My Sincere Apology.
Last week a social media post appeared in my name, causing unexpected backlash, primarily from members of the forum, “Surprise You’re Autistic.” Before going any further, I want to apologize for the distress this post caused to members of that forum, their families, and to others who may have been caught up in the distressing comments flying back and forth.
It is entirely my fault that this post appeared as it did. I did not view the post before it went out. I didn’t edit it. I let it slip by for no reason, other than I was preoccupied with personal matters (three aging and dying pets, etc.). I should have halted all operations while I was taking care of personal business. I am sorry that I didn’t heed my own advice of taking care of myself first. I tried to juggle too much at once. As a result, several people were offended, or hurt, or simply confused by Dr. Marshack’s odd post.
When the first complaints surfaced, I didn’t respond right away. I assumed it was just one or two people who objected to my professional opinion. In my 40 plus years of professional practice, I am no stranger to controversy.
However, when the complaints started to flood in on social media, I made an attempt to answer the questions and comments, but it didn’t seem to help. In fact people grew increasingly more angry and threatening toward me, which was confusing. You see, I hadn’t yet looked at the offensive post, so my responses may have sounded off point.
None of the complainants had specified which post was bothersome to them. Instead they complained that I was dangerous, incompetent, cruel, and worse, using derogatory words. Finally, I asked a complainant to send me the offensive post, so that I could take appropriate action. She was kind enough to do so. On Thursday afternoon last week, I saw the post for the first time and realized the mistake. I could understand why so many people were angry, because the post did not accurately reflect my professional work nor my opinions, and worse because of the implications of the poorly worded post.
Once I read the post, I closed down all of my social media and consulted with my staff. I certainly didn’t want anyone else to be distressed by my carelessness, so my first course of action was to close the social media sites temporarily. I also consulted colleagues and social media experts for advice. I wanted to find a way to help those who were hurt and to prevent this type of problem in the future. At least with the sites shut down, no one else had to be exposed to the miscommunication and angry threats.
Everyone agreed that it was vital to shut down the social media sites so that the angry and retaliatory commenting was stopped. Plus the offensive post was removed. I still receive hate email, phone calls, and other messages, but at least the general public is not being exposed.
Next, I promise that all future posts will be screened by myself personally before they are sent out. You may still find something to disagree with me about, but at least I will do my best to make sure my posts are respectful, thoughtful and well documented.
Lastly, I am writing this blog to clarify what the message was supposed to be in the ill-begotten post — in case anyone wants to know. I realize that you may be convinced otherwise, but I do care about my Spectrum and Non-Spectrum clients and social media followers. I would never want them to be harmed by a careless mistake.
What I Should Have Said.
I am not going to rewrite the blog here but I want to highlight some points that got lost in the poorly edited post. These points may still be controversial to some of you, but they are based on my many years of clinical experience and the scientific research. Please bear with me as you read the following. Realize that there is a lot more between the lines.
- Many of my Non-Spectrum (or Neuro-Typical) clients often tell me that they believe their Autistic partners/spouses are narcissistic. As tough as this is for my Spectrum friends to hear, this is what I hear. The reason for this belief is that the ASD partners will say and do things that resemble narcissistic behavior. For example, the ASD partner may argue their point, without always acknowledging that their spouse may have another valid point of view. Even though the ASD mate may not mean to be disrespectful, it is felt this way by their NT spouse.
- Yes of course people on the Autism Spectrum have feelings such as compassion and love. However, due to sensory sensitivities, alexithymia, context blindness, and other symptoms of ASD, they may experience an inability to express their feelings. Nor can they often acknowledge the feelings of others. This leaves NTs confused about why their ASD loved one can be so congenial at work or with neighbors, but not acknowledge what is going on with their sweetheart. The NT experiences this contradiction as manipulative.
- Because of the above problems — lack of reciprocity in a conversation, or inability to recognize/acknowledge/speak to the emotions of others — many researchers have offered the theory that those on the Spectrum have an empathy dysfunction. This is not the same as a compassion dysfunction, or a love dysfunction, or a kindness dysfunction. Simon Baron-Cohen refers to it as “Zero Degrees of Empathy” in the book of the same name. Peter Vermeulen refers to it as “Context Blindness, “ in the book of the same name.
- If you are interested in learning more about this complex issue, I wrote a blog about these issues from my professional and personal experience. Please read my blog, Empathy: “Asperger’s” Style. It contains a lot of eye opening answers.
What these authors are trying to convey is that the relationship with NTs may break down because it “feels” like a lack of empathy to NTs, when their ASD loved ones talk over them, or don’t wait for them to describe their inner experience, or dismiss their opinions outright just because the NT didn’t explain it to the liking of the Autistic person.
- Many complainants objected to my use of the term, “Aspie.” They also complained about my use of the terms “Asperger Syndrome” and “Aspergers.” They rightly asserted that these terms are outdated according to the American Psychiatric Association (of which I am not a member since I am a psychologist, not a psychiatrist). However, I have continued to use the terms for a couple of reasons, which I have explained on my website (https://asd-ntrelationships.com/about-hans-asperger-m-d/).
- First, the term “Aspie” was adopted by people on the Autism Spectrum as shorthand to describe themselves. It hardly seems derogatory to use the term those with ASD decided to use to describe themselves.
- Secondly, I have continued to use the common language for a similar reason. It is much easier for my clients and followers to use the term “Asperger Syndrome,” because it is what they know. The current diagnostic language is not always commonsense. For example, “Manic-Depressive Disorder” seems to make more sense to most people than “Bipolar Disorder,” although the latter is more diagnostically correct.
2. My last point is that all people are capable of being unkind and even cruel. We all have a bit of neuroticism or insecurity within, that can lead to narcissistic thinking and conduct. Autistic people are no more prone to narcissism than anyone else. All I was trying to convey in my original blog is that because of the inherent “Zero Degrees of Empathy,” as Simon Baron-Cohen calls it, Autistics can embrace narcissism as a counterweight to their lack of empathy. Neuro-Typicals find a different way to embrace narcissism. Neither way is OK.
Hate Is No Solution.
Maya Angelou said,
it has caused a lot of problems in the world,
but has never solved one yet.”
I have learned some valuable lessons as a result of my regrettable social media post.
- I have an important responsibility to the people I serve (my clients, readers and social media followers). This is too important to be careless about the words I send out to you.
- I need to listen when people are upset. There may be more behind the upset than I could have imagined. For example, Autistics and NTs alike have a long history of feeling maligned, misunderstood and forgotten.
- While I have plenty to learn yet in this field, I do have considerable experience and I care. I have a lot to offer those who seek me out.
- I do not deserve to be treated with disrespect, regardless of my mistakes. I will not tolerate abusive language on any of my sites. Even if others will not forgive me, my own self forgiveness is healing.
Thank you for taking the time to read this long post. It just touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes to resolving problems such as we NTs find in “Life with an adult on the Autism Spectrum.” I hope that you agree with me that hatred is a waste of time and that forgiveness opens the doorway to resolution of our differences.