The Irony of Fate and War: What To Make of My Aborted Trip to Israel

The Irony of Fate and War: What To Make of My Aborted Trip to Israel

A Tour That Would Have Been Tragic.

Check the dates on this flyer. I booked this trip last spring (2023) and intended to fly into Israel on October 7-8 to have a few extra days in Jerusalem before the tour started. The trip was cancelled long before the outbreak of war. My deposit was refunded this summer.

I was thrilled to find this group, originally. As an interfaith organization, the tour promised to take me to holy places all over Israel (Jewish, Christian and Muslim). We would even have a chance to visit a Kibbutz in the south of Israel.

My travel companion and I found an amazing tour to a Bedouin community across the border in Jordan. We speculated about staying the night in tents in the desert.

But then, inexplicably the tour was cancelled.

The irony of missing that trip.

Fortunately for me I was spared a dangerous trip into a war zone, ravaged by Hamas terrorists. Not so fortunate are the many Israelis and Palestinians killed, insured and trapped in Gaza and bordering villages. Their lives are forever changed, even if they survive.

There are many others trapped in the country too. There are Jews from all over the world who make the pilgrimage to Israel for holidays. Americans, Australians, Europeans. I texted with one American Jewish mother, who was in the airport in Tel Aviv, as she frantically sought flights for her family out of the country. She made it thankfully.

The irony isn’t lost on me. I narrowly escaped — or perhaps I was protected. Why?

Do everything You can… and a little bit more.

For those of us who live in relative peace, I suggest we need to do more. But it isn’t easy to figure out what to do is it?

I faced a similar dilemma on the day of 9/11/01. My children were young then. I watched the news reports, in disbelief.

Soon I was getting calls from the local media asking for a sound bite from the psychologist. I was asked to give advice on how to cope emotionally, how to help our children, how to quell the fear.

I had no idea what to say really, Most of us don’t have first responder skills or a way to rescue people in a war zone. So, I opted for psychological help. I suggested on 9/11 and shortly thereafter, that my community could be there for each other in some way. Help your elderly neighbor. Donate to the Red Cross. Hold your children tightly. But those suggestions all seemed puny in comparison to the devastation in New York and the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

When the news reporter pressed me, “Is there anything else?” I found a voice deep inside of me and to my surprise I said, “Yes there is. Do everything you can and then a little bit more.”

That sound bite led the news for days.

We were made for each other.

You are so much more than you realize. You have strength and wisdom and love so profound that you can do much more than you ever thought possible. There is room in your heart to do a little bit more.

Take time to journal and pray and meditate. Let the lessons surface. The world needs you, more than ever. It will come to you. The answers will come to you.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “God created us for fellowship. God created us so that we should form the human family, existing together because we were made for each other. We are not made for an exclusive self-sufficiency but for interdependence, and we break that law of being at our peril.

Once You’ve Met One Parent-Alienator with Autism, You’ve Met One Parent-Alienator with Autism

Once You’ve Met One Parent-Alienator with Autism, You’ve Met One Parent-Alienator with Autism

Parental Alienation as seen through the lens of Autism

At the risk of angering disability rights advocates I have adapted the title of this blog from a popular slogan: “Once you have met one person with Autism, you have met one person with Autism.”

The philosophy behind the original slogan is admirable. Disability rights advocates want to emphasize the importance of honoring and respecting each individual regardless of their diagnosis or disability. They caution against painting with a broad brush, the entire population of those with NeuroDiversity.

Obviously, this is an important caveat. Equally true is that the topic of parental alienation should be handled delicately. Can we say that all parental alienators are not the same? Maybe. But I maintain that parental alienation is not only child abuse but that it is a crime — regardless of the alienator’s personality or disability.

In this blog I want to describe how the NeuroDiverse mindset can cause, contribute to, and be abused/manipulated by parental alienating methods.

In this first in a series on Autism and Parental Alienation, I describe the painful awakening of an ASD adult to parental alienation efforts by his ASD father. Further, you will see how my client’s childhood is contributing to the abuse of his own young ASD son.1

Fortunately, this client and his family make it and I will discuss their success in later blogs. For now, I want you to read the following vignette to learn the basics of how the autistic mind can be trapped by the vicious abuse of parental alienation.

Danny and La Mar: The not so simple story

In the following vignette, I introduce you to Danny (NeuroDiverse) and La Mar (NeuroTypical). They are married and came to me for guidance with their NeuroDivergent relationship. As we explored their problems, the frightening story of parental alienation surfaced.

In this vignette, Danny has only recently learned the facts surrounding his father’s alienating efforts. It is shocking and he is still reeling from the discovery that resulted in severing the ties with his mother for thirty years.

Danny squeezed back the tears in his eyes and gritted his teeth, in an effort to hold back his frustration. He said, “It’s not that! It’s not that! I get it that my father lied to me, but what does that have to do with my marriage?”

Danny’s wife La Mar has been trying to break through his denial for a long time. Of course, denial being what it is, this is no easy feat. When someone is “in denial” they don’t have a conscious awareness or objective view of the problem. It’s as if what the other person is talking about doesn’t even exist.

La Mar tried again. “Danny, you treat me just like your mother. You despise your mother so much you haven’t seen her in 30 years. We get along just fine except when you start attacking my mothering with our son, Charlie.”

Shaking his head vigorously, getting red in the face, and squeezing back more tears, Danny said, “You always bring that up. It’s just that you won’t let me parent either. You are always rescuing Charlie — from me. I’m a good father!”

“I’m not questioning that you are a good father. I am asking you to consider that your father’s lies — his parental alienation — shaped how you treat me and your son. And I want it fixed, or I want a divorce!” La Mar was just as emphatic as her husband about his distress over the topic.

At this point, I offered to help. “Danny — La Mar — let me help. In one way Danny is correct. There are two different topics and he just wants to better understand the connection La Mar is making.” People on the Spectrum like Danny do better when you take one thing at a time.

I continue, “La Mar is correct too. She knows that the trauma of parental alienation from so many years ago, is somehow connected to the present. Yes, these two topics — Danny’s childhood and Danny’s and La Mar’s marriage, have one common denominator — Danny.” I attempt to help Danny see that there are two issues but that they are related.

Both are looking at me, with a tiny inkling of light beginning to dawn in their minds. While they are thinking about the distinction I am making, let me summarize the history.

After much prodding by La Mar and encouragement from his therapist, Danny finally approached his father to find out what happened when his parents divorced. The truth was ugly.

When Danny was young, the family lived in India. Danny’s father was a professional (with an advanced degree) who decided to relocate to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to make more money. He left his wife and three young children with her mother and was gone for two years. Although he sent money home, he made few visits back home. In the meantime, Danny’s mother suffered under the separation. She eventually had a short-lived affair.

When Danny’s father returned to India, and discovered the affair, he immediately filed for divorce. Even though Danny’s mother begged him to forgive her, he refused. Danny’s father engaged in a plan of retribution. He paid the divorce judge $100,000 to find in his favor and grant him full custody of Danny (and the other children). He encouraged Danny to believe the worst of his mother by calling her names in front of the child — such as “cheater.” To this day, Danny refers to his mother as a “cheater.”

As if this weren’t harsh enough, Danny’s father remarried almost immediately upon divorcing Danny’s mother. Then he moved the family to the USA when Danny was just age 11. He has had no contact with his mother in three decades and is even unsure of her whereabouts or if she is alive.

Even after discovering the truth about his father’s machinations, Danny struggles with accepting his own inner conflicts. For example, he describes the judicial bribe as necessary, “…since all my mother cares about is money. That’s why my father went to the UAE in the first place.” He still carries the beliefs he acquired as a child.

Back in the session with Danny and La Mar, I offer to connect the dots. Before I could start, Danny offered more defensive denial.

“Everyone knows my mother is cold and unloving. The only warmth I got was from my grandmother when I lived with them. In fact, my mother was so lazy she had a nanny.”

“Danny,” I said. “You might want to consider that there is a lot more to this story than the memories of a little boy. For example, your parents were fairly wealthy by Indian standards. They could afford a housekeeper and a nanny. In fact, isn’t that pretty standard in India?”

La Mar looked at me with surprise. “I never knew this.” La Mar is American born, so she hadn’t considered the cultural differences.

“Yes, La Mar, it is quite common for the upper classes in India to have servants. Housekeepers and gardeners and nannies all work for very low wages. Not like it is here in the USA,” I explained.

“So, Danny, is it possible that your father wanted you to believe your mother was cold and unloving — for an ulterior motive?” I asked.

Again, Danny shook his head, a bit more slowly this time. “No, No, you don’t understand,” he repeated. “She was a cheater!”

Even La Mar could detect his childish outburst. She looked at him and her eyes widened. Then she looked at me inquisitively, as she was getting a handle on the devastating parental alienation her husband had suffered. La Mar had not fully comprehended how brainwashing occurs with a child under these pressures.

I tried to be comforting as I guided Danny to consider a more mature way of looking at the problems of his parents. “Danny, I want you to consider what it might have been like for your mother to be raising you by herself — yes, even with the help of her mother and the nanny. Wealth and status provide some support, but don’t you think she may have been lonely without your father? Don’t you think she may have struggled to find resources for you too? After all she didn’t know that you (and your father) are on the Autism Spectrum.”

La Mar, Danny’s NeuroTypical wife, got it! “Bingo,” she said. La Mar looked relieved that an answer was emerging. “That’s exactly how I feel and Danny is not working thousands of miles away in the UAE. I feel like I am parenting Charlie all by myself. Both Charlie and Danny are on the Autism Spectrum, but Danny acts like this is irrelevant. And then he blames me for being fatigued and asking for his help. He calls me lazy too — just like he believes of his mother.”

Danny sat there in a puddle of tears, his head hanging down so that I couldn’t see his “shame.”

While La Mar can understand the interaction of the past and the present, I need a more transactional explanation for Danny.

I offer this solution to Danny and wait to see if he gets it. “Danny, your father decided to leave his family to make more money abroad. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never asked your mother how she felt about the decision. Then when he returned after two years, he expected to step back into his family, as if nothing had changed. When he discovered your mother’s affair, he made another solo decision to divorce. In his black and white thinking, your mother had wronged him. He took no responsibility for the marital problems. She was wrong. He was right.”

“Are you following me so far Danny?” He nodded a silent affirmation.

“OK,” I continued. “Because your father believed these things of your mother, he had no reason to keep them from you. You were only 11 when he told you she was a “cheater” and that this justified a divorce. You were only 11 years old when he expected you to abandon your home and travel with him across the world, never to see your mother again. You were only 11 when he convinced you that your mother was cold and unloving and only wanted your father for his money. You believed him, why?”

“Because she didn’t fight for me!” Danny blurted out. “My father showed me a letter from her that she didn’t have enough money to take care of me, so she agreed to let me go.”

I said, “That sounds like a letter from a mother who feels beaten down and has no resources left. She didn’t write that she stopped loving you. Sadly, she accepted that she was outmatched by your father.” It was tough going at this point. Danny still couldn’t break the denial.

La Mar broke in. “Your father hates women, Danny. You know this. You were shocked at what he has said to me and about me behind my back. Like when he called me a ‘c—.’ And you didn’t defend me or anything!”

Danny responded. “That wasn’t right. I know. But I told you not to have conversations with my father. I knew you two would tangle.”

“Danny,” I wanted to bring him back to the connection — the connection between his childhood and his marriage. “Danny, what happened to you all of those years ago when you were just a little boy — when your father paid a judge to help him get rid of your mother — when he convinced you that your mother didn’t love you because she was a ‘cheater’ — that is called parental alienation. And it is a terrible form of child abuse.”

“Wait, wait!” I admonish Danny as he tries to break in. “Your father is willing to call your wife the ‘C’ word, in front of you, just as he called your mother a ‘cheater’ right in front of you, what kind of man is he?”

“I know, I know, Dr. Marshack. I have already told my father that he is not allowed in my home again, or to speak to my wife. That he went too far with La Mar.” Danny had taken one tiny step out of denial.

I continued. “Danny, your father went too far with your mother too.” Danny looked at me with a quizzical look, but a glimmer…

“Parental alienation destroys the whole family, Danny. Your father was hell-bent on destroying your mother. And it didn’t matter if he destroyed you along with her. By destroying a child’s love for his mother, he locked away a part of you. That part is screaming to be set free every time you criticize your beautiful wife for her mothering — especially when you know there is no reason for the negativity.”

La Mar is excited. “Tell him, Dr. Marshack. Tell him what part is locked away.”

I smile at La Mar. She dearly loves her autistic husband and wants him to grow. “Danny, do you want to know what I mean?” I asked. Danny said nothing, but he waited.

“I take it that you are ready,” I said. I chose carefully my next few comments. “You are not your father’s property Danny. You are a whole person. Even as a child you were a whole person, who loved his mother and his father. Even if they fell out of love — even if they hurt and betrayed each other — you loved them both.”

“Your father made you choose sides in his war with your mother. He stole your childhood from you. You were innocent. You didn’t understand the complications of a NeuroDivergent relationship. You deserved to have love for both of your parents, even if they didn’t love each other anymore. Your father’s anger frightened you. Your mother’s weakness frightened you. So, you chose sides to make peace with the conflict. You turned your back on your mother, just as your father planned.”

“But I decided I didn’t want to see my mother anymore,” Danny argued. “It was my decision.”

“I’m sure that suited your father,” I said. “In your father’s transactional world, he had won. He was right. And you were doing the right thing to cut off your mother. He never thought about how it made you feel. Winning is important to your father, not healing.”

“So, for the sake of argument, Dr. Marshack, let’s assume you are right about all of this. “What does my father’s parental alienation have to do with my wife and me?” Danny’s challenge was simple, straight forward — and transactional — the standard often used by the NeuroDiverse. Now that he had accepted the logic I outlined about parental alienation, he was moving onto the second topic — his marital problems.

“It’s very simple Danny. Your father encouraged you to hate your mother. Your mother, whom you loved. In order to resolve the conflict imposed by your father, you turned your back on your mother as a child and have kept it turned away even as a grown man. Only when you became the parent of a little boy yourself, did you have to turn around. The feelings are emerging once again of the conflict you felt all those years ago. In other words, how do you keep the hatred going amidst love for the mother of your son? You didn’t resolve those conflicted feelings from your childhood, Danny. You haven’t healed. You buried them, only to resurrect them with your wife when you argue with her over mothering.”

I continue. “It’s not La Mar’s mothering that alarms you. It’s that she is a mother (flaws and all). Your own mother could not save you from your father. She wasn’t capable or brave or who knows what? She loved you but was flawed just like La Mar. Only when your father shows his misogynistic side by calling your wife foul names, do you wake up and realize something is wrong with the man.”

“One more thing Danny.” This is where I bring it home. “Do you realize that disparaging La Mar, even if it is out of your son’s ear shot, — that you are imposing on Charlie the same conflict your father imposed on you? Has it occurred to you that Charlie may feel as you did — that he has no choice but to shut down the conflict between his parents by choosing sides? Why would you want to put him through that suffering?”

More. “It’s not your fault, Danny. You were conned. You were psychologically abused by your father. But you can fix this. I will help you. You and La Mar and Charlie deserve a wonderful life where we allow for mistakes. In fact, mistakes help us grow into better people, if we forgive and work toward resolution. It’s not the transactional model of win/lose, Danny. It’s the interactional model of loving the other person enough to give second chances.”

Once you’ve met one autistic person, you need to meet the rest of the family

This may be the first time I have shared such a long vignette, but I know of no other way to untangle the mystery of parental alienation in a NeuroDivergent family. Honestly, I could have told you more, but I will save that for the next blog in this series.

It is just as important to learn about how Danny healed from the devastation wrought by his father. But for now, I want you to reread this scenario to fully understand how autism filled in the gaps of this cruelest of abuses.

I am not saying that autism causes parental alienation. Parental alienation is a cruel form of abuse (to children and adults) that is perpetrated by mentally disturbed and unethical people. Autism is a risk factor that can’t be ignored if we are to help NeuroDivergent families survive this devastation.

In order to comprehend the full extent of parental alienation in NeuroDivergent families, you need to know much more than the diagnosis of autism, or even the dynamics of parental alienation. You need to analyze the interacting systems composed of the Autist and their family members. It is the interaction of these systems that breaks down the child, the mother or father, and the family.

This is why I offer yet another way to think about autism: Once you have met one autistic person, you need to meet the rest of the family.

NeuroDiverse individuals lean heavily on the transactional method to problem solve. For Danny’s father it was a simple matter of math that he should leave his family for two years. It never occurred to him that this might disrupt the family system. Making more money seemed to be his agenda.2

If he had taken a more interactional approach, he would have weighed the value of the increased income against the emotional/psychological well-being of his family. For example, he may still have chosen to work in the UAE but to travel home more often. He would have earned less money but may have kept the love alive in his marriage.

By choosing to make a transactional decision, rather than one of the heart, the message to Danny was confusing too. He was influenced to believe that his role as a husband and a father is more about financial support than emotional support.

Of course, many people can make this mistake, but Danny’s father went further. When he did return home, to find his wife had been unfaithful, he took no responsibility for the breakdown of his marriage. Without empathy, he couldn’t fathom how his wife felt being left alone. All he could process is that he had been wronged. This is characteristic black and white thinking often seen with NeuroDiverse individuals.

Context blindness comes into play here too (another characteristic of autism). Danny’s father didn’t recognize how his actions affected his children. He didn’t evaluate the toll on the development of his children. Danny’s response to his father’s absence was to work hard to be a perfect child. He got stellar grades in school and helped his mother with the younger children. But his perfectionistic tendencies could not make up for the loss of his father.

Danny would still have missed his father for those two years but he didn’t have to feel all alone with his grief had his father stayed in contact and visited more often. Danny’s father acted like all that mattered was the job, not affirming those he loved. Danny accepted his father’s decisions all of these years without questioning his own feelings. This is very common for those on the Spectrum who have alexithymia.

The family may have been able to recoup from all of this turmoil, but Danny’s father destroyed that opportunity. With Empathy Dysfunction, he thought of nothing except punishing his wife. He convinced Danny that he was totally justified in taking him away from his mother because she was a “cheater.” Never once did he consider how damaging this would be to his children, let alone the mother of his children.

You might be asking why Danny would accept his father’s logic? Or why he could turn away from his mother and never look back. As an autistic child, Danny added up the numbers similarly to his father. In his mind, if his mother committed a sin, she deserved to be punished and banished from the family forever, regardless of how much this pained him. He had no idea that his father paid the judge to make sure she was cut off from her children. Rather he believed that she was a cold-hearted woman who walked out because she was a “cheater.”

It was La Mar who forced the issue. Months before Danny found out, La Mar discovered the truth about Danny’s childhood from his step-mother. Danny’s step-mother was also terrified to confront her husband over what he had done to his children. However, she wanted the truth to come out and offered it to La Mar.

Love is not a transaction. Love is a conversation.

Most of you will read this tragic story with disbelief that anyone could be as cruel as Danny’s father. You are just as likely to believe that you would never be as gullible as Danny — not with your mother, whom you love. However, I want you to consider the vulnerability of an autistic child, or any child for that matter.

Danny was on his own to make sense of a tragic situation. As an autist he accepted a simple transactional answer. This acceptance worked for many years. It made it possible for him to let go of his suffering. Of course, deep down inside the problem was not resolved and surfaced with angry outbursts toward his wife.

If NeuroDivergent families are to face the heavy toll of parental alienation, they will need to come to terms with the transactional decision making that handicaps recovery. Love is not a transaction. Love is not something that you give or take away.

In fact, love is not a thing at all. Love is a dynamic process — an energy — that is exchanged between people when they affirm each other. The process of affirming and connecting with each other helps love to grow and mature and survive.

I think of love as a conversation that ebbs and flows. When we interact with our loved ones, this ebbing and flowing energy rises and falls with the words and perspective shared with each other.

Danny’s father parked love on the side of the road when he left his family to work in the United Arab Emirates. He thought he could pick it up again when he returned home. That’s not how love works, but transactional people can lose track of this principle. If you act as if love is a commodity, then a NeuroDivergent family may be vulnerable to parental alienation.

1. I have protected the identity of this family with changes of name and minor details. Essentially the story is typical of NeuroDivergent families where parental alienation occurs.

2. To learn more about some of this terminology I refer you to my book “Empathy is More Than Words.” I describe several terms in the book such as transactional, interactional, Empathy Dysfunctional, context blindness, alexithymia and other traits of autism.

Conversational Aspergian: Lesson 1 – Sensory Sensitivity is Not Empathy

Conversational Aspergian: Lesson 1 – Sensory Sensitivity is Not Empathy

“I happen to know that my sensitivity is my strength.” ~ Hannah Gadsby

Is your partner just insensitive?

It occurred to me that NeuroDivergent couples regularly make the mistake of assuming that their words mean the same thing to both the NeuroTypical and the NeuroDiverse. Clearly there is more to the words than each realizes. Arguments erupt over this mistake as the couple circles around and around mincing the words, arguing over their meanings, and eventually believing the worst of their loved one.

The transactional partner (the Autist) states things as if they know the truth of the matter (which is only from their point of view). Or they may ask a question that makes no sense to their NeuroTypical partner. The interactional partner (the NeuroTypical) keeps tossing out prompts to get the two of them on the same emotional page. These are very different goals and they never seem to meet.

Eventually the NeuroTypical complains that their NeuroDiverse partner doesn’t “care about me.” The NeuroDiverse person complains that their NT loved one is “illogical” and has a “double standard.” Both come to worry that their partner is just not that sensitive.

What’s the difference between transactional and interactional communication?

What they are both missing is that the same word or sentence can convey a very different intent depending upon whether the person is primarily transactional or interactional in their thinking and processing their thoughts and feelings.

Let me give you the example of Ruthie and Ronnie

Ruthie is obviously annoyed as she describes an incident at dinner this week. “I asked Ronnie to pass the salad,” she said. “But do you know what he did? It’s unbelievable!”

“No, I don’t Ruthie,” I said. “What did he say?”

“He asked me, ‘Which salad?’ I was stunned. I pointed to the only salad on the table, sitting right in front of him, and said, ‘That salad! The one in front of you!’ I was exasperated and he knew it. How could he get salad mixed up?”

I turned to Ronnie to seek some clarification. “Ronnie, was there perhaps another salad you thought Ruthie was referencing?”

Ronnie looked embarrassed as he admitted he had become confused. “Yes,” he said. “I thought Ruthie might have meant she wanted me to get the fruit salad from the fridge, that was left-over from last night. Why is Ruthie so upset over salad? All I did was ask a simple question.”

If this sounds familiar, I’d like to introduce you to a schema that might help clear up these crazy mixups. “Conversational Aspergian” is my light hearted title for an online course I am creating to help you get to the bottom of these misunderstandings. If you are going to find a healthier and more loving way to communicate in your NeuroDivergent relationship, you will need to learn Conversational Aspergian.

When one person thinks transactionally and the other person thinks interactionally, the result is nearly always a confusing mix-up. Once you get it that no one means harm, you can slow down and try a new approach.

For example, interactional Ruthie might have said, “The salad sitting in front of you, honey. Did you have another salad in mind?”

Transactional Ronnie could have said, “Oh I was wondering if you wanted me to take the fruit salad out of the fridge.”

Ruthie could have followed up with, “Oh, I see your confusion. I was planning to mix a little whipped cream into the fruit salad to serve it for dessert. I guess I forgot to mention that to you. Will that work for dessert for you?”

Now that Ronnie has more clarity about “salads,” he could probably have relaxed and finished his meal with a smile, as he awaited the delicious dessert his wife had in store for them.

What does sensitivity mean to a transactional person?

Hannah Gadsby is an Australian comedian, who tackles difficult topics such as gender politics, mental health, and social issues. She is also autistic.

In the quote above she self-describes herself as sensitive and that it is her strength. But what does that mean to Gadsby. How does she know she is sensitive? How does her form of sensitivity contribute to strength?

How would you interpret her comment? I suspect that NeuroTypicals would interpret sensitivity very differently than Gadsby and most Autists.

Gadsby is aware of her emotions, that she is sensitive to her feelings. That is a kind of strength. To know that you are feeling something is an awareness of being alive and reacting to the world around us.

However, Gadsby is not very clear about why her sensitivity is a strength. It just is. This is a transactional concept, a black and white statement of fact. She leaves the interpretation of sensitivity to others, as if all that matters is how she feels — to herself.

Taken from the interactive NeuroTypical perspective, sensitivity is a strength because it allows us to read the other person, to connect on an emotional level to others, to be able to relate interpersonally.

To be sensitive to one’s emotions and to notice them is a strength, but it is hardly empathic. Empathy means to take the awareness of your feelings in relation to the other’s feelings, and to see oneself as part of an interactive whole experience.

Is transactional sensitivity empathy or just cleverness?

The reciprocity of empathy is not what Gadsby suggests by the strength of her sensitivity. I have watched her on talk shows and it is clear that she is highly intelligent and quickly picks up on the patterns observable in the behavior of others. She comments on these behavioral patterns, even mocking other guests on the talk show. She gets laughs but is this sensitive or just clever?

During one of these talk show interviews, and when Gadsby was asked if she would like to continue the conversation after the show, she promptly declined. She admitted that her autism is a “social thing” that creates anxiety for her when put on the spot to have an interactional relating moment.

Applying Conversational Aspergian

If you start using the principles of Conversational Aspergian, it will be easier to read between the lines to get the meaning. When Gadsby says, “I happen to know that my sensitivity is my strength,” I doubt she is referring to empathy, but to her own ability to sense the emotional field.

Using the new model, a conversation with transactional and Autistic Gadsby may go like this.

“So, I heard you say that your sensitivity is your strength. I am curious about what you mean by ‘strength.’?”

Gadsby might say, “What has helped me survive so much hardship has been my humor.”

“I can see that having a sense of humor certainly can help you survive the tough life you have had. But I don’t see what that has to do with sensitivity. Could you explain?”

Gadsby might quip. “Yeah, I get that a lot from people who have never had to go through what I have!”

“That’s a bit presumptuous Ms. Gadsby. You don’t know much about me and I have been through some very tough times myself. But honestly, I was asking about your definition of sensitivity — you know as it applies to you – and why you think it is your strength.”

At this point, I suspect Gadsby would draw a blank look. Overwhelmed by my strong position and questions, she may pause, close her eyes to think. Then perhaps, should would say, “Well you know it’s an Autistic thing, to feel a lot.”

Assuming Gadsby will allow me a teachable moment, I might try to help her with her confusion. I could be wrong and she won’t allow it, but let’s see where this goes.

“Would you be surprised Ms. Gadsby to learn that all people are sensitive to their own emotions — albeit some more than others? And I can confirm that being sensitive to one’s feelings is a strength too. But if you are only aware of your feelings and don’t know how to communicate with others about their feelings, then how is being sensitive a strength? In my mind sensitivity is a strength when you can use it to connect to others.

“Empathy is the ability to be sensitive to yourself and others, while at the same time, speaking to the points between you that bring understanding, rapport and mutual respect. The real strength is using your sensitivity to reach out to others and touch them where they are sensitive too. Empathy is far more than being sensitive. It is to share the human experience.”

Share the human experience with Conversational Aspergian

I wouldn’t say that learning to speak Conversational Aspergian is easy, but I can say that it is necessary if you are to restore the love to your NeuroDivergent relationship. It is a kindness to slow down and try to speak the other person’s language. It is also a kindness to yourself, to insist that your partner consider another way to look at the world — through your eyes.

Try to remember that love grows where both people try to create a win-win conversation. Use your sensitivity to understand the other and to connect.

Autism-Friendly Workplace: Can it be done or is this just pie in the sky?

How do you make a way for Autistic children to find work as Autistic adults?

In honor of “Autism Awareness Month,” or what is also euphemistically known as “Celebrate NeuroDiversity,” I think we should take a hard look at how impossible it is to make the world a better place for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Honestly, it is admirable for employers and educators to investigate ways to create an “Autism-Friendly Workplace.” It is the right thing to do too. However, no matter how many adaptions are made in the classroom or the workplace, there is one element in the system that is not being addressed by these compassionate educators and employers.

What’s that One Element?

The NeuroDiverse person themselves, and their Empathy Triad Blindness will keep getting in the way1. The Autism-Friendly agenda doesn’t account for the fact that most NeuroTypicals rarely accept the oddities of those on the Spectrum. NTs avoid the NeuroDiverse, mock them, or at best pity them (and try to rescue them). So even if you provide sensory sensitive environments, and Special Ed. Teacher’s Aides, and remote work schedules, etc., the NeuroDiverse still have to interact with their NeuroTypical classmates, and coworkers, and supervisors, and customers. And it rarely turns out well.

  • All children on the Autism Spectrum grow up to be adults on the Autism Spectrum.
  • Most adults on the Autism Spectrum are under-employed and struggle in the adult NeuroTypical world.
  • No amount of compassion for the NeuroDiverse will changes how the bulk of NeuroTypical people relate to the Autistic population.
  • Empathy Triad Blindness means that the NeuroDiverse will never understand what they are missing, nor can they truly understand the world of the NeuroTypical. This is a terrible disability.

Think about Neil, an ASD kid with a fascination for studying every war in the 20th century. The local Army Guard Reserve took an interest in Neil when he was in high school. They created an honorary rank for him within their unit as a historian. They bestowed on him a set of Army fatigues and even a helmet. He proudly and frequently wore his gear to school. While Neil had a community to belong to for a while, what was he supposed to do upon high school graduation? How can he use these “skills” in the world of work? How does an employer make an “Autism-Friendly Workplace” for a young adult who wants to wear an Army helmet to the office?

Or consider my daughter Bianca. Bianca taught herself to read when she was four. At the time I thought she was gifted. Her sensitivity was sweet. Her lack of social skills was not. She refused to bathe, even as a teenage girl. She couldn’t seem to turn in her homework or even finish it. She was mocked for dressing oddly. Sometimes the other children would scream at her, even hit her, for being so very different from the rest of them.

I protected Bianca the best I could, but what is a mother to do when even the school psychologist is afraid of Bianca? One day I got a call from the psychologist when Bianca was having a meltdown. The specialist, who is supposed to know how to handle these “special needs” students was so overwhelmed that she demanded I pick up Bianca immediately, or that she would call the police to have my daughter arrested.

I encouraged Bianca’s love of reading because there was nothing else, she liked. I got her a library card when she was six. Books were always among her presents for birthdays and holidays. To this day, in her mid-thirties, Bianca lists her skill-set on LinkedIn as “Book Lover.” If she had a degree in library science this might make sense, but instead she looks for jobs where she can sit all day eating snacks and reading books.

There is no Autism-Friendly Workplace for Most Autistic Adults

Let’s take a look at some typical Autistic adults. Think about these questions as you read the brief summaries, I have written about each.

  • What do they have in common?
  • How would you relate to them in the workplace?
  • What kind of workplace “accommodations” would help them adapt to their NeuroTypical coworkers?


In the days before COVID Marleese was lucky enough to find work as an independent contractor working remotely. In fact, the only way Marleese could keep a job, was to work remotely, doing hourly contract work. She managed her job as a medical transcriptionist by working between the hours of 11:00 pm and 5:00 am. All she had to do was call in and listen to the doctors’ recordings, type the notes, and file them electronically. The neighborhood was quiet at this time of night, so she could work undisturbed, with her cat Tulip purring on her lap.


Dennis is a quiet, unassuming guy, who worked from the IT department in a municipal agency. He liked helping employees who had computer problems, especially those not terribly computer literate. These employees loved him too. They knew that whenever they got stuck, they could call Dennis and he would be at their desk with a smile. The problem is that Dennis’ supervisor thought he was too slow. Instead of quickly resolving the technical problem, Dennis seemed to be oblivious of the time. As a result, Dennis was placed on a corrective work plan — which he failed — and then had his hours cut to part time — before he was eventually laid off.


Said is a well-educated mechanical engineer who can’t seem to find a job in his field. He was ecstatic when he got hired by an international truck manufacturer, even though the job he was offered was not as an engineer, but as an assistant to a project manager. He hoped he could eventually transfer into an engineering position. The problem for Said is that he was very awkward socially, so he kept to himself even when coworkers went to lunch together. He also seemed unable to understand his assignments, simple as they were. He asked numerous questions of his supervisor and coworkers because he feared he would make a mistake. He was viewed as inept because of his “pestering” questions and lack of social graces. Eventually Said quit the job as his depression grew to intolerable levels and he missed many days of work.


Cheryl is a paleontologist. She is well respected in her field because of her research and publications on paleobotany. She has a prestigious job as a professor at a North American university. The problem for Cheryl is that while her students love her quirkiness , and her administrator admires her brilliant research, and even her colleagues enjoy picking her brain for tips on their own papers — Cheryl goes home alone night after night and drinks too much to cope with a lonely life.

For a truly Autism-Friendly Workplace Hire a Coach

I have written my share of recommendations in support of workplace accommodations for my NeuroDiverse clients. Often my reports saved my client’s job. Sometimes, the employer was able to set up some simple accommodations to make the workplace more comfortable for the Autistic employee. For example, we moved one man’s desk away from a busy hallway, where the interruptions were intense. In many cases, the employer was willing to allow the autistic person to work remotely, to avoid the hustle bustle of the office. In another case we reduced the number of meetings the employee had to attend, since gathering with others is stressful.

However, none of these accommodations made much of a difference in the interpersonal world of the workplace. The NeuroDiverse worker was still considered an outsider. They were still devalued because they couldn’t empathically communicate with others. They were rarely considered for promotion since they couldn’t manage team members. Worse, the rest of the staff had to endure the quirky behaviors of the NeuroDiverse employee such as talking too loudly, or interrupting with an inappropriate question, or hygiene problems, etc.

As far as I am concerned there is no way to make the workplace “Autism-Friendly,” as long as there is no real understanding about this pervasive developmental disability. And to expect the entire world of NeuroTypicals to jump in and learn about the minds of the NeuroDiverse — is just unrealistic.

However, there is a partial solution. Autistic children do better in school when they are protected by a caring adult, usually an Aide who hangs out with them throughout the day. In fact, I had my Nanny attend preschool with my daughter Bianca so that she would have a guide regarding the social world of preschoolers. It could be the same for the NeuroDiverse employee.

Marleese, Dennis, Said and even Cheryl would have done better had they had an office coach. Here are just a few ways the coach can work on behalf of the Autistic worker in the workplace.

  1. The coach could be responsible for explaining to the NeuroDiverse employee what is going on in the workplace. For example, NeuroDiverse employees often fail to grasp the inuendo at meetings.
  2. The coach could also help the employee draft emails and reports so that they are “friendlier.”
  3. The coach can act as a guide in meetings with the employee’s supervisor or manager.
  4. The coach can help the NeuroDiverse employee debrief their day and resolve their stress.
  5. The coach can act as a mediator with coworkers and supervisors. This is tough because the NeuroDiverse employee may offend others unintentionally.
  6. The coach could work with a group of NeuroDiverse employees, teaching them skills for navigating the workplace together.

This last point is particularly important. Knowing that you are not alone, that others have similar problems, and that there is someone who cares to help, can make a huge difference in making the workplace more “Autism-Friendly.”

Build a bridge between NeuroDiverse and NeuroTypical

While it is compassionate to create a day, a week or even a month to “Celebrate NeuroDiversity,” this is no answer to the real problem that Autistic adults have fitting into the NeuroTypical world. It is also unrealistic to announce that a company has an “Autism-Friendly” workplace when the few accommodations that are offered only keep the NeuroDiverse more isolated.

Keep the accommodations. The NeuroDiverse need protection for their sensory sensitivities and Empathy Triad Blindness. However, they also need the protection of a job coach who can provide the psychological structure the NeuroDiverse lack. Navigating the dominant culture of NeuroTypicals is daunting enough for NeuroTypicals, let alone the NeuroDiverse. A coach can help build a bridge between the worlds of NeuroDiverse and NeuroTypical to truly create an “Autism-Friendly” workplace.

1 Empathy Triad Blindness is defined in my book, “Empathy is More Than Words: Groundbreaking Tools for NeuroDivergent Relationships.” It is defined as a disconnect among the three parts of Empathy (Empathy, Context and Conversation).

I Can’t Stand My Spouse

Contempt in NeuroDivergent Relationships

“You live out the confusions until they become clear.”
~ Anais Nin

The range of Contempt.

Cheryl has no contempt for her ASD spouse. Long ago she decided there was no hope for her NeuroDivergent relationship, but she has no desire to leave. Instead, she has affairs with men who are not terribly emotionally available either. They give her a sense that she is in charge of her life when her spouse makes her feel invisible. She tells me “she sort of loves him. . . like a family member.” Why does she stay? It’s convenient and the children have a home.

Martin adores his ASD wife. They met on a sunny Spanish beach, while on vacation. When they get away, just the two of them, he still enjoys the time with her. But back home he is tortured. She is busy with all of her special interests and expects Martin to busy himself too. They argue each night because Martin cannot accept that he is married to an ASD woman who wants no connection with him — unless she determines she has time for him. Why does he stay? Because he can’t concede there is no hope.

Starr is so angry with her ASD partner Mara, that she snaps on a daily basis. She is caustic to Mara, even when there is little provocation. Mara is a low key “Aspie” who is comfortable with her strong-willed partner Starr. But she offers little to the relationship. If Starr has a strong opinion about anything, Mara disappears from the room, frightened of the encounter. This makes Starr feel like “it’s not OK to be me.” Why does Starr stay? Because she can’t explain to others why she would leave a “nice” person.

All of these NeuroTypicals have a form of contempt for their NeuroDiverse loved ones. Perhaps you do too. Contempt emerges when you have tried everything you can think of to resolve the lack of connection with your NeuroDiverse loved one. However, it is tough to accept that you can’t figure it out, especially for those who are smart, articulate and “good with people.” Rather than accept and surrender to the mystery, some people develop animosity toward the person who makes them feel inadequate.

The guilt of contempt.

Magda feels guilty for behaving contemptuously with her ASD spouse. She reports that she has yelled and screamed at him. She has threatened divorce. She has withdrawn into passive aggressive silent treatment. And she feels terrible for choosing such immature behaviors. But at least she is asking for help from her therapist, a specialist in treating NeuroDivergent couples.

Magda’s therapist comforts her. “You aren’t alone with these feelings, Magda. Becoming frustrated, angry and even contemptuous is very human when confronted with an unsolvable problem.”

“It is made worse when we have NeuroDiverse partners who are frustrated, angry and contemptuous too.”

“Remember that you can’t solve a problem within the system that created the problem. If you are using an interactional approach, seeking a conversation, and a mutually agreeable solution (which is NeuroTypical)—- and your partner is using a transactional approach, seeking information/facts, to determine who is right or wrong (which is NeuroDiverse)— how do you get anywhere?”

“The first step is to forgive yourself for not understanding what was going on for so many years. How could you have known? Accept and forgive. Your anger is human. So is your ability to forgive.”

Guilt means you are taking responsibility for the outcome of the problem. While it is important to take a look at your part in creating a problem, blaming yourself doesn’t help. Instead take responsibility to seek other options. One of those options is to learn more about NeuroDivergence.

NeuroDivergence means that the systems of NeuroTypical and NeuroDiverse clash in significant ways. I discuss this more in my books and online course, “Asperger Syndrome” & Relationships.1 It is important to arm yourself with information if you are to resolve the contempt that has plagued your relationship.

No ordinary contempt.

If you just can’t stop blaming your partner, or your parents, or your therapist — you may not have ordinary contempt. Or if your partner, parent, or child can’t stop blaming you — you are not dealing with ordinary contempt. You may be confronting serious narcissistic dysfunction.

Rarely have I had to deal with a client or student or colleague who is stuck in narcissistic contempt. This is not the norm, and it probably doesn’t apply to you, but I bring it up so that even this level of distress can be recognized and helped.

Nan is a social worker in the Midwest. She has a level of contempt for her ASD spouse that is so extreme that she is filled with rancor toward her spouse and her therapist. She complains that her therapist doesn’t understand her pain and suffering. She complains that her therapist is not helping her fix her NeuroDiverse spouse. She complains that her spouse has contributed to her health problems and most everything that is wrong in her life.

While it may be true that her NeuroDivergent relationship is a major contributing factor to her problems, contempt and blame is not the solution. As painful as it is to face, it is important to accept the complications of a NeuroDivergent life and seek to rise above the conflicts. Take the high road. Forgive each other. Focus on what you can do with your life, not who’s to blame.

When someone blames incessantly and will not take a step back to evaluate their own part in the problem, then this may be a situation where either the NeuroTypical or the NeuroDiverse person are a Narcissist. In this case, you can’t move forward with a solution until the abuse stops. Remove yourself from the abusive person.

I tried to run away.

I love this quote by Anais Nin: “You live out the confusions until they become clear.” I wish I had understood this sooner. I kept trying to run away from the people and things who traumatized me. That’s what contempt is. It is an unwillingness to face your fears, your uncertainties, the mysteries that surround your life.

Once you accept that contempt just means you don’t know something — that you don’t have the answer — that you are lost and confused — then you can begin to resolve the problem. You may not have the answers right away, but at the very least you know you are just experiencing the human condition. You are not alone.

The solution to your contempt is to forgive yourself the confusion. Stop blaming yourself or the other person. Seek the guidance of a wise therapist who is well trained in treating NeuroDivergent couples. Lean into the problem with the supreme confidence that you have what it takes to clarify a new way of being.

No doubt this new way of being will not look anything like your idealized version of the relationship you thought you would have. On the other hand, you might discover the incredible power of forgiveness and self-love. Self-love goes a long way toward strengthening your relationships.



Autistic Masking

Autistic Masking

Use the 7-Sep Interface Protocol to Break-up the Masking

Autistic children mask at an early age.

Jerome looked into the video camera and said, “Oh that’s what you call it — Masking? I know what that is. I remember deciding to Mask when I was four.” Jerome was matter of fact in this revelation, although it startled his wife.

Isolda looked at me in wide eyed amazement. I had just finished explaining to the couple the concept of Masking as it applies to those on the Autism Spectrum. Still wide eyed, Isolda leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees, as she turned toward her husband. “What do you mean you ‘decided to Mask?’” she asked with a demanding tone.

“Well, it was clear to me that I didn’t fit in and wouldn’t be liked at all if I didn’t mask who I was. Been doing it ever since.” Jerome was attempting to answer Isolda’s question, but that wasn’t her real question, was it?

In that one brief moment Isolda (NT) got insight into her husband Jerome’s (ASD) world. Her heart softened as she realized that Jerome had been Masking all of his life. “Could that be why we never seemed to be on the same page? — You know, all of that pretending?” Isolda thought.

Just as quickly an even bigger question came into her mind. “So, if he has been masking all of his life, who is the man I married?” Isolda was feeling a great deal of anticipation, as she turned to me and said vehemently, “What the heck!”

This was my third or fourth time meeting with Isolda and Jerome. We had already spent a lot of time discussing the “problems” that each of them thought they had — with themselves and each other. But now I wanted to switch the conversation toward better problems solving than to blame. I wanted the couple to look at a bigger picture, one that involved how a young NeuroDiverse child may have developed Masking as a coping mechanism.
There is far more to Masking than what I explained to Jerome and Isolda that day, but here is the explanation in a nutshell:

Masking was first observed in Autistic children, many of whom apparently learned and practiced certain behaviors so as to better fit in with the children around them. They either practiced engaging in certain behaviors, or oppressing others that might be socially unacceptable.

The presumption is that many on the Autism Spectrum acquire what they perceived to be pro-social behaviors through masking, or mimicking others. They also try to suppress behaviors that others disapprove of such as stimming and odd special interests.

As the autistic child grows up, they don’t stop masking. Instead, they acquire a large repertoire of behaviors that work in most social situations. In fact, they often have very complex social scripts to help them through most social situations — though not all, especially with their loved ones.

In other words, Masking is “Pretending to be Normal” to borrow the title of Liane Holliday’s book.1 But why? What purpose(s) does it serve? And is it a conscious choice, as Jerome seemed to indicate?

All children mask when they are young.

The truth is that all children mimic and mask when they are young. This is part of normal child development. Children are keen observers. And one thing children love to do is watch others, especially other children. This is how children learn to speak, and put their shoes on the right feet, and even how to read. This is how they acquire socially/morally acceptable behavior too.

But at about age 6 there is a distinct difference starting to emerge between NeuroTypical (NT) and NeuroDiverse children. We begin to see the development of empathy among NT children. Not so with NeuroDiverse children.

Empathy is the ability to “read” the other person, to speak their language, to step into their shoes, and see the world from their perspective. Mimicking no longer serves to do this. Instead, the NT child begins to adapt their words and behaviors to reflect how to connect with others in ways that bring them closer together. Emotional connection comes before copying a behavior.

On the other hand, NeuroDiverse children continue to acquire mimicked behaviors, those behaviors that they observe in others, and hope will pass for normal. Often at a tender age, the Autistic child is aware that this mimicking or Masking is not quite right, but without professional guidance they do not learn about empathy. Instead, they acquire a large catalog of well-rehearsed behaviors, or scripts.

Along with their repertoire of scripts, the NeuroDiverse child has also developed a great deal of anxiety over having failed socially. It’s painful and confusing to work so hard to imitate others, and yet still be mocked and shunned when you think you are doing it right. Unable to fit in, the older Autistic child and teen takes refuge in a solitary special interest that doesn’t involve direct social interaction.

Sometimes these special interests, such as trains, tearing apart motorcycles, or playing video games leads to an acceptable career path. If the NeuroDiverse child can distinguish themselves in some way that is acceptable to society, they don’t feel as much pain. But they still feel alone.

The Masking child turns into a Masking adult.

There’s a lot more to this process than I can explain in one short blog, but are you getting the idea how divergent the worlds of NeuroTypical and NeuroDiverse become by the time the Autistic person has been masking for 20-30 years or more?

Is it any wonder that NeuroDivergent couples and families have such complex and chaotic lives?

In fact, is it any wonder that communication fails between these two groups, time and time again?

And with failed communication, the love fails too.

Autism is defined by psychologists as a “Pervasive Developmental Disorder.” This means that the NeuroDiverse child fails early in life to grasp the empathic interactional method of communicating and relating to others. Even though they want to connect and enjoy the company of others — everywhere they go, they struggle with empathy, and thus with their relationships.

Pervasive means just that. With family, friends, teachers, neighbors, classmates, teammates, coworkers — and later with their life partners and their own children — NeuroDiverse folks fail to connect because of this Pervasive Developmental Disability.

Instead, they continue to create a NeuroDiverse reality that consists of rules that fit the mimicked behaviors they have acquired. Even though the NeuroTypicals around them do not accept the rigid rules they have established, the NeuroDiverse individual continues to operate in the blind — pushing their transactional system. . .

Until the relationship with their NeuroTypical partner or child or friend breaks down.

Use the 7-Step Interface Protocol.

It is obviously not easy to get past this breakdown, after years of misunderstandings and heartache. However, if you truly love someone, there is motivation. Both NeuorDiverse and NeuroTypical need to take a step back and recognize how this Pervasive Developmental Disorder has shaped them. Then together, with patience and kindness — just maybe you can untangle the mess.

One tool that I offer to help with this untangling is what I call the 7-Step Interface Protocol. I’ll briefly outline the steps here, but to get a good grasp of this tool, please read my book “Empathy Is More Than Words,” 2 or register for my online recorded course.3

The 7-Step Interface Protocol consists of:

  1. Developing the Resilience to keep rising out of the ashes until you get it right.
  2. Getting a proper Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, if appropriate, instead of defending against the reality of this Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
  3. Using the Empathy Triad to resolve all differences.4
  4. Be Brave. You need courage to embark on this journey.
  5. Take Breaks, instead of blowing up or melting down.
  6. If you don’t have empathy, and can’t even fathom it, it’s OK to develop polite Work-Arounds.
  7. Forgive yourself and the other person, all of the myriad mistakes you have made and will make. A sweet Apology can make a huge difference.

The 7-Step Interface Protocol


1 Liane Holliday Willey (1999). “Pretending to be Normal.” London: Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

2 Marshack, Kathy (2022). “Empathy Is More Than Words: Groundbreaking Tools for NeuroDivergent Relationships.” US~Observer Publishing.


4 The Empathy Triad is explained in more detail in the resources above.

If you have a loved one on the Spectrum, please check our private MeetUp group. We have members from around the world meeting online in intimate video conferences guided by Dr. Kathy Marshack.
Learn More >
Join my Meetup Group