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Cassandra's Opposite

Okay, so, Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder: Made-up malady by women in failed relationships with Asperger's men, apparently disappointed that the man they married is... uh, the man they married. Apparently, if an Asperger's man doesn't tell you every night that he loves you, withdraws when he's overwhelmed, or freaks out over having to listen to that high-pitched sound from the old TV for the fiftieth time, the solution is not to try to figure out how to fix the relationship, or learn how to communicate properly, but to divorce the guy.

(I find it amusing that in the original Cassandra legend, Cassandra got her gift of prophecy cursed so no one would ever believe her. Why? She refused to show affection to Apollo, who'd fallen in love with her beauty and given her that gift in the first place. Someone apparently doesn't know her mythology very well.)

Aspies can be jerks. So can NTs. Marriages work better when people communicate better. Aspie/NT, like any relationship, is not doomed to fail, not made to succeed, and not going to survive without effort. Marriages have a 50% failure rate. Plenty of AS/NT marriages work out just fine. But we know this. We've gone over it a hundred times.

Let's go over the opposite, then: What happens when the autistic individual isn't the abusive partner?

We already know two things: First, autistic individuals tend to be "bully magnets". Not all are; but some definitely tend that way. Second, autistic individuals, by definition, have impaired communication. Recipe for danger: Someone who attracts abusers--and then has trouble figuring out how to tell anyone they are in trouble. Sometimes, doesn't even understand they are in trouble.

I was an autistic bully magnet as a kid. I got it at school; but school was still a refuge for me because the biggest bully actually happened to be my stepfather. My mom got taken in by a charming sociopath. She was really unlucky.

Or.... was she?

See, like me, my mom's probably autistic--or, anyway, has a lot of autistic traits. She's never been diagnosed; but there's a lot about her that just about screams "autism", or at least broader autistic phenotype, to me. My grandma has stories about her having tantrums because her sandwich had been cut the "wrong" way. She has a loud, unmodulated voice. She's socially isolated. She's overwhelmed by sensory stuff like shouting children and detergents. She's fascinated with Messianic Judaism, even though she's not Jewish, and spends just about all her spare time on it. She doesn't understand the point of fiction. She gets tangled in workplace politics because she doesn't understand it.

She's a lot like me.

Well, minus executive function issues, plus dislike of fiction. Plus, thankfully, employability--and a high degree of competence.

So was my mom unlucky... or was she an easy target?

Imagine: You're a single mom. You're trying to deal with two children, one of whom has the worst behavior you have ever seen, even though privately you're trying to make sure that the badly-behaved Older Girl doesn't get labeled with that new fad diagnosis called "Asperger Disorder". You're trying to keep a job, and your co-workers are a lot more socially savvy than you; and then you come home--totally exhausted--and you have to keep a house clean and make sure Older Girl takes showers and brushes her teeth and doesn't smash up the walls.

Your culture says: Children need two parents to grow up well.

You think: My Older Girl hasn't got a proper father. She needs a strong father who can handle her misbehavior properly. She won't listen to me. I'm not strong enough.

You conclude: This family needs a father.

And here comes this man... tall, muscular, charming... romantic. He helps you find a new car after you skidded on a gravel road and flipped the old car upside down--an accident that still has you in nervous knots every time you touch a vehicle. He takes you on walks. He listens to you. He says he'll work so you can stay at home, like a proper mother is supposed to do. And... he says he can handle your badly-behaved Older Girl.

Your life seems like every problem has just been solved. Weeks after you meet him, you marry him. Life is going to be perfect now.

And the nightmare begins.

Autism often means you don't read people very well. You take things at face value, because you expect that other people naturally tell the truth, just like you do. It works out great for relationships--if you love a trustworthy person. If you love a sociopath, you're trapped.

Autistic people often make the perfect victims. In many cases, we don't even know we're victims. My stepfather had my mother so thoroughly deceived that it took years for her to understand that he wasn't in college, didn't have a job, and hadn't actually spent her savings on tuition.

He had her so thoroughly deceived that she mistook abuse for discipline, or believed him when he said that I had simply been so badly-behaved that he couldn't help himself. A man was only human, after all. And he wouldn't do it again. In her mind, I think, she really believed he wouldn't.

My stepfather said that if my mother ever called anyone--or if she ever let me call anyone--then my sister and I would go to foster homes and be raped.

My mother doesn't trust the government--something he encouraged--so she believed him. It was the lesser of two evils to let him stay. Besides, he had said he was sorry. He would never do it again.

I tried to tell people anyway. I told a teacher and a Sunday school teacher. Each time, my stepfather explained that I was just a crazy little drama queen. I was badly behaved, you see. I had tantrums. I was immature.

When he yelled into my ears--he must have known I had hyperacusis; seen me cover my ears at loud sounds--he would tell her that he was only trying to make me listen. When he hit me, he would point out that he hadn't left a mark, even though I had marks from him holding me down and headaches from his yelling. After the first time he bent my glasses, he learned to take them off beforehand, so he wouldn't damage them.

There was no real evidence. Just a harried father trying to subdue his obviously badly-behaved daughter.

My little sister learned to hide. She became a non-entity in the house--always in her room, drawing horses.

I never learned to hide. I insisted on truth; and when I didn't see truth, I pointed it out.

Mommy, the Emperor's got no clothes on. Why is that, Mommy? I thought you said people had to wear clothes. I have to wear clothes. The rules should be the same for everybody. Why hasn't he got any on?

I was never badly damaged. I hurt my wrist once when I fell--I was never the best at keeping my balance; and being shoved while standing on the bottom few steps of a flight of stairs didn't help any. That was the worst of it. Most of it was really very minor.

It isn't the physical, you see. You can get all sorts of physical injuries from playing hockey or something of that sort, and they're not too bad. You put on an ice pack and you wait 'til you can move again and you get back out on the field. I hadn't got any injuries near as bad as what high-school athletes get every day. It's not the physical injuries; those are just incidental. The real point of it is to turn you into nothing--to subsume your personality into an extension of the abuser's will. It's all a mind game--all about making you so afraid that you can't think, so afraid you can only freeze and cower and beg. If he likes, a real expert can torture you without ever touching you.

I found out I would rather be a brat and take whatever I got than lose my identity. I learned that you could be screaming and begging and curled up in a corner, and still in your head be thinking about your next move. I learned that there was a part of you, if you could keep it for yourself, that would not listen to fear. I learned that if you got angry enough, nothing mattered anymore.

I was, you see, a rebellious teenager.

He yelled at my mother, too. I remember hiding in my room with a tape recorder, trying to get proof that my father mistreated my mother. I imagine she was going through her own hell at the same time I was going through mine. My memories don't include a lot of what happened to her; I suppose I was still young enough to be focused exclusively on my own life. I think he hit her a few times, though not as often as me.

When my stepfather deceived my mother, he forced her into becoming a sort of accomplice--made all the worse because she didn't perceive the force he used.

When he deceived her, took advantage of her trust, he took her ability to protect her children from her.

I think that is one of the worst things you can ever do to a woman--especially a woman like my mother, whose whole life revolved around her family.

He got in trouble with the law. I turned in evidence, scared out of my wits but having been well-educated in the matter of living with fear. Probation meant more mind games, less hitting. I left for college. He visited me; he, on the brink of marital collapse, and I struggling to live on my own at least five years too soon. We had a good long conversation, oddly amicable. My mother was causing him stress, he said, trying to change him. She was a manipulative bitch. She wouldn't stop nagging him. She was probably crazy. Actually, that was the problem, really; my mother was crazy. She was obsessed with nutrition and Messianic Judaism and wouldn't let him live his own life. She was controlling. She had to have everything her own way. He was going to leave her.

Then he did leave her.

Slowly, I recovered. My sister, too, after she ran away from home to live with my cousins. My mother... Well, she's too afraid now to marry again. She lives with her boyfriend. He's neurotypical; and he's her husband, really, in all but name; a good man whose physical disability and consequent early retirement give him time to pursue his hobby of refinishing antique furniture. I've seen his work; it's very good, very detailed. It takes patience to work with old wood like that--patience and gentleness. He can't walk very well; I guess, oddly, that reassures me. My littlest sister, the surprise baby born when I was a teen, still at home, can run fast enough to get away from him if she ever has to. I don't think she will have to.

That little girl--the third of us, the one that grew up without abuse--is confident. She's growing up well. She seems happy. I listen to her formal speech and hear her talk about Macintosh computers and how she really doesn't mind not having a lot of friends, and how she's written her first novel. I hear her play the harp, tinny over the long-distance telephone line, with the same musical talent my whole family has--except, appropriately, for my stepfather's tone-deaf attachment to repetitive country songs. I hear her talk about studying philosophy for the first time--she doesn't know she's studying philosophy, but she is--and declaring that she wants to make up her own mind about religion. I caution her: Really make up your own mind. Don't just believe the opposite of what you hear because it's the opposite. Okay, she says. Logic first. Don't just believe what people say. Check things out first. Make sure it makes sense. Listen to both sides.

If you are naturally trusting, it's so very easy to get trapped in an abusive relationship. If you have trouble communicating, it's so very hard to get out. If you have no real social life, you're very easily isolated so the abuse isn't noticed. If you have trouble thinking about the world around you, you may not even know you are being abused at all.

My sister and I survived. My mom survived. We are happy again. Not everyone is so lucky.

The problem of autistic people in abusive relationships is very real. It could be a spouse; it could be a parent; it could be an aide or a teacher or even a co-worker or fellow student. If anything, autistic people do not need to be taught to be more agreeable. We need to be taught to say, "No. This is wrong. This is not fair. Stop. No more."

And we need to be believed when we say it.

Comments

(Anonymous)

Cassandra's Opposite

All good points, and so sorry that happened to your family.

Clay

(Anonymous)

oh my god

That story is so...horrifying.

So sorry that happened in your family. So glad you all survived, escaped even.

Cassandra Syndrome

That is a very sad story. I'm sorry it happened to you.

What Cassandra theorists usually say is that the husband who has AS tend to develop "coping skills" in their relationships with other people outside the marriage. As a conseguence his peers tend to accept his behavior, respect him and consider him quite "normal". On the other hand, regarding his wife, the coping skills of the AS husband shouldn't work so well as the relationship involves more intimacy, and deeper emotional issues than the relationship with his peers. As a consequence the husband with AS is usually seen with high regards by his peers and with disapproval by his wife. That is the part of the story which is similar to the Cassandra legend as Cassandra was able to foretell the future but no one would believe her.

Does the Cassandra Syndrome happens in practice? I guess some documented cases. The problem is that it is very overrated!

(Anonymous)

This is not the first story I have heard like this, an Aspie-like woman taken advantage of, because she believes him when he says he won't do it again. There is a website called lovefraud, it tells you how to spot these kinds of men. I think both Aspie and NT women should read lovefraud.

This Cassandra thing, it makes sense to me that being in a relationship with an autistic person who is incapable of doing certain things could be emotionally damaging to the NT. It is very difficult for a child who seeks a hug from a parent to be denied it.

(Anonymous)

An autistic person is not necessarily incapable of certain things. I don't like to touch most persons, but can gladly touch and hug certain individuals I am close to. I would definitely hug my child. In fact, I am happy to hold and hug children in general.
I do think some NT/AS relationships may be painful...this can work both ways...it can be hurtful to an AS person to be in a relationship with an NT person who doesn't understand, and vice versa. But each person, whether NT or AS, and each relationship, whether AS/NT, NT/NT, or AS/AS is different. It is true that on the whole, NTs are more likely to be happy in relationships with NTs, and Aspies are more likely to be happy in relationships with Aspies. But of course, every couple is unique and has their own story.
That's terrible. I'm glad it's over.

Your mother was (COMPARATIVELY)lucky. Abusers rarely leave of their own accord. (Of course, it would have been uch luckier to never have met him in the first place.)
Thank you for this post.
Thank you for telling this story, though obviously it would be better if you didn't have to --- if you had never lived it in the first place.

You're absolutely right, though: our trusting natures and inability to spot the red flags do make us more vulnerable to abusers, and our isolation makes it harder for us to leave. (I think other factors can play a role, too: executive dysfunctions can make it harder for us to form, and enact, an escape plan; ignorance of how society and institutions work could make us less able to prosecute or gain custody of children; mobility can be limited by non-driving or fear of public transportation ... I'm sure there are lots more).

Good to see someone else noticed the mythological gaffe, too! If anything, Apollo would be the affection-demanding partner, but it's kinda hard to paint an Olympian as a pitiable victim...

:)
I am sure this must have been very hard for you to write, but I am glad that you did write it, because people need to know what really happens.

I've edited my recent post "Cassandra's Impact on Autistic Victims of Domestic Violence" to add a link to this post.

http://autisticbfh.blogspot.com/2009/05/cassandras-impact-on-autistic-victims.html

(Anonymous)

I read your blog quite often, and enjoy your writing.

I also grew up in an abusive family, and was once for a short time with an abusive partner. It was very difficult, as I can't modify my behaviour. But perhaps this is also a good thing? The Autism helps you survive things, because you don't loose yourself in the same way?

- jordan

(Anonymous)

stuff

I think this "disorder" is mostly in relation to people in relationships with undiagnosed aspergers people. I'm loathe to use a disorder as an excuse for bad behaviour, but after a few years of internalising my issues, it was refreshing to read that other people in relationships with undiagnosed aspergers went through and experienced exactly the same things I went through and experienced. It is in no way trying to present the undiagnosed apsergers person in a negative light, but more giving validaiton for what the partner was going through. And if the undiagnosed aspergers person is to be validated then so does the partner. It is more a light bulb moment, that lets you know hey this is happening because of this.

Re: stuff

Yes, people in a marriage where communication is impaired can suffer.

However, I still do not think that this makes CAD a legitimate psychological diagnosis. Putting aside the poor-quality "research" and the lack of relevant experience and education on the part of the person who made it up, CAD does not qualify as anything that can be called a disorder.

Here's why: The symptoms are identical to what would happen in any marriage where communication was impaired. It happens to people whose spouses are workaholics. It happens to people who marry too soon with someone they don't know well enough. It even happens to an Asperger's spouse in a marriage with an NT, because the NT does not know how to communicate with them.

This isn't a separate phenomenon; in fact, you are much less alone than you think. You will probably find common ground among people with all kinds of communication problems in relationships.

CAD does not need a separate name because it is not a separate phenomenon. It is not inevitable with NT/AS couples; it hasn't even been shown to happen more with NT/AS couples than with NT/NT couples. You can't blame AS for marital problems directly--you can blame the difference in neurotypes, just like you might blame a culture gap or an age gap. But the solution is never to just "get rid of the AS" somehow. It's to compromise and communicate. If either partner can't do that, then there are problems. Many of the people talking about CAD--including the people who first made it up--are neurotypical people who could not compromise.

Sometimes when there are problems in a relationship it's the AS partner, sometimes it's the NT partner; usually it's both. We simply don't need "Cassandra affective disorder" to tell us that solving communication problems will make a relationship better.