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Wired to respond

These days I find myself often thinking about the characteristics of partners. Those who in good faith have entered a relationship with an adult who is eventually exposed as having significant characteristics of autism. Often the realisation comes quickly after a marriage contract is entered or cohabitation commences, sometimes it comes when the demands of life increase, sometimes the signs were there, but the significance wasn’t appreciated. The “benefit of the doubt” was given, assuming the occurrences were a “one off” … until the occurrences become the norm of everyday life, and we berate ourselves because we saw it, we knew.

But we are highly empathic individuals. Normally neurotypical, but on the high end of the empathy scale. We marvel at how many of us have found ourselves sharing life with an individual at the other end of the empathy scale. A strange selection process that ensures the survival needs of the ASD individual are met by a highly intelligent, empathic, functional partner, but that cruelly denies the survival needs of that partner for connection, for collaboration, communication, care, joy, love …

What is it about us? One of our educators asks this question of us, encouraging us to explore and understand ourselves, our tendencies that led us into these relationships in the first place, and why we stay … long after many others would have abandoned ship. Truly we are beautiful, caring, loyal human beings, but we’re sharing life with one who only throws us the occasional crumb of love. We wait around for the next, never knowing when, but believing the existence of a crumb means a whole loaf and many more could appear if we just hang in there.

It bothers me to realise that the very deficits of the disordered individual elicit empathic responses from the partner, instinctively and compulsively. We are wired to respond. We cannot help it. We cannot go against nature. We see a need, we perceive an inadequacy, we sense a fear, we experience uncovered bases … we meet the need, we function on their behalf, we take care of situations that stress them, we step up and cover more bases … until we realise we are taking responsibility for everything, filling a functional capacity for both of us, but have control of nothing.

Put this alongside the realisation that most of our ASD partners will also have PDA (pathological demand avoidance), meaning they experience demands (or requests or expectations) as a crisis, and we have a dilemma indeed. One partner avoids requests, demands or expectations and one partner compulsively responds to requests, demands, expectations and needs. Perhaps this is the greatest inequality and injustice of these neuro-different relationships. The avoidance of demands by one, and the compulsive responding and over-functioning of the other. Who resources the over-functioning partner? Who meets their needs? Certainly not a demand-avoidant partner, with whom lies control as he/she can’t be influenced to reciprocate the care and function they are benefiting from.

The role of the empathic partner is that of a functional resource, while remaining unresourced themselves from within the relationship.

That cannot go on indefinitely.

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