Update (21/5/2014): Listen to my radio show on the topic at BFM 89.9 with Dr. Alvin Ng and Sudha Kudva here – link.
Asperger syndrome (AS) is “one of a distinct group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior” (1). It is one of several autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and considered to the mildest form, sometimes also referred to as high-functioning autism (HFA).
In January 2014, I started a new support group with my colleague Sudha Kudva for wives whose husbands struggle with AS or HFA. This may well be the first AS/HFA marriage support group in Malaysia.
Here is how it began.
Since late 2012, I had been working with a particular couple off and on for about a year. The wife seemed distressed and exasperated, and the husband somewhat naive to what she was experiencing. The wife had researched and discovered that the husband had Asperger’s, and even took them to another country for intervention. After a while, travelling outside of Malaysia seemed too cumbersome, and they asked if I would continue to help them. I tried some of my typical couples therapy treatment modalities, but they seemed not to be able to derive the same level of benefit as other couples.
In the latter half of 2013, I decided to look for a good screening instrument for AS and found a set. As if by divine appointment, four different couples came to me at that time with very similar presentations: administratively capable and motherly women who were at their wit’s end as to what to do with their husbands, who usually appeared somewhat socially awkward or naive.
If one did not know any better, one might think of the couples as fairly normal people, and may even vilify the wives as being too demanding or controlling. After all, the husbands seemed like nice guys. Yet, with deeper probing, the picture revealed something more difficult than meets the eye. Similar phrases kept coming from the wives to generate a theme of exasperation and helplessness combined with some form of confused guilt and self-blame, and husbands who were somehow limited in their capacity to empathise with their wives’ plight as much as they were willing to try to understand.
Armed with new screening tools, I decided to administer these to the couples. Lo and behold, the majority of the men exhibited traits of AS/HFA. With the ability to screen the likelihood of AS/HFA, I was then able to also invite the women to form a support group. As I write this, we have had 4 meetings for the wives, and we will soon get the husbands to come together for their first meeting.
For now, the support group is free. Sudha and I are investing our time to read up and to learn together with these women about the nature of their challenges and how best to help them, their husbands, and their marriages.
In conjunction with Autism Awareness Month, Sudha and I will be sharing more details on ASD as well as HFA and Marriage on BFM 89.9, and I also look forward to Dr. Alvin Ng joining us as he specialises in autism management.
If you suspect your spouse or someone you know (who is married) to have AS or HFA, please feel free to contact Rekindle. Those who do not have much financial resources can receive a screening assessment from our non-profit work as well (Rekindle Community). Couples who qualify may join our confidential support group after an initial interview.
1. Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved on 26th January 2014 from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/detail_asperger.htm
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