Aspergers in Love
eBook - ePub

Aspergers in Love

Maxine Aston

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  1. 232 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Aspergers in Love

Maxine Aston

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About This Book

Asperger syndrome (AS) has often been considered to be incompatible with love and relationships, but as the number of people who are diagnosed with the disorder increases, it is becoming apparent that people with AS can and do have full and intimate relationships. Comparing and contrasting both AS and non-AS partners' viewpoints, this book frankly examines the fundamental aspects of relationships that are often complicated by the disorder. With all findings illustrated with case examples taken from interviews conducted with couples, the author tackles issues such as attraction, trust, communication, sex and intimacy, and parenting. Drawing on her extensive research and established career as a Relate counsellor, Maxine Aston has produced a much-needed analysis of intimate relationships where one adult has AS and this book is a must for all those with AS and their partners, as well as for friends, family and counsellors.

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In my first book I looked at the core elements that attracted an NT woman to an AS man. Initial attraction seemed to be based on the kind, gentle and quiet manner men with Asperger syndrome can often exhibit. Many of the NT women in my research appeared to be strong, nurturing and with excellent social abilities. From this, it could be assumed that these are the qualities that attracted their partners to them. My latest research has put this to the test.
I asked the AS men what it was that initially attracted them to their partner. Many men based their attraction to a particular woman on how much she was attracted to them. Being liked, approved and needed appeared very important to men with AS. This is not surprising when one looks at the very nature of AS and how it differs from autism.
The world of the autistic adolescent excludes other children and there is often no need to be in the company of other people, to appear popular amongst peers or to be liked by others. Asperger syndrome is very different, and the adolescent often has a very strong desire to be popular and liked. Adolescents want to be part of a group and desperately need to be accepted by those around them. Unfortunately for many AS adolescents, the desire to be popular is present but the social ability to achieve the popularity is not. Communication skills and the capability for successful social interaction are often lacking so, despite many efforts, the adolescent with Asperger syndrome never seems to get it quite right.
I asked one adolescent with AS if he had many friends, to which he replied in the affirmative.
‘How do you know they are your friends?’ I asked.
‘Because they ask me to help them with their homework,’ came his reply.
This teenager was an absolute wizard at mathematics and was completely naive to the fact his peers were using him to help them achieve higher grades. This eventually reached a head when three identical pieces of coursework were handed in!
Lack of ability in reading the more subtle facial expressions and body language also make it difficult for the AS adolescent to know when another person is being friendly or sarcastic. One teenager told me that if a girl smiled at him, he would approach her and ask her what she was doing that evening. This came before the normal introductions and building up some sort of rapport. He was, needless to say, given some very frank replies but still used the same chat up line. His eagerness to be liked and accepted caused him endless problems, as his intentions were so often completely misread. This is not uncommon for the AS adolescent, which is why it is important that teachers and professionals are aware of the difficulties that having Asperger syndrome can engender.
For the AS adult, the need to be liked and accepted still exists and it is often the NT woman who makes the first move or shows him quite clearly that she is attracted to him. It might be that she simply smiles at him, or strikes up a conversation with him that will have given him the signal that she likes him. The way a prospective partner makes him feel and fits into his world is often paramount in whether the relationship will progress. It is her attraction to him that often becomes his attraction to her.
Physical attraction rather than sexual attraction also plays an important role in the AS agenda and it appears to be a specific aspect of the partner’s appearance that catches his interest. In my research, hair and eyes were highest on the preference list. Asperger syndrome produces a very narrow focus and rather than seeing the complete person, a specific part of her face or body may be the attraction. Sexual attraction was rarely mentioned and did not seem very high on the list of requirements. Only one man mentioned breasts, and another talked about bottoms. Legs did not get a look in! This may explain why many women say that part of their initial attraction to their AS partner was that he was such a gentleman and his intentions did not appear to be sexual. This can be very appealing and refreshing especially if a woman has a history of over-eager men who might have made her feel that her attraction was purely sexual. It can come as quite a relief to feel at ease and comfortable with a man who is gentle and attentive and she will often see this as a sign of respect for her. However, it is quite likely that this is because having sex with her is not top of his list of priorities and he is more interested in how well she fits into his world and how well they are matched academically.
In some cases Asperger syndrome can produce heightened sensory perception, and the senses may be very attuned to external stimulation. It may be sensitivity to light, or particular smells or certain fabrics. This may also play a part in partner choice. One man was able instantly to recognize the perfume a woman wore; he had the most amazing sense and memory for smell. He had favourites, and it was very important to him that his partner wore the right perfume. He made sure of this by buying her perfumes and bath oils quite early in the relationship. His girlfriend interpreted this as generosity whereas, in fact, he was ensuring that his needs were satisfied. Needless to say, it was almost certain that to please him she would wear the perfume! On the other hand, this man could also be very honest in his opinion of a person’s body odour and told one date that she smelt of body odour! As can be imagined, the relationship ended there.
These likes and dislikes can be very rigid: if an AS man likes long hair it is unlikely he would find a woman with short hair attractive. If a woman he meets does not quite meet his criteria, he may try to mould her into his ideal partner. It is conceivable that he has very rigid definitions of femininity, perhaps originating with his mother or even someone he has seen on television. His idea of being feminine might require, for instance, that the woman has long nails, and he will actively encourage his new partner to grow and maintain long manicured nails. This could be via praise of her, or by telling her of a previous girlfriend with beautiful nails. Or it may be directed at her in a very critical and hurtful way such as showing disappointment if she does not come up to his expectations.
One man liked his partner to wear stockings, which she found not always comfortable. When she refused to wear them to take the dog for a walk in the park, he informed her that he was very disappointed in her behaviour and took it very personally. He could not understand that it was about the practicality of the situation and not personal spite.
Many AS men have a history of being rejected and bullied, so when he meets a woman who meets the necessary criteria for wife or partner he will make every effort to impress her and make her happy. He will focus all his attention on her and make her feel very special indeed. Many women describe this courtship time as a happy and a special time in the relationship, which unfortunately often comes to an abrupt end once the relationship is sealed. At this time many NT women are left disillusioned and wondering how they got it all so wrong that they did not see their partner’s true character.
It does appear though that it is not only the women who are left feeling like this, as their AS partners describe a similar feeling. They use terms like ‘she seemed to like me’, ‘she seemed to be good fun’ or ‘she seemed to be gentle’. This is said in a way that indicates they are also feeling that they got it wrong! If both partners in the relationship are left feeling as though they were deceived into believing their partner was different from their current behaviour, they could become equally resentful and both will stop giving and trying to please the other. This can have a very destructive effect on both partners and when the NT partner tries to explain why she is reacting differently, it is often misunderstood by the AS partner. He may have difficulty realizing that when he gave her so much attention and care, she was happy and went out of her way to please him. However, when he suddenly stopped putting in any effort into the relationship after they moved in together, she became unhappy and reacted against this.
This is due to the lack of imaginative thought which occurs in Asperger syndrome and results in the AS person not being able to see the consequences of his actions. He very often does not make the link between his behaviour and her reaction. He does not realize that if he shows her the same love and attention he did in the beginning, she will probably reciprocate his affection.
The views of AS women about attraction are very similar to those of AS men. Physical attraction is limited to a particular feature and, once again, it is hair and eyes that are particularly mentioned. Some women were attracted by the sense of authority a man offered, being mature or a father figure. All the men were older than the women, sometimes by many years. (This age difference also appears to affect AS men, as many are in relationships with an older woman.)
Another similarity between AS men and women is that their attraction depends very much on how much the potential partner likes them. One woman said quite categorically that she never did like her partner when they met and they only married because he was so attracted to her and was persistent. She said he mistook her friendliness as a sign that she was attracted to him, when in fact this was very far removed from the truth.
In summary, adults with AS are initially attracted to a potential partner because the potential partner shows that they like them and appears to offer them acceptance. Physical attraction seems to depend on a particular feature of the person, for example, eyes, and, finally, the attraction is unlikely to be entirely a sexual one.
The next most important factor in whether the relationship progresses is whether their potential partner has similar interests to theirs.
Key points
•  An AS man often bases his attraction to a particular woman on how much she is attracted to him.
•  Physical attraction is more relevant than sexual attraction in partner choice by both men and women with AS.
•  Hair and eyes are the most frequently mentioned and desirable physical attributes of the chosen NT partner.
•  Sensitivity to smell or particular fabrics was apparent for some AS men.
•  The likes and dislikes held by the AS male can be very rigid.
•  Initially, the AS male may do everything possible to make his new partner feel special and happy.
•  Later in the relationship both partners are sometimes left feeling that ‘they got it all wrong’.
•  AS men and women described the reasons they were attracted to their chosen partner in very similar ways.
Shared Interests
Special interests can form an integral part of Asperger syndrome and therefore it is not surprising to discover that choice of partner is very often strongly linked to shared interests. These similarities do not just include activities and hobbies, but also beliefs, standards and attitudes.
Love of music is very important and was the most frequently cited shared interest. This was not always just listening to music, but also musical talent and ability. Appreciation by both partners of the same music rates very highly. Music can be very mood changing and can offer a temporary escape from the stresses of life. It is therapeutic and the mind can be totally absorbed by it; it appears to play an essential role for many AS adults. Another plus about listening to music together is that there is no need to talk at the same time. Music is about listening, not talking and can form a very important part of relaxing and winding down; it can offer a useful distraction when anxiety is high.
The love of music may be linked to the heightened sensory perception that is often associated with Asperger syndrome, and sounds can either enhance relaxation or provoke stress and frustration. Sensitivity to certain sounds, pitches and notes are likely to be responsible for this. High-pitched sounds and indeed voices seem to grate with AS children and adults just like chalk on a blackboard. One AS man threatened his neighbour that if he did not stop his dog barking he would take action to make the dog quiet. The dog’s bark was very high-pitched and caused him quite severe stress and anxiety.
Second on the list is the theatre. The theatre, like music, can offer an escape from reality and all the stresses of day-to-day living. It is a chance to ‘people watch’ and observe how others behave. Because of the problems in social interaction, many people with AS often learn to role-play by observing other people. This may be from real life, television, cinema or theatre, and it is not uncommon to adopt certain habits, expressions or even accents that have been observed in others. The other bonus about going to the theatre or to watch a show together is that the audience is not expected to converse all the way through it.
A shared interest in the arts, whether music, opera, art or theatre, seems likely to exist between a couple when one partner has Asperger syndrome. For others it may be dining out or maybe just sharing a take-away together.
History is another interest that may be shared; it could be the royal family, a particular era or buil...

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