If you are a Neurotypical in a relationship with an adult on the Autism Spectrum, you will know in a minute of conversation if your new therapist has a clue about Empathy and Empathy Dysfunction. If they don’t get it that your spouse or partner (parent or sibling) lacks empathy, and that this is painfully disruptive of the relationship — then move on to another therapist.
It’s important for you to remember that an inexperienced therapist is potentially quite damaging to your self-esteem. Don’t take the risk.
Below are some red flags to look out for when choosing your therapist:
- The first red flag is that your therapist relies mostly on her empathic nature to provide a healing environment for her clients. While this is nice, and will work for you, it won’t work for your ASD family member. And it will backfire.
- The second red flag is that she becomes annoyed with you for trying to explain your partner’s Empathy Dysfunction. She will see you as complaining instead of trying to guide her toward a more fruitful approach.
- The third red flag is her assumption that your ASD partner will develop insight from therapy and become more aware of you as a result. Because she fully believes that all people have empathy to some extent, she will keep using this approach and likely go nowhere.
Trust your intuition. If you like the therapist and so does your ASD spouse, it may be worth it to teach her how to work with you. She may be willing to read some books or take a course at the local university. At the very least, her desire to get it, is a big deal, as long as she can handle confrontation from you when she has wandered afield.
Obviously, your best bet is a therapist who has a solid education in the specialty of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and she has experience treating NT/ASD couples and families. If you can find an NT therapist who has personal experience living with Autistics in her family, all the better. But make sure she has really come to terms with her own psychological trauma — and that she can work with Empathy Dysfunction.
There is a small group of the opinion that only Autistic therapists should work with these relationships, but that seems an oxymoron if you ask me. Why would you want a therapist with an Empathy Dysfunction, advising a couple where the primary breakdown in the relationship is due to EmD-0?
Relationships between Neurotypicals and people on the Spectrum can be very tough, but as a seasoned professional I will help you through the dark times. Focusing on the Neurotypical partners and family members of someone with ASD, I help my clients understand “Asperger Syndrome” and then take a closer look at how it impacts their relationships. If you need professional help, you can contact me to schedule an online appointment on my Contact page.
Footnote: Since I first wrote this blog, I have modified the meaning of some terms. Please read this excerpt from my new book:
- Neuro-Typical or NT refers to those folks who have what is considered the normal neurological brain development. I would add that they have the full range of empathy skills.
- Neuro-Diverse refers to those folks who are outside the range of Neuro-Typical, such as those with Autism, and other disorders. In my books and blogs, I reserve this term exclusively for Autists. People who are Neuro-Diverse are referred to as “Asperger Syndrome,” ASD, High Functioning Autism, Autist, and “Aspie.” They lack the full range of social skills one sees with NTs, including empathy.
- Neuro-Divergent is sometimes used interchangeably with Neuro-Diverse, by other authors. I prefer to use this term to describe a couple or family, where one person is Autistic and the other Neuro-Typical. That is, the types diverge. It is this divergence within the couple and family system that is most troublesome for my clients. I will also refer to Neuro-Divergent couples as ASD/NT.