Sunday, October 16, 2016

If you love someone who might have Asperger's syndrome, should you tell them?

Over the years, I've been asked this question many, many times. It is a really tricky question because you never quite know how someone is going to take the news. 

The problem occurs when a neurotypical person has a partner who displays many of the signs of Asperger's syndrome but doesn't know that they have it. In this case, the relationship can quickly become very strained. A person with Asperger's syndrome needs to know that their responses are different to a person without Asperger's syndrome.  They need to know that their emotional needs are quite different from those of their partner, more different for example, than simply the differences between men and women.

Unfortunately telling someone that they have a "mental condition" never goes down very well.

Should you tell them?

If you feel that your partner would be open-minded and willing to work on adjusting to your needs - and if you're willing to adjust to theirs, then it's worthwhile telling them. If on the other hand, you're fairly sure that your partner will simply reject the information, or that it will make them angry, then it's really not going to do any good to throw a diagnosis into the mix.

Telling your Partner

If you do decide to talk to your partner about Asperger's syndrome, consider a more tactical approach.  If you have a child with Asperger's and/or suspected Asperger's then it's easy to supply your partner with books on the subject under the guise of "divide and conquer".  If you say, "we'll each read a different book on the subject and talk about what we've learned, you'll probably find that your discussions naturally lead you down the path you expected.

If on the other hand, you don't have a child who can be discussed, things are a little different.

You could try reading out a short passage from a book or from the web and saying "does this sound like you".  If your partner doesn't realise that it's a diagnostic thing, they might be more open to talking about it. If all else fails, and if your partner is willing to give things a go, you can always try the RDOS Aspie test together.

The RDOS Quiz is here;  You don't have to logon if you don't want to, you can go straight to the test.


Anonymous said...

I'd also suggest you question whether you need to confront them with the label of aspergers. Is it because they have problematic behaviours that are affecting the relationship, struggling with some aspects of life or just simply unaware of how they come across? Could you deal with the issues more specifically without dropping the aspegers label on them?

There is also question of what would the benefits be of having such a label? Is it something that they could change, or just a quirk that having an aspegers label won't solve?

JennTeacher said...

I don't know... granted, I don't know many people with Asperger's often, mostly I know and work with people with ADHD and various mental disorders. As hard as the conversation is, I know so many who were relieved to get their diagnosis. It made their life make sense. They spend years or decades asking themselves why they are so different from everyone else, why they can't function the way they think they should. Knowing there is a reason (and sometimes treatment) can make life so much better. Learning to live with something like that is life changing and scary as hell, but knowing is better than not.
However, I wouldn't suggest an armchair diagnosis. If you think someone you love has a mental or neurological or functioning disorder (and they are sometimes so hard to tell apart), take them to a doctor. Get tests before you decide to hoist this on someone.

Anonymous said...

Telling someone "I think you have Asperger's" with the impression that this makes you a problem is vastly different than telling someone "I think you have Asperger's" and if WE learn more about it that could help both of us.

The first version comes with a fairly explicit threat of shape up or get out -- hardly helpful or useful if the person does in fact, have Asperger's.

What would be helpful? Asking someone if they would like some help or support with the difficulties you have noticed. Telling that someone that you love them (and that they are worthy of love) regardless of the fact that they behave differently. Letting the potential Aspergian know that they are not required to go on this journey of uncertainty alone.

Telling someone they have Asperger's is no big deal. The big deal is the message and actions you deliver after your suspicions. Besides, what do you imagine is going to happen if you don't tell them?

Anonymous said...

Also keep an eye out for *other* causes.

Did this person's family diligently *train* him or her to shun people skills, obsess over something (such as winning every last point on academic tests or following every last detail in religious rules)?

Did this person favor media that *discourages* having lots of friends and motor skills by accusing popular and/or athletic people of being inherently inferior?

Sometimes it's a subculture, not a neurological condition.

Anonymous said...

Also, keep an eye out for the symptoms of the syndrome that *can't* be taught.

Southern Girl said...

Great post. I would love some more specific advice (if possible?) for broaching the subject of Aspbergers with an undiagnosed adult. How do I discuss this with a loved one in a way that is useful to him?

My boyfriend (of just 9 months) has mentioned twice that he thought he might have Aspbergers, but each time he said it tentatively and sort of in passing. The second time, when I gently asked what led him to think that, he said his ex-wife had told him. Then he dismissed it, noting that she says “mean things” to him. I did not further the conversation, which I now regret.

Since that time, I have read just about everything I can get my hands on about Aspbergers and how to use communication strategies that work for both of us (this helps, but is all one-sided since I am the only using them, lol). At this point, there is no question in my mind that he has a wonderful Aspbergers brain I value and admire, and I think that if he had an official diagnosis, he would have a path to feel SO MUCH BETTER about himself. However, he does not like “help” in any form, and I am worried that discussing Aspbergers in the context of, “Maybe this is why you are so unique and it might be helpful to find out” could backfire.

Thanks in advance for your ideas about how to discuss this! He has been so criticized in his life—as many of you can probably relate to—and is sensitive. I do not want to offend him or cause him to shut down.

If it matters at all, he is 44 and I am 51. We are both divorced, both have kids from our marriages, and are both well-educated and professionally employed. Despite his outward successes, I sometimes think I value him more than he values himself. ☹


Gavin Bollard said...

Southern Girl,

You might find that these thoughts are best expressed to him in a love letter.

The best way to start would be like a letter .... ie: Dear Boyfriend but then go on to tell him how much you love and value him exactly as he is and how you wouldn't want to change anything.

Then perhaps mention that you don't want to hurt him and that your intentions are to help him feel better about himself.

Remind him that if he doesn't want to discuss it any further, he just has to say to you, "I don't want to discuss it" and let him know that you'll respect that choice.

Let him know that he can change the choice whenever he wants by saying I want to talk about it.

This should allay his fears.

Once you've done that, just tell him that sometimes understanding himself will make it easier for him to accept himself and not be so hard on himself.

The beauty of writing a letter is that he can read it when he wants -- and he can read it when you're not around -- which will help him to keep his responses under control.

Also, remember to sign off with "love" to reassure him that nothing has changed in his relationship.

I hope it works for you.


Southern Girl said...


This sounds like a great plan. Thank you so much.

We have been using letters to communicate about relationship topics already and it works reasonably well. Sometimes it takes him a day or more to respond during our correspondence, but I can tell that when he does, he has given the topic a lot of thought, and the letters deepen our understanding. This is very helpful since we have not known each other all that long.

I will try your advice soon and revert to let you know how it goes.

Here's hoping he will someday soon be able to experience the relief of the adult diagnosis I have read from others on here!

Thank you again.