Living With Someone Who Has an Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD and IsolationLiving with a family member or partner who has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a unique experience that many other families may have difficulty understanding. People with ASD have unique characteristics that may appear odd or
bizarre to outsiders. Things that family members and partners do to help the person with ASD may appear strange to outsiders, and some outsiders may judge these things to be unhealthy. Sometimes professional helpers judge these things as maladaptive because they do not understand what it is like to like with a family member who has an autism spectrum disorder.

Family member:
When a family member, such as a child or sibling has ASD, the family as a system shifts and changes to cope with and support this person. Due to the unusual characteristics of autism, such as the desire for predictability and sameness, these shifts in how the family acts and interacts may appear unhealthy and odd. However, what many people fail to realize is that these shifts are required for the family to cope with and support their ASD member. If the family failed to make these changes, the family itself would not be able to cope.

Partner or Spouse:
Family dynamics or couple dynamics may seem even more unusual when the spouse or partner has ASD. In most of these cases, the partner with ASD is often successful in some areas, and may even be downright brilliant in others. Often the ASD partner is an absolutely wonderful person, but has some unusual quirks or challenges. Often the typical partner finds themselves doing things to help the ASD partner cope that feels a lot like parenting. Sometimes connecting on an emotional level may be challenging. Autistic rituals and desire for sameness may interfere with the relationship. For a more typical partner who did not know a lot about ASD before entering the relationship, the relationship may seem like more work that they had bargained for.

Often learning about ASD, joining support groups and couple, individual, or family counselling can help the situation. It is of note, however, that one of the main reasons for dissatisfaction with couples counselling comes from the counsellor not having an adequate knowledge of ASD.
Suggested reading: Paxton, K. & Estay, I. (2007). Counselling people on the
autism spectrum: A practical manual. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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