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By William Schroeder, LPC
Have you had difficulty communicating effectively with your Asperger’s partner? Many of my adult clients tend to fall on the higher functioning side of the Autism spectrum formerly known as Aspergers. One issue that commonly comes up is difficulty reading the emotional world of those on the spectrum as it can present in a way that seems very flat or narrow. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have deep emotional worlds, what I have found is that accessing this information tends to take a different route sometimes.
An example of that would be when a client identified their car in the parking lot, not by model or color, but by the plate number. So, if a stranger were in the parking lot with them and asked which car was theirs, they would respond with the plate number instead of saying, “I have that red Honda Accord on the corner.” This person is an excellent example of how people can see and categorize the world around them in vastly different ways. Differences like this can often create some breakdowns in communication and build frustration for those on the spectrum and potentially those connected to them.
What to do about it?
One approach that I like to use with clients is something that I have pulled from Polyvagal Theory. I call it, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red Light.
- Green light – where you feel comfortable and things are going well and are easy.
- Yellow light – You are scanning for danger and anxious.
- Orange light – Things are starting to meltdown but haven’t completely fallen apart. Tension is high.
- Red light – A meltdown has happened. (For some this is cathartic as their internal world matches their external world)
I will have clients think about the events of their week and ask them to highlight them in the matching colors. The activity tends to help find ways that connect more to the emotional world of this person. I have some clients that do not identify with having many “green light” stages during their days. No matter what, this activity is informative and allows people a greater ability to understand what causes their ASD partners or kids to be throttled during the days or weeks as this might not always be evident. I like to think of it as an activity monitor or debugging log that allows you to have a better view of the processes that take up the most bandwidth in the CPU. Over time this becomes very instructive about changes that may need to happen.
Another tool that can be used is the game Grok. Grok is a card game for couples that focuses on pulling words associated with emotions and applying it to recent situations. Similarly, this game encourages emotional processing which can be very constructive. I find that both of these activities tend to unlock dialogue that would easily have been missed without utilizing them.
Do you have activities that you prefer or even find more useful? If so, let us know on Twitter. If you would like counseling and more tips, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment. One last suggestion, for couples I would suggest reading Eva Mendes book, “Marriage and Lasting Relationships with Aspergers Syndrome.” Eva has a number of useful insights and activities that promote greater connectedness in ASD relationships. We also offer Aspergers counseling and couples counseling.