Families of Adults Affected
by Asperger's Syndrome
“Counselling for Asperger Couples” excerpt
Barrie Thompson, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, UK, 2008
Stage Four: Acknowledging Different Perspectives
I want to conclude this chapter by giving some recognition to a debilitating condition that can be experienced by the spouses of people with AS (often at the hands of family members, friends and colleagues), that is referred to as the Cassandra phenomenon. I think the following quote from the Families of Adults Affected by Asperger Syndrome (FAAAS) website (www.faaas.org/doc.php?40) aptly explains the naming of this syndrome.
I ended up feeling that no one would listen to me and came up with a name for the ‘syndrome’ that affects the non-AS spouse: The CASSANDRA PHENOMENON, Cassandra being the Greek mythological character who was given the gift of prophecy, but also the curse of having no one believe her even though she was right! (Anonymous, Massachusetts, 1999).
It is usually both a blessing and a relief when an NT spouse learns about AS (perhaps from a magazine article or a TV programme) and feels she now has an explanation for her husband’s unusual behavious. But it is demoralizing and extremely frustrating if the AS husband rejects her theory out of hand. Imagine then, as a next step the NT spouse seeks support from the extended family; ‘Perhaps mum-in-law might be able to give me some childhood history of my husband?’ She optomistically thinks this might help, only to be told quite firmly, ‘There’s nothing wrong with my son, I suggest you look a bit closer to home!’ Not only have the NT spouse’s hopes been dashed with regard to gaining support from her mother-in-law, but the relationship between herself and all of her in-laws has probably now been seriously damaged and even more tension may be generated at home between her and her husband.
Still intent on gaining credibility for the theroy that her husband exhibits Asperger-type behaviour, she then seeks the support of people in her and her husband’s social network. The problem here might be that the AS husband (assuming the wife’s theory is indeed correct), is one of those ‘chameleon-like’ people that can fit in reasonably well in certain situations. A typical type of response in these circumstances from the NT spouse’s friend might then be, ‘I think he’s a little different to other men, but I think that’s kind of cute. I don’t think he’s as bad as you are making out.’ Ironically, it may have been the ‘cute difference’ that initially attracted the NT partner to her AS spouse when they first met!
No way forward here, then for our NT partner as people outside the relationship only see a limited part of the AS man. They don’t experience him in an emotional context, they don’t witness his rituals, his routines or his inflexible lifestyle that occur for the most part within the confines of the home. FAAAS gave further credence to this problem in 19977 (1997 kr) when they described it thus:
FAAAS came up with the term “Mirror Syndrome” to explain the way NT spouses and the NT family members adversely affected by AS behaviors, over time, begin to reflect the persona of AS behaviours we live with, twenty-four seven. We are isolated, no one validates us, we lose friends and family, and we feel like ‘hostages’ in our own homes. (FAAAS website)
My reasons for drawing attention to this condition, be it named Cassandra phenomenon or Mirror Syndrome, is to let NT partners who are in this plight know that their situation is recognised. It is known that loneliness, anxiety and depression can result when they try to tell people about their AS situation, but they ar not listened to to or are thought of as being melodramatic or even paranoid. I also hope that family members, friends and colleagues may in future take notice and be more prepared to hear what ‘Cassandra’ has to say.”