND how your Aspie’s parenting style affects your male and female children.

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 ways to improve your situation.

Psychotherapists and Professionals – A New Meetup that Helps You Serve Families with ASD

Monday, January 09, 2017


Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists is a new Meetup for professionals who serve NT’s in families with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Have you ever Googled, “How to help families with Autism”? If you do, you’ll find that much of the information is about helping the autistic individual NOT the family members who are not on the spectrum. It’s wonderful that we help the ones with ASD. However the caregivers and other family members shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s taking a huge toll on them, too.

Dealing with a child or adult who has Autism Spectrum Disorder is exhausting work. The caregiver’s emotional, mental, and physical health suffers.


When it’s a child who has autism, every aspect of family life is affected - sleep, meals, toileting, play, travel, education, and work. This creates a multitude of interrelated problems, such as overwhelming schedules and parental conflict because of grief and confusion.

When it’s a spouse who has Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism, it’s devastating in so many other ways. Not only is the NT parenting the children, he or she is also “parenting” the Asperger spouse. Without the emotional connection and support of the spouse, this NT marriage mate feels so terribly alone.

Let’s give NT’s the support they need. It’s so important for psychotherapists and other professionals to hone their skills, so they can truly understand and support NT (neuro-typical) family members. Therefore, I’m eager to announce my new Meetup for professionals who want to do greater work in this field.

Please help me get the word out! The new Meetup is called Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists. It’s for professionals who serve NT’s in families with Adults with ASD. Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, MFTs, psychiatric nurses and other professionals who are consulting to caregivers, family and friends of those on the Autism Spectrum will get the guidance needed to reach this important part of the Autism System. Also if you’re coaching autistics, this group will provide a much better understanding of the thinking of those with ASD.

Please click here to join this worldwide group. To find out more, your first meeting is free. If you decide to take advantage of monthly consultation, there is a fee. This is your chance to work directly with me no matter where you live and gather continuing education credits from an internationally well-known expert in the field. I’ll be offering video and teleconferences that discuss timely topics. I’ll alert you when we schedule our first meeting. I’ll be looking for you on the inside!



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