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Kathy Marshack News

Asperger Syndrome Parenting and Middle Childhood

Friday, February 03, 2012


Think back to when you were 6 or 7 years old. You may not have realized it at the time, but your body was undergoing a profound hormonal change. Scientists refer this time period as the Theory of the Mind. The brain is reaching its adult size while tens of billions of synapses connections are being made. Loads of information is being "downloaded" and organized. Impulses are being controlled, plans for the future are being made as well as intense reasoning ability.

Children at this age also beginning to comprehend deep subjects such as death, justice, social rules, and relationships. In the area of relationships, children in middle childhood start to learn the value of love reciprocity. The selfishness that a toddler once displayed with no longer work. In order to get love and attention from parents, you must give in order to receive. What a valuable lesson to learn at such a young age.

Stop to consider what middle childhood would be like with an Asperger parent(s). Asperger Syndrome is a high functioning form of autism. They have trouble reading non verbal cues, lack empathy, and struggle with communication. Imagine what it would be like to not learn loving reciprocity because of the AS parent’s mind blindness. When that child begins to reach out for love and attention they are often rejected, even if it’s unwittingly. The results of this can have a damaging effect on the child.

In many cases, a child who is raised with an Asperger parent marries someone with Asperger's. This is because your childhood modeled your ideals of marriage. The question then becomes, can you change the pattern after all of these years? Can you learn to allow true love into your life even if you learned that love is one sided?

The answers to those questions will be discussed at the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adult with ASD Support Group Meetup on February 18, 2012 in Portland, Oregon. If you do not live in the local area, please become a member of our online community and join in on our discussion groups. I would also encourage one-on-one therapy with a therapist specialized in Asperger relationships. Contact my office for more information.

If you would to learn more about middle childhood, I recommend the New York Times article - Now We Are Six - The Hormone Surge of Middle Childhood.

Domestic Violence Is More Common Than You Realize – Get Help Now!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


According to a 1997 Gallup Poll report, child abuse is ten times worse than government reports indicate. Furthermore, 70 to 80 percent of child abuse is related to alcohol abuse.

Spouse abuse and child abuse indicate an obvious breakdown in the multiple developing progressions of an individual's life, and are evidence of serious mental and spiritual problems. Chronic problems that have persisted for years are responsible for this total disregard of human values and dignity.

Ray phoned me because he was looking for a psychologist for his wife, Connie. He felt that she was extremely depressed, even suicidal. She would not seek help for herself but agreed to see me if Ray made the appointment. Over the next few weeks, Ray and Connie shared with me a most unique story of two lives nearly destroyed by child abuse, alcoholism, cocaine addiction, and sexual abuse.
Ray's childhood home life was filled with alcoholism and child abuse, but his parents never divorced. Connie never knew her mother, who died when she was very young. Her father remarried several times, and each time Connie and her sister acquired new stepsiblings. During one of these marriages, Connie and her sister were repeatedly sexually assaulted by older stepbrothers.

Ray and Connie wanted to be the Romeo and Juliet who got away. Ray and Connie had discovered a business that they thought could make them rich. The couple felt they were on top of the world. They made very good money.

But then Connie started to demonstrate serious emotional problems. She was irritable and depressed. She stopped caring about her appearance and left the children unwashed and unkempt. And she rarely left the house, which was never clean. It was at this point that Ray brought his wife to see me. Just twenty-nine, Connie was underweight and haggard-looking when she revealed to me what she had been living with. Ray was a cocaine addict, spending about $1,000 a week on his drug. In order to keep from being beaten by him, Connie agreed to use cocaine too. With increased cocaine use, the couple crossed other moral boundaries.

Connie shared these horrors as if in a daze. She was deeply depressed, but also not really aware of how extreme things had become in her life. Coming from a childhood of abuse, her boundaries were diffuse. Physical abuse and sexual abuse had always been the norm in her life. Even as an adult, she did not know how to protect herself.

Ray, too, was a victim. With no guidance from his parents, he had grown up to be a young man with no values, no ethics. He was ignorant of the devastating effects of drug abuse on the mind, body, and spirit. He was afraid, however. He was afraid of losing his wife, and he was afraid of going to prison. It took a lot of courage to seek my help, considering the potential threat to Ray's freedom.

This sad story reveals that stress, ignorance, and drugs definitely do not mix. Ongoing, untreated stress can create health problems, marital problems, drug abuse problems, and ethical problems. As a result of these problems, in combination with the weaknesses of character that evolved years earlier from neglectful and abusive upbringings, the crossing of boundaries into domestic violence is more common than you might think.

If you recognize yourself or your partner taking even a small step in this direction, you should seek the help of a psychotherapist immediately. Ask your doctor for a referral or look for a therapist who specializes in domestic violence. Contact my office if you live in Portland, Oregon or Vancouver, Washington.

How to Cope with the Stress of Being a Caregiver

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Have you heard the term “sandwich generation”? This is the group of people struggling to meet the needs of both growing children and aging parents, often alone and working full-time. Many of these caregivers may be setting themselves up for an unhealthy future due to a combination of high stress and poor health behaviors.

A recent UCLA study found that caregivers for the aging or disabled are subjected to considerable financial and emotional strain. Most caregivers didn’t need scientific research to support their everyday reality. Unfortunately the research also uncovered higher levels of serious psychological distress compared with the general population.

So what should a caregiver do to combat chronic stress which can lead to anxiety and depression? Here are some recommendations that will help you cope with the extra strain of being a caregiver:

  • Recreate. Consider relief options such as taking long weekends or vacations. You deserve some time off and can come back refreshed to care for your love one.
  • Express your feelings. Feelings of anger or frustration when they not expressed leads to more stress. You may not be able to express this to the person you’re caring for but by writing in a journal, writing a poem, or composing a letter that is never mailed may accomplish your purpose.
  • Keep perspective and look for the positive. Reversing negative ideas and learning to focus on positive outcomes sounds simple but it helps reduce tension.
  • Have a sense of humor. Keeping a sense of humor during difficult situations is a must. Laughing releases the tension of pent-up feelings and helps you keep perspective.
  • Exercise. Exercise is an effective distraction from stressful events and keeps your body and immune system stronger.
  • Strengthen or establish a support network. Studies of people who remain happy and healthy despite many life stresses show that most have very good networks of social support. Consider joining a support group for caregivers.
  • Professional help. A mental health professional should be consulted for unmanageable acute stress or for severe anxiety or depression. Often short-term therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can resolve stress-related emotional problems.
  • Relaxation techniques. Learn methods for invoking the relaxation response such as deep breathing, meditation or massage.

Above all don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself! If you need help find a therapist who can help get you back on track or contact my office in Portland, Oregon or Vancouver, Washington.

Addressing the Challenges of Adoptive Families

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Thousands of children are adopted every year in the United States. Raising an adopted child and growing up adopted only applies to a specific group of people. Because of that, it does make them different, creating a unique set of challenges. Adoptive families can create a successful family unit, but the key to doing so is knowledge and application of such knowledge.

If you are thinking about adopting a child or have done so already, it is vital that you educate yourself about the effects that adoption can have on you and your child. You are both involved in a completely new experience and you must be prepared. Where can you go to educate yourself on parenting an adopted child? Fortunately the resources are endless!

Books and seminars are a wonderful place to start. You can also consider joining a support group with other parents that have adopted. Finding a group of people that can relate to the blessings and the challenges can be a real source of comfort.

Being an adoptive parent myself, I have found that one of the most valuable resources would be to regularly speak to an adoption professional who is also a mental health care professional. Since each adoptive family is different, this type of professional can specifically address the needs of your family. Books and seminars are for the masses, but a one to one discussion will be completely focused on your needs and the needs of your child. If you live in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington area, I would be happy to assist you. Contact my office to set up an appointment. If you live elsewhere, speak to your doctor or pediatrician for a referral.

The blessing of raising an adopted child are plenty. Take the time to be prepared to meet the challenges. You'll be happy you did! For more information, visit Adoptive Families.

Family of People with Asperger Syndrome: How to Combat Chronic Stress

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Chronic stress is a serious health concern. Many do not realize that if stress is not managed, the side effects can be severe. Chronic stress increases the risk of heart problems, strokes, susceptibility to infections and gastrointestinal problems. Stress can also affect weight. Some people suffer a loss of appetite and lose weight while others develop cravings for salt, fat, and sugar to counteract tension and end up gaining weight. Tension-type headache episodes are highly associated with stress. The tensions of unresolved stress can also frequently cause insomnia, generally keeping the stressed person awake or causing awakening in the middle of the night or early morning. Stress also has significant effects on the brain, particularly on memory. The typical victim of severe stress suffers loss of concentration at work and at home and may become inefficient and accident-prone.

If you have a loved one with Asperger Syndrome, you may be suffering from chronic stress. My advice to you is to take some time for "self-care." It's difficult to sometimes take time for ourselves, but it is necessary. Think about it this way, if you do not take care of yourself, it will be impossible to take care of others especially for your Aspie loved one. Self-care is different for every individual. For some it may be a trip to a massage therapist or a chiropractor. For others it may be reading a good book, taking a hot bath, or going for a run. Whatever it is, do it! Do not delay.

If taking a little "me" time is not lowering your stress level, you may need a more aggressive approach. I highly recommend therapy which will help you to learn valuable coping mechanisms. For more information, visit Managing Stress and Asperger Syndrome Support.

If you live in the Portland, Oregon area, I invite you to join the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD. On November 19, 2011 at 1:00 PM, we will be discussing "Adrenal Failure." Come prepared with your self-care tips.


Click here to learn more about my book Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going Over the Edge?

How to Cope with Grieving

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Losing a loved one in death is the most painful experience we face as humans. It doesn't matter if it is expected or happens unexpectedly, the experience is painful. The process of grieving is different for everyone.

It has been stated that there are five stages to grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Experiencing these emotions are normal, but as I mentioned earlier, it is different depending on the individual. Do not be discouraged if you have not experienced all of these emotions or if you experience them out of order. Whatever you experience is unique to you.

You may feel that you will never move past the grief that you are experiencing. It's true that grieving is a wild ride and you will experience many highs and lows through the course of your life. Instead of staying in neutral during the grieving process, take steps to help you move forward with your own life. You are alive and your loved one would want you to live your life to the fullest.

Here are some tips to help move you through the grieving:

Lean on your family and friends. Your family and close friends love you. They want to be there for you. They may not always say or do the right thing, but having good support is crucial in this time. (A note to family and friends: Be a good listener. Many times we just want to jump in and fix the problem, but this is a problem that can't be undone. Just being there is all they may need.)

Self-care. Try your best to get proper rest. Eat well and exercise. Physical health will ultimately assist your mental health. In addition, find things that make you happy. Going for a walk, get a pet, or find a hobby.

Find a support group. Being part of a support group will help you to see you are not alone. It is a safe place to share your feelings, free from judgment. Click here for tips on how to find the right support group.

Psychotherapy. Do not get down on yourself if you just cannot move past your grief. Psychotherapy will help. A therapist will be able to help you identify your grief roadblocks and give you practical solutions. Click here for information about therapy options.

Grieving takes time. Be patient with yourself and those around you. Visit When to Seek Help for more information.

Are You a Neuro-Typical in an Asperger Relationship? You Are Not Alone!

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Loneliness is common for those who have an Asperger partner or family member. I am constantly reminding my clients who are in this position that they are not alone. Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD now has 298 members. Our members are from all over the world. I wanted to share a few thoughts from our overseas members to remind all of you that you are in fact NOT ALONE.

"Thank you for welcoming me in your group. My husband and I met met over 25 years ago and his defense all those years was blaming me for everything that went wrong in his or our life. It was an eye opener that he was diagnosed with Asperger's and now it is time to become ME again. The ME I was when I was just a teenager. I can't battle autism (and I am not in war with autism) but I refuse to let me be overruled by it."

"Hi Kathy, thanks for your welcome. Its a great relief finding this group. My husband is an aspie - nobody understood me. Being isolated and unbelieved made me feel crazy. Then one day I found your book and I realized "this is my story - this is my life."

I appreciate the personal thoughts and comments from our members. The topic for the next Meetup is "You are not alone. Let's play!" It will be held on September 17, 2011 at 1:00 PM in Portland, Oregon. It's time to reaffirm your friendships and reaffirm your right to be alive. We all deserve some time to have some fun! Are you a Neuro-Typical in an Asperger relationship? You are not alone – join us!

Click here for more information about the book, "Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going Over the Edge?"

Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Update

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Good news! The word is spreading quickly about our Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Support Group. I recently received an email from a member of another Asperger Support Group - Aspergers and Other Half: The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome. She had heard about us through another member in her group and decided to become an online member of our group.

I wanted to express my appreciation to all who are spreading the word. The response has been overwhelming! It is a reminder of how many people are out there who are in need of support. This is a great start, but there’s much more work to be done.

Thank you to all our members who continually add a level of love and honesty that makes our group so special. If you live in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area, join us Saturday July 16, 2011 as we discuss the topic "Equality or Freedom." So often we NTs (neurotypicals) get stuck on the lack of empathy or reciprocity in our relationships with adults on the Autism Spectrum. While it is true that the "mind blindness" prevents many with ASDs from recognizing our feelings, thoughts and needs, there may be another way to survive this lack of reciprocity.

I think we have to stop thinking in terms of "Equality" and instead think of "Freedom." We are much better able to detach from our feelings of anger and hurt, when we step back and accept "Freedom" as our guide. We seldom win equality, but we can get to a place where we have Freedom . . . at least to us.

What is Freedom to each individual just depends, doesn't it? One person may find Freedom in his or her life by leaving the relationship. Another may devote his or her energy to more reciprocal relationships in the family. And still another may relish the few moments that his or her Aspie makes you laugh. It all just depends what each of us thinks is freeing.

Let's use this summer meetup to expand our concept of how to cope with these difficult relationships . . . without giving up who you are.

Is There a Disconnect between Cognitive and Emotional Empathy for People with Asperger’s?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Does the subject of "empathy" confuse you, especially with regard to your Aspie loved ones? They seem so sensitive at times and yet clueless about your feelings. Could it be a disconnect between what is in their hearts and what is in their heads?

Simon Baron-Cohen, a British researcher, tells us that a defining quality of Autism is a deficiency in empathy. But in practical terms just what does that mean? A deeper look into the research tells us that those with Asperger's may have a disconnect between the two major types of empathy, Emotional Empathy (EE) and Cognitive Empathy (CE). If you have Emotional Empathy (EE), you can feel the emotions of others (or animals, a noted Autistic strength).

But there is a huge problem with having only EE. Can you tell if what you are feeling is yourself or the other person? And even if you can figure out that these feelings are coming from another person, can you talk about it? You need Cognitive Empathy(CE) in order to recognize the bigger picture of who is feeling what and how to talk to the other person "empathetically."

As a neurotypical with a Asperger loved one in your life, have you pondered this dilemma? If so, you are not the only one. Join us on June 18, 2011 in Portland, Oregon for the Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup. We will be discussing this topic in detail and would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. We will be taking this research a step further into our personal experience and discuss how we live with it and what to do about it.

If you are unable to attend, please become a member online and jump into our online discussions.

Do You Feel Alone in an Asperger Relationship?

Friday, May 20, 2011


Do you feel alone even though you have a family? This is a common feeling for neurotypicals (NTs) who are in an Asperger marriage or have a family member with Asperger Syndrome. Even though you have a family, you can still feel very alone. Rest assured that your family member loves you, but they are blind to the emotional needs that you have. This is known as "mind-blindness." You may logically be able to comprehend this fact about your loved one, but after time, it can take a toll on you emotionally and even physically.

Your family may not understand what you are going through, but there are others who do. There are many men and women who are in the same situation, coping with the loneliness that comes from being in an Asperger relationship. How can you find each other ? By joining Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD. Time and time again, I hear our members refer to this group as a "family." Its intent is not to replace the family you have, but rather extend it by filling the emotional needs that each individual has. I find it an honor to be a part of this unique family circle.

If you live in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area, I encourage your attendance. Some upcoming topics for discussion are: Is your body taking a beating? Is Asperger’s a disconnect between cognitive and emotional empathy? Is your Asperger partner or loved one a survivor?

If you do not live locally, look for a support group for families of Asperger Syndrome in your area. You are also welcome to join our site and participate on the message boards. We have lively discussions and would love to hear from you. Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD

Also you may find my book helpful. Life with a Partner or Spouse with Asperger Syndrome: Going Over the Edge? is available for purchase. The book primarily focuses on the NT in the relationship and how to guide yourself through these unique relationships. Click here to download a free sample chapter.


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