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.
23 Replies to “My Mistake — My Apology — My Correction”
I learn so much reading your blogs, you are always professional and humble. I truly believe people are just too easily insulted rather NT or autistic. I relate to almost everything you write. We can seek to understand but in the end must protect our own health and sanity, and act in our own best interest and that is different for everyone. And you are so right, hate never solves anything. Also, I really wish they did not lump Aspbergers in with autism. I see so many distinctions between the two terms and associated behaviors.
I agree Linda – people are too easily insulted. I am seeking to understand how the mind of someone with Aspergers functions and I appreciate Dr. Marshack’s knowledge and experience. I too also agree that Aspergers should not have been lumped into the “Autism Spectrum”.
Us quiet people really appreciate your knowledge and insights. You help us so much cope with our sad difficult lives.
Patricia – I never used to be a quiet or sad person. In reading your words it hit me. I have become a quiet person. Living with an AS husband forces me to be more reserved and I am so sad that we can not communicate well at all. I am 63 and don’t hold out much hope anything to change anytime soon. However, this site does give me some sense of hope and tools for coping.
I am thankful Dr. Kathy has dedicated her life to keeping the stormy mixed neurological relationships afloat and with such elegance and heart. You truly are too kind. This is such a brouhaha stirred up by the vocal and hostile hashtag actually autistic faction who have an animus toward non-spectrum people twice the size as the chip on their shoulder.
The famous couples counselor and men’s issues expert Terry Real talks about narcissism all the time (including his own) as part of being an average American male. A quick check of youtube finds him teaching men how their entitlement, grandiosity and narcissism need reckoning with if they’re to have fair egalitarian relationships with a women under patriarchal systems of government like ours. We don’t see people going after him, trying to ruin his extremely successful career. Are we to believe autistic men are EXEMPT from narcissistic tendencies?
We are all narcissistic to some extent. That this trait can go too far on one end of the continuum can send some people into a doxxing frenzy tells you all you need to about what that looks like.
Long live Dr. Kathy.
I appreciate your kind words and so appreciate your work!! You explain the Asperger mind eloquently, and in a way that has helped me regain self esteem, love for myself, and compassion for myself for what I live with, so that I don’t have to tolerate his self-centered ways silently! You and your work have changed my life and I am so very grateful!! I didn’t realize your social media sites has been shut down. I was confused that Aspies were on what I thought was our (NT) site, laughing at my posts and saying you were wrong, clearly showing their Aspergers self-centeredness. I guess I prefer not to be with them, it’s enough living with one. I still regard you highly, recommend and often share your words with my therapist!!! Thank you for being you!!!
Dr Marshack, I think your blog post has gone some way to clarifying your position and reframimg some of your previous post in a more considered and less problematic way. I appreciate that you’ve done this, it’s not always easy to step back and reflect in the way you have. Thank you. I am still concerned however about how you write and how that is interpreted by the people who follow you. I think the comment above is a prime example of this and it might be something further to reflect on. Thanks again for taking the time to write this blog, I think it was a positive thing to do.
“To err is human; to forgive, is divine.” Alexander Pope
“narcissistic behavior” is not a diagnosis:10 years ago when my xASH was reading around and discovered ASD as an explanation for his life-long issues, we invited our mutual life-long loyal friend Neil to stay over with us. He witnessed a “discussion” between my then husband and I, trying to work something out. That of course had always been difficult for (the AS/NT) reasons we were clueless about. But since his self-diagnosis he had been experimenting with expressing himself more openly than his previous custom of simply copying the way I talked. This time he expressed disagreement with me in “put-down” language. Our friend objected more strongly against him treating me that way than even I did, and my husband defended himself against making an error in his views. But our friend was trained in psychology, and he noted the behavior as “narcissistic”. When he then looked up narcissistic behaviors in his DSM, it of course appears as a “behavior”/”symptom” under many “diagnoses”; it is not a diagnosis itself, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Autism Spectrum Disorder is! He may have picked a diagnosis for him or simply used the word “narcissistic” in a return phone call to my husband to express his concern about him having a mental illness, I guess. My husband felt insulted, may have insulted back, and it was destroying their friendship. It took me weeks of explaining the behavior/diagnosis mismatch to both of them, while my ASD husband did more study of the autism literature about empathy, and eventually I made peace between them as I described my understanding of autistic behaviors to them. This must have been after Baron-Cohen was publishing but before Vermeulen, but my xASH and I saw the distinction someone made between a complete lack of the EMOTIONAL response of empathy (xASH has this response so strongly that he creeps people out as he squeeze hugs them and cries somehow inappropriately!) and the COGNITIVE component of empathy — identifying each person’s emotion and distinguishing them by diverse perspective (which he cannot distinguish other than as either right/justified or wrong/mistaken). But from our neurotypical or even hybrid perspective, we can have more empathy with where each one’s perspective situates them.
Dr Marshack – you are a gift to us all. You’ve been a light house and beacon of clarity for thousands. I wouldn’t apologize for bringing light to people’s lives. Anyone who truly appreciates you, wouldn’t make you feel bad. This message is for whoever out there feels sad, lonely, and angry .. just because Dr Marshack is opening a space for us, doesn’t mean you can project anger and pain from the darkness. Appreciate, be resilient, and find gratitude for the life-changing work she does for all of us. We won’t find a more gracious thought leader in our lifetime. Thank you <3
To me this brings forth the problems in neurdiverse relationships that occur on a daily basis. I don’t feel safe in very many circles discussing my feelings of living with someone who presents as a narcissist but has ASD. I know if I don’t care for anyone’s platform I just don’t go back. Like a restaurant with bad food or service. Haters and trolls don’t belong anywhere on social media ever. Thank you for all your work!
You have been a new and wonderful resource to me as an NT partner to an Aspie. Keep up the important work and please don’t let the hysterics of social media sway you from sharing your expertise and life experience.
Dr. Kathy, I am so sorry that you are having to deal with all this. It doesn’t matter who you are, vicious attacks, outright disrespect and threats just because you do not agree with someone is wrong. Your work has made a huge difference in my life, pulling me back from the edge of insanity. I know that I am not the only one who owes you a mountain of gratitude for imparting the knowledge of ASD/NT relationship struggles that you gained through personal and painful experience. I didn’t see the original post, but I cannot imagine you writing anything that would deserve such a harsh reaction. I admire your strength in the face of this adversity. Praying for you in this period of persecution. May it be short-lived. Praying also for those who feel the need to attack someone who is obviously passionate about bridging the communication and empathy gap in neuro diverse relationships. May they take their negativity elsewhere.
First of all, Dr. Kathy, you are a life saver. It is so hard for us NTs to find someone who truly understands our lives with an ASD spouse. You absolutely do. I have never seen or heard you be anything but compassionate to people on the spectrum. You work very hard to help bridge the gap in these difficult neuro diverse relationships. I pray your courage and strength carry you through this difficult time. Thank you so much for your work and dedication to help us – it is truly appreciated.
A significant number of autistic people object to any term that is linked to Asperger for obvious reasons and I think it would be positive to listen to that and take that on board. Aspie is an outdated term, even though at one point in time it was used by autistic people when talking about themselves and their community. I’m not sure your reasons for not changing your language hold up to criticism. In terms of language currently used by autistic people, a lot of people like being referred to as “autistic people”. There are some really useful online resources which I’d recommend reading which explain why and why taking this on board is important but if you struggle to find them feel free to send me an email and I’ll send some through. It’s also a phrase that is reasonably straight forward and clear (probably more so than aspie)
Thank you for your feedback Liam. Of course it is not easy choosing the right words to describe one aspect of the Autism Spectrum, nor the entire range. The subject is fraught with controversy as has been displayed on Facebook and other forums. In fact, many high functioning autistic people don’t like being called autistic at all. I can see their point. When my daughter was in elementary school she asked me, “If I’m adopted, what do you call the other children?” It was a great question and very perceptive. Clearly our culture has names for people who are different than what is considered “normal.” This distinction can make some people feel rejected, or out of step, or unworthy, etc. Certainly this is true for the pain carried by many autistic people.
On the other hand I have to say that for many people, finally finding the diagnosis of autism has been a relief. With the diagnosis they have a bit of a map to search for answers to their life’s dilemmas. And for their loved ones, having a handle on autism makes a huge difference. Thus the purpose of my website.
May I refer you to my blog about Hans Asperger, https://asd-ntrelationships.com/about-hans-asperger-m-d/ ? Before I even published my website, I wrangled with the dilemma of using the right words to reach my audience and yet not hurt anyone. The blog is my best attempt to enter this controversy and offer an answer that works for many.
You have offered that people on the Autism Spectrum, prefer the term “autistic people.” Yet there are others who still refer to themselves as “Aspies,” “AS,” “Aspergic,” “Aspergian,” and “Autists.” You see, even though you may think I am ill informed, I do keep up with these things.
When it comes to words, we can get so very lost. Do you know the origin of the word “autistic” ?
From Web MD: Feb 3, 2019 – The word “autism” comes from the Greek word “autos,” which means “self.” It describes conditions in which a person is removed from social interaction. In other words, he becomes an “isolated self.” Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, was the first person to use the term.
I find it ironic that the very people who are complaining about my use of certain words, prefer the word “autistic” which was once used to describe schizophrenics. My work, my books, my support groups are for the Non-Spectrum folks who live with loved ones who are removed from “social interaction” and who have become an “isolated self.” How does a word change the underlying disability?
I think we have a fundamentally different understanding of what disability is. My work is grounded in the social model of disability and current debates in critical disability theory. Happy to respectfully disagree.
Dr Kathy, I am also a social campaigner trying to raise the awareness of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and deepen understanding generally. I also get considerable backlash with some of my posts – most notably because they hit a nerve and are deeply concerning for narcopaths wishing to remain undetected. The point I’m trying to make is this – sometimes a negative backlash from evil people can actually be proof that you are making a positive impact. Think of it it mathematical terms minus one times minus one equals positive one…. Don’t be deterred – keep shining that light.
You mean so much to those of us who struggle to understand our AS/NT relationships and those of us who are striving and struggling to carve out a less painful and more meaningful life with our Aspies. I am so sorry to see that you have had to go through this pain during an already painful time for you in your personal life. I hope that you know and understand how important and appreciated you are to so many of us and I hope that brings some peace to you.
Dr. Kathy, you are a pillar of integrity. As my father grew his law practice he also grew himself-continuously. One day he stated to me “Sweetie there is one OCD behavior I will never release-my anal retentive ethics.” Of course I’m not calling you anal retentive, I’m just indicating that your ethical core is solid.
You have just displayed humility, courage, compassion and professionalism in it’s highest form. The world, literally, has been blessed from your work. It’s “my” belief that the battle of semantics renders human connection stagnant. One doesn’t need to be an Aspie to play “The Blame Game.” Incidentally, my husband (of 30 years) has no objection to common references. He’s been more interested in saving our marriage and creating a bond. Since I can’t remember how long he’s been seeing you, clearly you do not harbor disdain for Aspies. I do not condone some of my husbands behaviors but overall he’s a good man and I love him dearly.
You even tried to work with our Aspie son, he chose to not better himself. He’s still defiant and has refused to observe how he and a zealous conservative mirror each other’s actions. Different words but the judgement and intolerance are nearly identical. Recently I asked him “Do you “have” to be right or do you want to be heard? You can’t have both.” He hasn’t chosen to embraced his father’s path yet.
Thank you Dr. Kathy, you’ve been a vital lifeline for my husband and myself. You really are a phenomenal therapist Dr. Kathy. You have acted with honor, grace and dignity which should be emulated by all those working in your field.
P.S. Don’t worry, “we” edited this several times😁
Thank you all. I have read these comments over the last few days since publishing my apology blog. I still don’t have the words to thank all of you who took the time to honor me with your testimonials. Even these words I am writing now don’t do justice to my feelings about you all. My heart is overflowing with love and gratitude. I’ve shed tears, happy tears, that my work has helped —- that it has meaning for you. That through my professional work, even though many of us have not met in person —- we know each other. We are friends and kindred spirits —- and we care about each other deeply.
You may have surmised that I have deleted the angry, punitive comments, even comments from those angry that I have deleted them. I have read them. I have not responded to them, because to do so would be pointless to these Souls entrenched in bitterness. But I have to say, they have inspired me to expand my thinking on empathy. I hope to finish a new book soon on just this topic.
Clearly Theresa’s post is just one more example of empathy in action. She has the ability to be there for me, for her husband, for her child, and for herself. For Mary, and Robin, and Lisa, and Louise, and Linda, and Steve, and Carolyn, and Jeanne,and many more of you who have written comments on this blog and sent me private messages of appreciation —- you are the reason I started our support group. We need a place for the empathic heart and mind that holds together our ASD/NT relationships.
I did not see the original article, tending to avoid social media on account of the wild west scorpion behavior by trolls even trolls who one thought of as FB ‘friends’ of oneself or partner.
However I infer that it went out in the rough and was seized upon by Aspergic people and taken literally (no surprises there) as hate speech.
If this is the case then other people who have put out online resources to help people (dumfounded by having to make sense of distressing Aspergic behaviors exhibited within what they thought to be a mutually respectful reciprocal relationship between two significant others) have found themselves targeted as purveyors of hate speech.
As I commented in early blog posts I do find the term ‘Aspie’ to be unhelpful and have always tried to refer to ‘people’ but apply a self coined adjective ‘Aspergic’, a play on Autistic incorporating Aspergers.
As well as the aspects mentioned DSM is subject to politically correct influence and dropping Aspergers seems to reflect this but has necessitated the introduction of the clumsy and undefined ‘high functioning’ qualifier in common parlance leading to the mistaken inference that Aspergic people are all geniuses whereas my reading of the phrase is such people are Autistic but without the
The politics surrounding discussion of the socially dysfunctional nature of Aspergic behaviors on relationship building has a parallel with other cases of special interest groups in my opinion but it would not be helpful to draw that long bow here. However in my experience the distinguishing feature of behaviors exhibited by Aspergic people is that they are domineering and presumptively overbearing and patronizing towards people who drop their own boundaries so as to facilitate the building of a relationship only to find that the Aspergic person takes that to be an invitation to take charge of their significant other’s personal physical and psychological space. Moreover when the significant other might attempt to gently assert their boundaries the Aspergic person will read this as aggressive towards this as an invasion of their boundaries and back answer their significant other.
The Aspergic person in these circumstances never displays any capacity to apologize in such a manner that will enable the relationship to be repaired and instead will reiterate the reasons for their behaviors and if ‘sorry’ is said it will be a the classic passive-aggressive, may I say narcissitic, non-apology ‘I am sorry but I’. Often times the problem relates not so much to the behaviors per se but the context blindness displayed by the Aspergic person so making the behaviors inappropriate in some circumstances but not necessarily so in others.
So for example an Aspergic woman might be bossy and domineering towards children in her house and who is to say such behavior is not appropriate. If one is visiting with one’s own children and one does not appreciate such bossiness displayed towards then leaving or at least not going back is the way to respond. However if the Aspergic woman is visiting in someone else’s house and starts bossing and disciplining the children of her hosts in their own house and in front of her hosts uninvited then that same behavior is inappropriate and needs to be addressed. However the tendency would be for the Aspergic woman to rebuff the push-back by referencing the misbehavior (as she saw it) by the children as requiring her intervention to rule the children out of order and restore order to her sensibilities.
So please keep up your good work Kathy and by your apology you have displayed an example which one hopes Aspergic people who may read your blogs (when there are voluminous online resources to help them validate their experiences) will learn from as to how to apologize for inadvertant mistakes which might have been avoided.
I was heartened to read in your response that you did not apologize for saying what you did because others took offence. One can use such feedback as an impetus to rexamine one’s own behaviors and apologize for those but should never apologize for the offence being taken. Indeed any such apologies, especially of the conditional ‘if you are offended’ variety are yet other instances of passive-aggressive non-apologies and to be avoided.
Here is looking for many blog posts to come.
Thank you John. Your post is heartening and enlightening. I hope others read it, especially those “Aspergic” people who took offense at my post “in the rough.” Even my follow up apology post garnered criticism as worthless “NTsplaining.”
When you can’t see the forest for the trees (mindblindness and context blindness) you might focus on a single fact or word to argue about. For those on the Spectrum, it is tough to know that an argument is not warranted, when a conversation is offered. Even on line and through social media, we have conversations.