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Kathy Marshack News

How to Handle “Micro-Hits” without Losing Your Cool

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Do you often feel belittled and trivialized by a family member who has autism spectrum disorder? “Micro-aggressions” is a phrase coined by psychiatrist, Chester M Pierce, MD, in the 1970’s to refer to the intentional or unintentional ways of invalidating, degrading or insulting an individual based on a bias. Usually it’s used in the context of bullying and discrimination in schools and the workplace. However it perfectly describes much of what we experience while living with someone with Aspergers Syndrome.

Aspie micro-aggressions are those subtle messages that deny your reality and denigrate your status with your Aspie partner or family member. But not all subtleties or micro-behaviors are aggression, are they?

I call this other category “Micro-Hits” because they still throw us off balance. When your Aspie shuts you up with a comment like, “You don’t know that!” that’s a micro-hit. It’s confusing, since you may have been stating your opinion (which you are entitled to, by the way), but now you have to explain why you said what you said.

Isn’t it okay to chat, to offer conjecture, to suggest another possibility, without having to prove your point? We get this. Aspies don’t. They’re not aggressions exactly, but micro-hits still confuse and derail us. It’s time to learn how to stay on track with a snappy comeback, instead of that dazed and confused feeling, as your Aspie walks out of the room.

If you’re a member of my Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, please join us at the upcoming free teleconference: Micro-Hits. It will be held on Thursday, April 19th. We’ll figure out some snappy comebacks, plus discuss tools to stay confident and calm. Perhaps we’ll even discover new ways to help our Aspies a bit.

And if you haven’t heard yet, my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS,” can now be purchased on Amazon in paperback or kindle edition. Its down-to-earth advice will teach you to protect yourself from those with Empathy Dysfunction. As a favor to me, can you please add your review on Amazon, after you read it? I’d appreciate it.

Confused? Learn the Differences between Sensitivity and Empathy

Monday, March 26, 2018


. If you confuse sensitivity for empathy, you’re not alone. I’ve discovered that both neurotypicals and Aspies have trouble understanding the differences between sensitivity and empathy“He’s a really sensitive guy.” “She’s such an empathetic person.” You may think these statements describe the same characteristic. If you confuse sensitivity for empathy, you’re not alone. In my practice, I’ve discovered that both neurotypicals and Aspies have trouble understanding the differences. For example, how would you answer these questions?

  • Is it sensitivity or empathy to cry at the sight of an injured pet?
  • Is it sensitivity or empathy to feel comforted by an embrace?

Would you be surprised to learn that neither instance is empathy? To produce empathy a person needs an integrated symphony of neurology, traits and skills. Here’s how I define empathy in my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you”:

"Empathy is a dynamic, evolving process—not a human trait. From empathy comes the ability to hold dear the feelings and thoughts of others.
Those with highly-evolved empathy skills do not confuse the psychological boundaries between themselves and others. They can care, feel compassion and sympathize without taking on the responsibility for another person’s intentions or feelings. This distinction is critical. Empathy is respectfully allowing the other person to take responsibility for their life. (In AA and other 12-step programs, the ability to do this is called detachment.)
A symphony may best represent the dynamics of humans empathizing. A great composer creates a musical score that allows for the best use and sound of each instrument, while staying faithful to the melody and the meaning of the piece. Sometimes we hear a solo. Other times we embrace the resonance of the horn section or the rumble of the tympani. Often the room is filled with what sounds like a thousand string instruments. We may feel thrilled, calmed, or seduced by the music.

A symphony is not complete without the audience, which provides energy to the musicians. Have you noticed how much more alive a performance is when the audience emotionally joins with the orchestra? Empathy is like this, too. It is far more than the sum of its parts. It is the sense that everyone in the room is breathing the music. So, too, empathy creates a powerful oneness that lets us know we are not alone.”

Would you like to improve your ability to tell the difference between empathy and sensitivity? If you’re a member of my Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, I invite you to attend the one of the upcoming Video Conferences entitled “Sensitivity is Not Empathy.” They will be held on three different days: Thursday, April 5th, Wednesday, April 11th, and Wednesday, April 25th. Spaces are very limited, so grab your spot early.

If you haven’t heard yet, I’m pleased to tell you that my new book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS,” can now be purchased on Amazon in paperback or kindle edition. I urge you to get a copy today. Its down-to-earth advice will teach you to protect yourself from those with Empathy Dysfunction. After you read it, please add your review on Amazon. I’d love to know what you think about it.

NT/AS Marriage Problems – Divorce, Separation or Alone Together?

Monday, February 26, 2018


Divorce is a tough subject, but we can’t ignore it because it’s all too common in Asperger marriages. I’ve heard many times people describing marriage with someone with Asperger Syndrome (AS) is like walking on eggshells. Add that to the “normal” stresses of marriage and it can get to be too overwhelming to deal with. To give you one example:

A man with undiagnosed AS often feels as if his wife is being ungrateful when she complains he’s uncaring or never listens to her. He knows what he thinks and how he feels, and assumes that she should too. It doesn’t even occur to him to understand her point of view, so her complaints bother him. When she asks for clarification or a little sympathy, he becomes defensive because he knows he has good intentions and he resents the pressure. This defensiveness may turn into verbal abuse (and sometimes physical abuse) because he needs to control the communication to suit his view of the world.

No wonder the wife feels like she’s walking on eggshells and looks for a way out of the marriage. But that can bring other problems…

What can you expect if you divorce an Asperger man? Unfortunately, he probably won’t understand why his wife wants a divorce and will become angry. Not knowing how to handle his distress he may turn the energy into revenge. Unfortunately, many high conflict divorces are the result of the negativity and obsessing of the AS partner regarding the wrongdoing he perceives of his NT spouse.

It is likely to be a long, painful and expensive divorce where all suffer.

On the other hand, some Aspies just leave quietly and never remarry because they can’t quite figure out how to rebuild a life separately from their former spouse. Some NT former wives report that their former husband even still refers to her as his “wife” years after the divorce.

Many of our Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD members contemplate divorce or separation. Even though our group is extremely helpful, there may come a time when the only way to save your sanity is to consider ways to leave. If you’re no longer strong enough to endure the loneliness of being Alone Together, it just might be time to strike out on your own and explore a new life.

I invite you to attend the upcoming teleconference: Divorce, Separation or Alone Together? It will be held on Thursday, March 22nd at 2:30 PM PT. Don't be shy about dialing in for this teleconference, even if you’re not considering divorce. We’ll discuss why the issue is relevant to our group. Even when you take your marriage vows seriously (and who doesn't?) it's very tough living without reciprocity and emotional connection.

I think it can be therapeutic to consider what your life would be like without your Aspie. It's not necessarily that you should get a divorce, but it gives you an opportunity to think about why you’re holding yourself back from the life you’re meant to live. Either way, divorce or not, you should be true to your authentic self, shouldn't you?

That’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you. The first chapter, “No One Calls Me Mom Anymore” is now available for free download. After you read it, I’d love it if you’d visit my Facebook page and tell me what you think.

There’s Something Special Going on at Dr. Kathy’s ASD Meetup this Month

Monday, January 08, 2018


It’s been nine years since I began hosting the Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup. When I started this group back in 2009, I intended it to be a place for those in the Portland, Oregon area to meet for lunch and find supportive friends who understood the often frustrating and isolating life of loving an adult with Asperger Syndrome.

I was ever so surprised when people from other states and then other countries started joining, just for the opportunity to share in the online discussions. We have grown to having members all over the world, on every continent. Whatever the language or the culture, we can all relate to the common theme of life with an adult with Asperger Syndrome. Currently we have 2,259 members. But there’s room for more!

What is the mission of this Meetup?

If you’re a Neurotypical Adult with a spouse, partner, sibling, parent or grown child who has Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD), you will soon learn that you’re not alone. We meet in small face-to-face group meetings, and hold international teleconferences, and have intimate video conferences for those who live abroad but want the small group feel.

If you need daily support you can join one of dozens of private, online discussions. You are safe here. Only members can access the discussion boards. You can ask questions and share stories of your day. Not everyone agrees on everything, but our diversity is what creates opportunity to grow and change, and perhaps even take back your life from these very tough ASD relationships.

I hope you’ll join us as we form a community for those of us who have this unique life of being in relationship with an adult on the Autism Spectrum.

Since beginning this group I’ve also written three books, "Going Over the Edge?" "Out of Mind - Out of Sight" and soon to be released "WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you."

So I have lots to talk about. However, this month I have something special planned for our free international teleconference on January 18th at 2:30PM PT. It’s entitled: Ask Dr. Marshack Anything! I'd like to "share the floor" with those among you who have lots of wisdom because you have lived this life with Aspies. Certainly you can come to the teleconference with your questions, concerns and anecdotes for me, but I also hope to hear from our many members who have been in the trenches a long time.

The reason this group thrives, is that we are there for each other. To know that you are understood and supported and not alone, is incredibly powerful isn't it?

If you’re not a member yet and you’re a NT living with an Aspie, please feel free to join this Meetup. It’s free to join, and you’ll gain a lot of supportive friends and helpful resources.

What Question Would YOU Like to Ask Me about Asperger’s?

Monday, June 26, 2017


What question would you like to ask Dr Kathy about aspergersIf you could ask me anything about Aspergers and your AS/NT relationship, what would you ask?

Coming up in July you’ll have three opportunities to actually do just that. Each one of my low cost video conferences will be dedicated to answering your nagging questions. Because that’s what it's like living with Aspies, isn't it? There are these confusing moments, loose connections and vague gut feelings.

What might some of your questions be about?

  • How do I parent my Aspie children with an Aspie partner?
  • How can I help my NT child deal with his/her Aspie parent?
  • How can I find a measure of romance in my AS/NT relationship?
  • What are some ways to keep my sanity in a trying situation?
  • What specific rules of engagement will help my Aspie and I connect?
  • How can I help my Aspie to at least acknowledge my feelings?
  • How can I feel whole despite the craziness and loneliness?

Do any of these questions strike a cord with you? Perhaps they at least get you thinking about a topic that’s important to you. Please write your ideas down, so you don’t forget between now and the conference.

Let's gather to share our collective wisdom. I don't have all of the answers, but beneath the surface of our perplexing lives is a pattern. I believe this pattern is discoverable. These low cost conferences will be held on Thursday, July 6th at 9AM, Wednesday, July 12th at 2PM, and Thursday, July 27th at 4PM. The spots are filling up quickly, so, if you’re a member of our Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup be sure to register very soon. (Not a member yet? If you are the neuro typical partner in a NT/AS relationship, request an invitation.)

If you prefer to consult with me one-on-one and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. Otherwise, you might qualify for either online therapy or online education. Check out the services I provide and choose the one that’s the right fit for you.

Who Is Taking Care of the Caregivers?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017


44 million Americans are caregivers of a special needs child or elderly relative or neighbor and they need our family and community support to keep going. Are you one of the 44 million Americans who is the caregiver of a special needs child or for an elderly relative or neighbor? We deeply appreciate the love you show and the hard work you do. We realize that often you’re doing this in addition to working secularly, caring for your own household and parenting your children. Thank you for all that you do!

Being a caregiver is a high stress job. Not only are you dealing with the decline of a loved one, the work is physically, emotionally and financially draining. Many times a caregiver is called upon to perform medical procedures for which they haven’t been sufficiently trained such as giving injections, changing catheters, etc. Plus caregivers work reduced hours or even quit their careers to care for their loved ones.

Recently the New York Times ran an article that helps us to get to know these caregivers better. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Nearly a quarter of caregivers are millennials.
  • Caregivers are equally likely to be male or female.
  • About one-third of caregivers also have a full-time job.
  • About one-quarter work part time.
  • A third provide more than 21 hours of care per week.
  • AARP estimates their unpaid value is $470 billion a year.
  • One in five report significant financial strain.
  • Family caregivers over 50 who leave the work force lose, on average, more than $300,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetimes.
  • Sixty percent of those caring for older family members have to reduce the number of work hours, take a leave of absence or make other career changes.

The demand for caregivers is increasing, while the available number of caregivers is decreasing. Because they’re not getting the support and help they need, caregivers often suffer from anxiety, depression and chronic disease. JAMA reports on a study that shows that caregiving shaves, on the average, four years off their lifespan. And surprisingly, the physical impact lasts long after the job is done. PNAS reports on a study that long-term caregivers’ immune systems are still disrupted three years after their job ends. The NEJM reports that caregivers of patients with long I.C.U. stays have high levels of depressive symptoms lasting for more than a year.

Legislation is trying to ease the burden for caregivers by passing the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act. This has been signed into law by Oregon, but Washington State hasn’t adopted it yet.

The CARE Act requires hospitals to:
  • Record the name of the family caregiver on the medical record of the patient.
  • Inform the family caregivers when the patient is to be discharged.
  • Provide the family caregiver with education and instruction of the medical tasks he or she will need to perform for the patient at home.

If you are a caregiver, please take advantage of local support groups. Reach out to friends and family and schedule time off. Attend classes and talk with professionals about your demanding role. Become educated so you can perform your tasks well and with no risk of injuring yourself. Mental health professionals can help you learn techniques for managing your stress. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. I would love to help.

Available Online Resources:

The Eldercare Locator identifies community organizations that help with meals, transportation, home care, peer support and caregiving education.

The Local Area Agencies on Aging connects patients and caregivers to the services they need.


ASD Emotional Sensitivity is Not the Same as Empathy

Wednesday, March 01, 2017


ASD sensitivity isn’t the same as Radiant Empathy, which is the highest level of empathy where you care for others’ feelings without needing reciprocity.John Elder Robison, whose Asperger’s Syndrome was undiagnosed until he was 40 years old, gets a lot of play for his books on his life with autism. His latest book about undergoing transcranial stimulation, "Switched On" leads readers to believe that for a short period of time he experienced empathy. This is simply not true.

Empathy is so much more than being sensitive. In fact many NTs are stumped by their Aspies because they appear to be very sensitive and they might be. Parents make this mistake often with their ASD children. Because your ASD child loves you or bursts into tears when they see a pet hurting doesn’t mean they have empathy.

Empathy is a complex, multi-faceted skillset that I sum up as Namaste – "the Soul in me recognizes and honors the Soul in you." It’s the ability to clearly recognize the other person, while holding constant your own feelings and thoughts. It’s respecting the boundaries of the other person even if you sympathize. You don't confuse their pain or thoughts with your own. Furthermore, the highest level of empathy is what I call "Radiant Empathy," or the ability to care for the feelings and thoughts of others without any need for reciprocity.

John Robison never experienced the state of empathy, but with transcranial stimulation, he was more aware of his own feelings and he was even more unable to regulate them (typical of an Aspie). If you have Radiant Empathy you can regulate your feelings and not run amok.

It takes a lifetime to develop Radiant Empathy because it’s the combination of a healthy brain and life experience. But science will keep trying to discover the components of life as if the sum total of a human is nothing more than the sum of its parts.

We’ll discuss this very important subject at our next TELECONFERENCE: “Sensitivity is not Empathy” on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 2:30 PM. Our approach won’t be so much from an intellectual point of view but for two reasons…

1) When you better understand that your Aspie is operating in the relationship without empathy, you can more easily find ways to communicate.

2) You may find that you can be freer to strive for Radiant Empathy, which actually makes your life more joyful.

If you’d like to learn more about the science of Asperger’s Syndrome, click on the image below and download a free chapter of my book. And don’t forget to invite the ASD professionals you know to join the special Meetup I’ve created for them…Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists.

 


Don’t be a Casualty of Social Isolation!

Friday, February 10, 2017


Don’t be a Casualty of Social Isolation!Ironically, while we now have the ability to connect digitally with millions of people around the globe, the problem of social isolation is growing. More and more people are feeling loneliness. Not only is this emotionally devastating but it creates serious health issues such as:

  • disrupted sleep patterns,
  • altered immune systems,
  • inflammation,
  • obesity,
  • higher levels of stress hormone,
  • increased risk of heart disease by 29 percent,
  • increased risk for stroke by 32 percent,
  • accelerated cognitive decline,
  • and premature death.

A recent NY Times article shares some disturbing statistics on social isolation:

40 percent of American adults say they’re lonely, which has doubled since the 1980’s.

One-third of Americans, older than 65, live alone.

Socially isolated individuals have a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, mainly among those who are middle age.

Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors.

The article includes this interesting observation:

“New research suggests that loneliness is not necessarily the result of poor social skills or lack of social support, but can be caused in part by unusual sensitivity to social cues. Lonely people are more likely to perceive ambiguous social cues negatively, and enter a self-preservation mind-set — worsening the problem. In this way, loneliness can be contagious: When one person becomes lonely, he withdraws from his social circle and causes others to do the same.”

How well do you recognize social cues, such as facial expressions? Do you tend to jump to negative conclusions? Negative thinking is not incurable. There’s much you can do to improve your life. It’s never too late to develop a warm social network. Depression, anxiety, and stress are all issues that you can overcome with the aid of a professional. Contact my office if you live in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington area to make an appointment.

Click here to read the entire NY Times article and see how some people are trying to solve the problem of social isolation.

What to Do When Your Asperger Mate Makes You Feel Invisible

Monday, October 31, 2016


What to Do When Your Asperger Mate Makes You Feel InvisibleYou fell in love with your husband because he was kind, attentive and very intelligent. He wasn’t like the other guys you dated. He made you feel special. Now the specialness has worn off, and you feel as if you are living with a robot that has no feelings for you. (This can also apply to a man married to a woman with AS.)

But it is not true! He still loves you, but Asperger's or AS makes it hard for him to convey what is in his mind and heart. Because he can’t read faces or body language well, and because he can’t show you with his eyes or his gestures, a huge chunk of interpersonal communication is lost between the two of you.

You’re holding your breath, waiting for him to come alive with you and share the pleasures of life, but instead you see the years disappear as you getting older. This lack of nonverbal connection that means so much to most of us feels like a rose trying to stay alive on the desert.

You long for the type of bond between lovers that evolves over time from all of those small touches, glances, and whispers that we expect between couples. But it’s not there. Instead you feel invisible.

With their lack of empathy, Aspies fail to send us signals that we are recognized, heard, affirmed, and loved. But after years or even a few short months with an Aspie, the sense of invisibility is hard to shake, isn't it?

Even when we are with friends who do affirm us, or even when we have accolades for our community or career accomplishments, we still feel invisible. We long to belong . . . to be understood . . . to be cared for . . . without doing anything except to BE.

This phenomenon of invisibility is about as hard to shake as other symptoms of PTSD. Remember that PTSD or OTRS (Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome) is a normal reaction to abnormal stressors. This is why our sense of invisibility is so hard to shake. It’s our reaction to living with a lack of empathy for our very existence.

Our next video conference, How to Shake Your Invisibility will be held on Thursday, November 10th at 9AM PT. If you can’t make it, please check back for future Meetups or book a one-on-one educational session with me. While this is not therapy, you can get a lot of your questions answered. Knowledge is power, so with a deeper understanding of how we became invisible, we should be able to come back out into the Light and Love, where we are meant to be.

Stumped by Your Aspie? How to Translate What They’re Trying to Say

Monday, July 18, 2016


If you’re stumped when it comes to communicating with your Asperger’s Syndrome loved one, here are some tips for translating what they’re trying to say.Communication – this is a topic addressed over and over again when I counsel family members who have Asperger Syndrome (Aspies) and is frequently the topic of discussion at our Meetup (Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD). Having raised a daughter with Asperger’s I understand the frustration many of you feel when you try to understand what exactly your Aspie is trying to say.

If any of you are familiar with Star Trek, you might envy the Universal Translator on board the ship that automatically translates every language and sends the translations directly to the chip implanted in the brain of every officer on the Enterprise. Wouldn’t that be helpful!

While a Universal Translator doesn’t exist, we do have another option: Always speak to the good intention, whatever it is, even if you are not sure. When you get a confusing message from your Aspie partner or child, always assume it makes sense somehow, someway. Trust that there is a good intention behind the message even if is speaking Aspie.

By maintaining a neutral position, you are better able to answer the question, “Why is he/she telling me this?”

When I get stumped by a confusing message from an Aspie, I use the phrase, “That’s right,” in order to bring me to neutral. The phrase reminds me that the other person is “right” in that they have a good intention, which has meaning to them. “That’s right,” also helps me know that I am “right,” in that I am capable of good intentions. You may not always be able to get the message translated, but at least being in neutral puts you in a much better frame of mind for the attempt.

Here’s a simple example. When my daughter Bianca was 8, she wrote me a note about trouble she was having at lunch at school. She grew up around my home office, so she observed that my office manager and I often exchanged written notes (even with the advent of e-mail). If I was with a client, Bianca would leave me a note, so that I would be sure to answer her when I had a break from appointments.

Notes became Bianca’s version of the Universal Translator. Her penchant for writing as opposed to talking with me should be noted. It is a typical Aspie trait to find comfort in the written word—because face-to-face communication requires empathy and the interpretation of confusing non-verbal messages.

So the next time you feel stumped by your Aspie, put yourself in neutral and then ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I know about this person?
  • What is important to him or her?
  • What are their interests, beliefs and opinions?

Then do your best to speak to those things, instead of relying only on your interpretation of reality. If you want to delve deeper into understanding how to communicate with your Aspie check out my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)", you can download the first chapter for free. If you have questions about what you read I’m available for an online Q & A session.

 



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