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Kathy Marshack News

Spice Up Romance with your Asperger Partner this Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

spice up romance with your asperger partner this Valentine's DayAre you looking forward to Valentine’s Day this year? For many, it brings to mind sweet, romantic gestures. But for someone who has a partner with Asperger Syndrome, you may actually be dreading the day knowing your feelings are going to be hurt.

That’s because Aspies’ – a term coined and freely used by many with Asperger Syndrome – brains are wired in a way that skirts the ability to know, feel or demonstrate empathy and love.

Empathy is about reciprocal connecting; the ability to step into another’s shoes. The non-Aspie is wired to achieve a mutually satisfying solution. Aspies are not, and they can’t read their partner’s signals, or as I like to say, they have mind-blindness. Therein lies the rub. Aspies are unable to comprehend the meaning of the traditional gestures of love and romance. They don’t set out to hurt their love by withholding a Valentine, candy or flowers.

What are some things you can do to smooth the way to romance?

1. Non-Aspie partners – do not take your Aspie partner’s actions (or lack of actions) as a slight or personal affront, and your life will be sweeter.

Aspies simply don’t ‘get’ why a show of affection is important to their non-Aspie, or neurotypical, partner. They’re out of sync. Expressing love escapes Aspies, because empathizing is foreign to them. Not being romantic isn’t a hurtful decision they make. When the neurotypical more accurately understands the actions, or inactions, of their Aspie loved one, feelings get hurt less often.

2. Help your Aspie create his/her own rules of engagement in order to act in ways that really matter to you. This list that tells the Aspie what to do and when -- never mind the “why.”

Aspies need to learn ways to engage with their neurotypical spouse. One Aspie husband explained it to me like this, “I just can’t say or do the first thing that pops into my mind. It might be all wrong. It’s like I need a ‘politeness checker’ running in the back of my mind to remind me to be a gentleman.” This marriage was strengthened when he and his wife wrote down rules about appropriate engagement in a notebook. He keeps it with him and refers to it frequently for guidance. Without that tool, he says he’d be lost.

The Asperger Romance rules might include:

  • Kiss spouse goodbye each morning
  • Call spouse at lunchtime each day
  • Buy “For My Wife” card and flowers for Feb. 14
  • Hold spouse’s hand and say, “Thank you,” when receiving a gift or card from him/her.

Aspies may not understand why something is important to their loved one, but learning to make the effort, the gesture, represents good intention and love, just a different kind. If you want to build more romance into your ASP/NT marriage so that everyone feels loved, therapy is available. Please, contact my Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA office and set up an appointment.

If you haven’t done so yet, grab your free chapter from each of my Asperger Relationship books:

Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome,”


“Going Over the Edge? Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome.”

Is It Codependency if You’re just Trying to Survive your Autism Spectrum Relationship?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

meetup is it codependency if you're just trying to survive your autism spectrum relationshipWhen we love someone, we like to do nice things for that person even if it means sacrificing something that we want at times. But the operative words to indicate a healthy relationship are “at times”. There’s a balance of give and take. If on the other hand, you find that you are doing it all of the time, then you’re dealing with codependency.

Codependence is defined as “a state of mind where you put your needs and dreams aside in order to help the other person have a life. In a codependent relationship, no matter how much you give, the other person does not return the favor. Yet you keep on giving and getting more fatigued, frustrated and resentful.”

You make a lot of sacrifices for your family member who is on the Autism Spectrum. You become an expert at reading labels so your pantry is gluten free. You relearn how to cook and bake your family favorites with gluten free flours. You snip all of the labels from your AS husband's shirts. You pay for a laundry delivery service because your AS wife can’t handle it. You soundproof the "den" so your Aspie preteen can scream. You graciously sidestep every confrontation. You drink an extra glass of wine to calm your nerves.

At what point is it codependency? Is it really codependency if you are just trying to survive?

More to the point is the question: Who is there for you? If you are always giving and never getting what you need, you will eventually experience burnout. You need to explore self-care. See that your needs are met. Since your AS spouse or child loves you but has no idea how you tick, it’s important to make your beliefs and needs known in concrete ways.

This ongoing issue of dancing around the needs of your family members on the Autism Spectrum will be discussed at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Families of Adults with ASD Meetup, “Is It Codependency if You’re just Trying to Survive?” Make plans now to join us on Saturday, February 15, 2014.

Learn more about Asperger Syndrome and Relationships on my website.

The Hot Buttons of an Asperger/NT Marriage – Sex, Socializing, and Parenting

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sex Socializing and Parenting are three problems that can challenge a marriage between an Asperger and non-Asperger marriageIt would be nice if marriage was easy, but it’s not. Even with a lot of work, commitment and love, marriages will have ups and downs. If you are married to someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome, you especially face challenges that most people can’t even imagine.

Because of the lack of empathy in your Aspie partner, you will often feel misunderstood and unloved, and this may cause you to think that your marriage cannot survive, let alone thrive. So I wanted to share with an article by columnist, Regina Boyle Wheeler that I really appreciated. She centered on the hope-filled message that you CAN DEVELOP SKILLS THAT WORK in your NT/ASD relationship.

In writing this article, she sought my advice since I’ve written books on the topic of marriage and Asperger’s Syndrome; Going Over the Edge? And Out of Mind – Out of Sight. I was able to share with her insight into three specific areas of life that are critical for a marriage to go beyond merely surviving to actually thriving: Sex, Socializing, and Parenting.

Sex becomes a problem for two reasons. Generally we desire physical contact, yet those with Asperger’s Syndrome may have difficulty with being hugged, kissed or caressed. Shyness can cause a Neuro-Typical partner to be unable to speak about what is pleasurable sexually - you just want your partner to intuitively know what you want. However, those with Asperger’s can’t read your signals. It can quickly kill the mood when you have to talk your way through sex, saying what you like or don’t like.

Socializing becomes a minefield of potentially embarrassing situations. The NT partner is always on the alert to head off potentially embarrassing social blunders or topics, so the social event quickly become an exhausting and stress-filled occasion. Rather than endure this, some choose to avoid social settings, or they turn to misusing alcohol or pharmaceuticals to “cope” so it doesn’t matter so much. Either option is destructive for the individual and the marriage.

Parenting becomes a battle of conflicting views even though both parents love the child. It can tear your heart to pieces when your Asperger mate fails to recognize when your child needs comfort, reassurance, praise, or even loving correction.

There are ways that you can learn to cope and thrive as an individual and in your marriage. A mental health professional who has specialized training in Asperger Syndrome can help you develop the skills you need. Life is too short to be merely enduring a relationship, especially when you can learn skills that will turn things around for your family. Please contact my Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA office and make an appointment today to find out what they are.

Read more about Therapy for Marriages Impacted by Asperger Syndrome on my website.

Use Intuition when Co-Parenting with an ASD Partner

Thursday, January 23, 2014

parenting with a partner with asperger's syndrome asdParenting is a tough assignment under ordinary circumstances, but when Autism Spectrum Disorder or Aspergers Syndrome enters the picture, especially when one of the parenting partners has it, parenting becomes much more difficult.

For the ASD parent so many of the interactions within the family circle that require empathy to see, are literally out of mind – out of sight. He or she doesn’t fully understand the partner or the children. This leaves the Neuro-Typical (NT) partner feeling desperately alone, because the ASD spouse, the one person you should be able to confide in, can’t read your mind or fathom your feelings. Even worse is the disappointment that comes when you reach out to friends and professionals who do not comprehend the ongoing traumatic relationship disorder that is the center of your life.

When you’re dealing with the challenge of being an ASD/NT couple, it’s important to think about how you interact in marriage because it greatly influences your child’s well-being. Although it can be difficult, it’s essential to find ways to communicate as best you can. Intuition can go a long way toward helping NTs comprehend the AS environment in which you live and love. Couple that with increasing your knowledge of Asperger Sydrome and you’ll be empowered to thrive within your ASD/NT family.

Oren Shtayermman, Ph.D., M.S.W. Department of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences and NYIT School of Health Professions says it so well in the introduction to my book: “Dr. Marshack makes a huge contribution in her new book: She urges the NTs among us to meet our Aspies in the context of their lives instead of trying to change them. Many of us do not always Stop, Think and Reflect on what it may feel like to be on the “other side.” Yet the way we interpret the context of a situation impacts the way we respond to events in our environment, our live.”

To illustrate this point about intuition, one of the vignettes I share in my book is about a teenage boy. His mother wants him to clean his bathroom. She knows he loves his laptop so she withholds it until he finishes his chore. She hopes he will connect that she cares about the bathroom’s cleanliness as much as he cares about his laptop. What parent hasn’t used that approach? But it doesn’t work with someone with ASD. Yes, this boy sees the need to clean the bathroom and the need to get his laptop back, but he doesn’t see how they are connected or why he should act. Because he lacks empathy, he isn’t motivated by his mom’s displeasure. The solution came when I approached the situation with intuition and I gave him a clear call to action. You can read the whole account when you download the free chapter of Out of Mind – Out of Sight here.

Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) is the NT/ASD parenting manual you’ve been waiting for. It’s available in paperback and as a Kindle edition.

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 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.

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