I known YANHD, but does my boyfriend have Asperger's?
July 27, 2008 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible my boyfriend has Asperger's and doesn't know it? (Or knows it, and hasn't told me?) If so, is there any real reason why I should be ending this? Should I even bring this up?

He's a wonderful man and we've been together many years. And I am a bit of a hypochondriac, and at 2AM I can worry as much about him having some crazy disease as I can about myself. But... he does have a lot of the characteristics of someone with Asperger's. (And the rest of him, I don't know, does that rule out Asperger's?)

Here're are the characteristics I'm thinking of: (1) he is obsessive about a lot of stuff - doors locked, hygiene, things where they belong, timeliness, etc. (2) noise REALLY bothers him - we joke he has noise PTSD from a particularly noisy apartment he hadI; (3) he gets really into collecting things - stuffed animals (well, when he was younger), music, books, wine; (4) he is very, very into music, certain type of literature, art, football; (5) he memorizes things like mass transit routes, airline hubs, geography; (6) he sort of flaps his hands when he gets stressed - for some reason he seems to think this is cute; (6) he's rarely capable of feeling sorry for someone else unless he is connected to them in some way - he doesn't believe in empathy; (7) he can get hooked on a phrase and repeat it a lot; (8) he gets very upset when things aren't "right" - CDs in place, kitchenware in the right drawer, clothes in the right hamper, etc. (9) he's bad at basic math but very good at history, logic, etc. (10) he has some weird food quirks (citrus), but otherwise will eat anything; (11) he's a bit odd; (12) he's terrified of change; (13) he has a lot of anxiety; (14) he likes routine a lot; (15) it's very hard for him to make eye contact with people when he feels shy.

That said, he's also a bit of a conundrum, because he's also incredibly loving, goofy, funny, affectionate (physically, emotionally). He has lots of friends, male and female, and I don't think I know anyone who has closer friendships than he has. And none of those friends could be considered to have asperger's - they're generally outgoing and "cool." He camps, travels for months on end, followed the big jam bands when he was younger, has a very messy house when I'm not around. He has a huge heart, and when something's serious, he really feels for that friend (or me) and is 100% there for him/her. He's not exactly athletic, but he does lots of sporty stuff (camping, diving, swimming, touch football, wrestling). He loves adventures and trying new things. This has included quite extensive drug use when he was younger, but he's so freaking in control he didn't seem to have any trouble giving it up. Likes beer a lot. People often call him "a dude" although slightly less so now that he's out of his twentie. Lead his high school drama group. He's a big cuddler, including all night long unconsciously. He's spot on when someone else (me, a child) is anxious or sad. I don't know if any of this second category of characteristics weighs against asperger's or not, but they are the qualities that make me think I'm just imagining this.

We're planning on getting married soon and having a family in a couple of years. We kind of cope with the trying parts of his personality (the obsessive qualities) and revel in the great parts (the music and wine fascination, e.g). I love him. But I'm afraid the obsessive qualities could get wore and/or that I'd be likely to have an autistic child if we have children biologically. I feel disloyal for even asking this question. Any advice, thoughts?

I can follow up at doeshehaveit at gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
He sounds more OCD as all fuck than anywhere on the autistic spectrum.
posted by bunnytricks at 5:20 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


he's terrified of change

He loves adventures and trying new things.

he likes routine a lot

These descriptions don't jive for one person. Is the hypochondriac in you peeking out? 'Cause he sounds cool with a few quirks i.e. human and I'm wondering if you're projecting your own fears onto him.

Have you discussed your fears with him? I realize it's scary, but you guys need to talk about this before you get married.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:33 AM on July 27, 2008


He sounds like an interesting and complex guy. If being a hypochondriac is causing you issues, you should talk to someone about it.
posted by whiskeyspider at 5:54 AM on July 27, 2008 [8 favorites]


Ditto Brandon Blatcher....sounds like some of this is in your head....

Alot of this does contradict the other....
posted by TeachTheDead at 6:03 AM on July 27, 2008


More contradiction -

he's rarely capable of feeling sorry for someone else unless he is connected to them in some way - he doesn't believe in empathy;

when something's serious, he really feels for that friend (or me) and is 100% there for him/her.

He's spot on when someone else (me, a child) is anxious or sad.

Agreeing with bunnytricks that the overall described behaviors don't sound particularly autistic / Asperger's to me.

It also seems like you ought to ask yourself - what would it matter if he was labeled as Asperger's by a bunch of people on the internet, or even by a doctor?

To randomly speculate about it, with the kind of authority that being a random anonymous internet person who doesn't actually know either of you gives me: are you seeking to contrive justification or an excuse on his behalf for behaviors that annoy or bother you? In that case, like Brandon says, better just to talk to him about the things that bother you. Whether or not he "has Asperger's" or some other named grouping of characteristics doesn't matter - let him make his own excuses and efforts in the relationship, or not, as he sees fit.
posted by XMLicious at 6:04 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


So he's messy when you're not around, but tries to be extra-neat around you.
He likes quiet at his apartment, but doesn't mind going to see jam bands and collects music.
He really likes music, wine, books, and art.
He memorizes travel routes and geography, camps, and spends month at a time traveling.
He doesn't concern himself with the problems of those he doesn't know, but has lots of friends that he's always there for. He knows when people are upset, generally.
He repeats catchphrases, or makes up his own.
He's bad a math.
He'll try any food, but doesn't like certain things. He'll also try out new things.
He likes beer and has experimented with recreational drugs.
He's shy sometimes, gets stressed out, and doesn't like change. Sometimes he's a little strange.

These aren't the characteristics of a mental disorder. These characteristics could describe about 20-30% of men in their late twenties and early thirties, and the general "themes"--cleans up around women, leaves others alone, likes a quiet home, gets personally involved in interests--are applicable to a majority of them.

Have you ever honestly looked at your boyfriend and thought "He doesn't really understand people at all"? Thought that he doesn't understand your, or anyone else's, emotions on anything but a theoretical level? That he has pieced together his loving, goofy demeanor from having to logically extrapolate the meaning of every social interaction? Unless you have thought these things, and not infrequently, I would say you're just having trouble sleeping and are searching for something to worry about.

The hand waving is the sole detail in your post that strikes me as truly being atypical, but unless he's carrying his cleaning/sorting habits to an extreme point, I wouldn't be worried.

Disclaimer: Strangers on the internet sometimes give crappy opinions.
posted by Benjy at 6:05 AM on July 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


Flapping his hands when he's stressed could be an indication of some ASD.
posted by maloon at 6:05 AM on July 27, 2008


He sounds like a bright, normal guy with a spectrum of talents and behaviors.

Does everything have to have a label? Perhaps that's part of hypochondria and you're projecting?

He'll change over time, you know? Some of these things will get better and some worse. Some new ones will emerge the longer you know him.

(He just sounds like a total geek and spaz and if he doesn't know about metafilter, tell him. He'd certainly feel at home here where so many of us like him congregate! )
posted by FauxScot at 6:10 AM on July 27, 2008


Or knows it, and hasn't told me?

I got this far and was like "You're thinking of marrying this guy and you would think he'd do something like this? That is the anxiety talking, your anxiety."

I'm with the other folks that this sounds like someone who is quirky. At some level whether it's Asperger's or not (and I have no opinion on that really, could be, could not be) he's likely to pass on those traits to a child anyhow. ASDs aren't like some virus, they're an explanation for a behavior set that, if they're getting in the way of normal activities, can be addressed as a disorder and treated, and otherwise become part of a set of behaviors that is what we think of as personality. Obsessive behaviors can be treated if they're interfering with his life, less so if they're only interfering with yours, but this is something the two of you should work out together.

Put another way, he could just as easily be writing an AskMe saying "My girlfriend constantly catastrophizes situations and her anxiety over these situations makes me concerned that we may be passing these traits on to our children, does she have hypochondria?" In either case, if this is someone you are considering as a life partner, you should get these concerns out in the open and talk to him about it -- there are many different ways to have a happy life and family as I'm sure you know. I think just not keeping your concerns to yourself is a big step forward in terms of not just further understanding but also trust and openness. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 6:25 AM on July 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


Whether or not he has any disorder, it doesn't seem to affect your (combined) life or happiness. Therefore, you should let (probably imaginary) sleeping dogs lie. If you are worried about the potential for autistic children, etc, then doesn't there exist genetic profiling to make you aware of these issues that you can have done before you decide to conceive? That would be a smart and non-confrontational way to lay your worries to rest before having kids.
posted by no1hatchling at 6:49 AM on July 27, 2008


Sounds like it probably is just you overanalysing things at 2 AM. He does sound a bit odd. Everyone is in their own ways, though, some more than others.

You seem worried. Marriage counseling is probably a good idea. It's a good idea even if you're not worried, from what I hear (never been married myself). It should help you identify things that you're concerned about, and make a plan on how to overcome them. And if your boyfriend is the type to hide huge facts like that he has aspergers, counseling may be able to show that. More than anything though, marriage is a big big step, and anyone is bound to have concerns, and counseling is a good way to confront them.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 6:51 AM on July 27, 2008


[E]very man is a little bit autistic - Delfos and Atwood 25

2nding Benjy. Quite honestly, a lot of those characteristics sound like me, and if I have Asperger's, it's not diagnosed.
Guys have a tendency to act differently around girls they love. For me, that means getting shyier, more introspective and closer to routine. While it may be a little off-putting, it really is just a sign that he really respects and cherishes you and doesn't want to do anything to mess that up. If you suspect that might be the case, talking to him about your concern and helping him loosen up around you will help you both leaps and bounds.
Remember, regardless of what they're called, the great parts about him are still great parts, and the trying parts can be coped with if you're willing to talk about them and give him patience.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:59 AM on July 27, 2008


Anon, I read your description of your boyfriend and thought I was reading a description of me. I have self-diagnosed myself as having Aspergers (and I suspect it runs in my family). Some people feel a self-diagnosis is worth the paper it's written on, but whether I have Aspergers, OCD or something else, there's clearly something about me that's different than the norm. Unless I plan to get some sort of treatment (I don't), what difference will a label make? That said, if you want to ask questions (or just vent) to someone who is similar to your boyfriend, my email is in my profile.

A few notes:

- Aspergers is very different than full-out Autism. Yes, the former is the shallow end of the latter, but that's an important distinction. I used to teach children, and I worked with some who had Autism. They were like Dustin Hoffman's character in "Rain Man." If things weren't just so, they didn't just get uncomfortable; they threw temper tantrums. I don't do that, and it doesn't sound like your boyfriend does either. They also weren't just obsessive -- they were OBSESSIVE. This one little boy was nuts about the police. He dressed as a little police man, talked about police all day (to the exclusion of any other topic), and wanted me to sit with him for hours, drawing him pictures of cops. And he never grew out of it: he's an adult now, and he works on the police force.

- Unlike some others here, I'm not surprised your boyfriend has some contradictions in his personality. I have mine, too. I tend to lack empathy for strangers (so much so, that when someone on a commercial says something like, "I used to get terrible stomach cramps," I get extremely irritated and yell, "And I should care? WHY?"), yet I'm loving and cuddly (when appropriate) to those close to me. I swing back and forth between being socially inept and being a brilliant "psychologist." I'm an extremely shy introvert (who has trouble making eye contact) who has a very social job, and I'm often told I'm a great people person. My wife often gets puzzled as to how I can be so organized in some ways and such a slob in others.

How can I be all those things at once? Easy: I'm not Aspergers; I'm a human being who HAS Aspergers. Like you, your boyfriend and everyone else, I have various facets to my personality. Some contradictions have always been with me; others are learned. I'm sure your boyfriend -- like me -- has always been aware that he's odd. Over the years, he's probably played up some parts of his oddness, ignored other parts, and worked hard to counteract parts that troubled him. Think of Aspergers as a personality type, like optimistic or nervous. It's generally something you can play against. I've learned to be a people person.

I have most trouble playing against my Aspergers (or whatever I have) when I'm tired or anxious. I can be gregarious as hell, but if I haven't gotten enough sleep -- or if I'm worried about something -- I'll fold up like an armadillo. For me, the only seemingly impossible thing to get over is oversensitivity to noise, too-bright light, etc. Maybe there's a way to get over that stuff, but I've never discovered it. So if you invite me to a dinner party, I'll tell jokes, listen, and be a lot of fun; if you invite me to a loud bar, I'll sit in the corner and just try to stop my head from exploding.

-- Re kids. My wife and I don't plan to have any, so it's not something I've looked into. I do think this stuff can be hereditary, so that's something to think about. On the other hand, there are worse things you can have. And, as with your boyfriend's interests in wine and other cool stuff, it's not all bad.

Like many Aspies, I've made my "affliction" work for me (and other people). There are many ways in which I wouldn't be as good at what I do, if it wasn't for my obsessive personality type. So -- like everything else in life -- it's a trade off. Aspergers is only a disease because we've decided it is. In some cultures, it's just considered a personality type.

Surely you have something wrong with you that you carry in your genes: a family propensity towards cancer, alcoholism, bad posture... How do you feel about passing those genes onto your kids? If only perfect people had kids, the human race would die out in a generation.

Having read your description of your boyfriend ("loving" etc), I suspect many girls would kill to trade places with you.
posted by grumblebee at 7:07 AM on July 27, 2008 [7 favorites]


But I'm afraid [...] that I'd be likely to have an autistic child if we have children biologically.

I feel like it's also important for you to understand the extent to which autism has a genetic basis. While it's clear that there is a hereditary aspect—if one sibling (especially one of a pair of twins) has autism, there's an increased probability that the other(s) will too—there isn't currently an identified "autism gene," and, in fact, different forms of autism may be related to different genetic variations, so it's a big stretch—in fact, I'd say it's totally unwarranted—to worry that someone who "[has] a lot of the characteristics of someone with Asperger's" may be liable to produce full-on autistic, or even ASD, children. Currently, there's also speculation that environmental factors (an "insult"), alone or in combination with genetics, may be the cause.
The science may be cleared up a bit by the time you have kids, or may not, but my layman's opinion is that you're really going out on a limb to worry about having autistic kids. That is, it's not like Tay-Sachs disease or cystic fibrosis, where you can be a clear-cut carrier of an identified disease allele, and the chances that a certain child will develop the disease can be calculated.
posted by pullayup at 7:15 AM on July 27, 2008


Crap, "if one sibling (especially one of a pair of twins) has autism, there's an increased probability that the other(s) will too" sure doesn't prove that there's a genetic component. That came out all wrong!
How about this: there's a genetic locus (a spot on a chromosome) which appears to be consistent between people with autism.
posted by pullayup at 7:21 AM on July 27, 2008


I think the real question you're asking is "Is he always going to be this way?" Because if he does have Asperger's, then yes, he will probably always be this way. But if not, maybe you have some hope that he will improve/change/whatever. However, he will still probably always be this way. It's really not a good idea to go into a marriage hoping the other person will change. Either you can accept him as he is, or leave him - I don't see what Asperger's has to do with anything.

(P.S. My fiancé has ADD, and while it's totally dissimilar to Asperger's, it does present a few personality traits that are difficult to live with. Calling it "ADD" makes no difference - they're still annoying. But I love him anyway.)
posted by desjardins at 7:26 AM on July 27, 2008


Nthing that you're overanalyzing this and/or looking for problems. And yeah, your own hypochondria is probably magnifying what shreds of "bad things" are there... but even these "bad" things make him sound like a fine person.
posted by rokusan at 7:38 AM on July 27, 2008


My 18 year old cousin was recently diagnosed with Asperger's after cycling through a slew of different diagnoses (ADHD, Tourettes, etc.) and corresponding psychiatric medications that did absolutely nothing to reduce his symptoms. His social and emotional development stopped somewhere around 10 years old and he still spends every minute of every day immersed in a child's world, surrounded by toys that he has to take everywhere. He has an obsession with hand held games that he can't live without. His speech is always pressured and rapid and he spirals into suffocating anxiety and extremely disruptive and inappropriate behavior if his games or toys are taken away from him. He's completely incapable of interacting with adults or other kids his age unless they are willing to enter into this extremely small world he inhabits and talk to him about the things that consume his attention. He has no capacity for empathy, has never asked other people about themselves, doesn't respond to verbal or visual cues regarding his behavior or other people's feelings. He nearly failed out of high school and is going to start a vocational rehab program soon to see if there isn't some basic task that he can be trained to do so he doesn't wind up living off disability all his life.

That's more what Asperger's looks like, but like Autism I understand that it comes in different degrees so who knows, maybe your boyfriend has a more mild manifestation of it.
posted by The Straightener at 7:39 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


He has lots of friends, male and female, and I don't think I know anyone who has closer friendships than he has.

IMO, this is your biggest clue he's not Aspie. Aspies tend to lack social awareness and the ability to understand how to deal with social situations. As my daughter's therapist* said, "The average number of friends for a kid with Asperger's is 0."

By the time someone with AS gets to his/her 20s, it's not unreasonable to think they've figured out the world enough to find a small circle of friends, other Aspies if nothing else. But, if your boyfriend is as social and emotionally aware as you describe, then I seriously doubt he's Aspie.

*I have two kids with AS.
posted by elfgirl at 8:04 AM on July 27, 2008


I think, to put it another way, the question shouldn't be "does my SO have Asperger's and if so should I marry him?" The question you need to ask yourself is "do I love him?" (Sounds like you do). You seem to be able to move past his quirks/eccentricities without much of a problem, so whether he has Asperger's or not is kind of irrelevant - as grumblebee pointed out, even if he does have Asperger's, that doesn't make him Asperger's. If your kid winds up with the same kind of personality, you wouldn't love them less. They wouldn't have less of a chance to be successful. The fact that you may be a teensy bit oversensitive to these traits would make you a better mother and more likely to give your child the upbringing they need, with or without a form of Autism.

To put it bluntly, if you truly love him than it doesn't matter. You have learned to cope and will be able to help your child on the off-chance that (s)he has autism.
posted by jeffrygardner at 8:07 AM on July 27, 2008


This is probably kinda banal and not that helpful but he sounds like a pretty awesome guy and I don't really see what's so negative about the tendencies you've listed.
posted by public at 8:12 AM on July 27, 2008


As someone else said, flapping hands is the only thing in your list that sounds Asperger's-ish. The rest of the list culminates to several contradictions, and an interesting assortment of personality traits. And, as other people have said, whether or not he technically has Asperger's really doesn't make a difference. If you like him enough to marry him, marry him. It's not like getting an official Asperger's diagnosis will suddenly cause a transformation (good or bad). If you want to talk with him about his personality, don't mention Asperger's. If he's been diagnosed then he should be honest enough to tell you. If not, he probably wouldn't like you labeling him.
posted by Autarky at 8:15 AM on July 27, 2008


Still agreeing that he doesn't sound as though he's autistic - elfgirl mentioned another point I'd thought of myself, about him having many friends - but out of curiosity I did some Googling on the heritability of autism. Here's a paragraph from the chapter "Genetic epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders" from the 2007 edition of the book Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders:
Conclusion
It is clear that autism can rarely occur as a result of both viral etiologies and several single gene disorders. Among the idiopathic cases of autism, however, the picture is much less clear. There is some tentative evidence which suggests that severity of impairment appears to run true within families. In multiple incidence families, affected siblings tend to show similar levels of functioning. This suggests that perhaps higher- and lower-functioning sib pairs may arise from separate genetic mechanisms. This would be strengthened if there was converging evidence that the risk of the lesser variant of autism was more common in relatives of probands with high- or low-functioning autism. However, there is at present no agreement on this point. Clearly, more studies are needed to pursue the hypothesis that clinical markers can delineate genetic heterogeneity.
Interestingly, the above paragraph is radically different from and much more noncommittal than the same paragraph in the the 1998 edition of the same book, which although still scientifically tentative talked about agreement in the field that autism is a "strongly genetic disorder". So it seems that developments during the last ten years made the authors totally pull back from an initial belief that autism is heritable. In both editions the authors of this section of the book are Peter Szatmari and Marshall B. Jones.
posted by XMLicious at 8:18 AM on July 27, 2008


Everything you describe is normal or, at the very most, slightly shy/quirky behaviors. And just so you're aware, MeFites are the usually first to yell "Aspergers!" at the sight of any social tic.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:19 AM on July 27, 2008


Your boyfriend is who he is, labeling him 'aspergers' isn't going to change anything. Ask yourself these questions:

- Does his behavior warrant medical/psychological treatment/therapy/care of some kind?
- Do you love him?

If the answer to both these questions is yes, then it is your duty to try and make him aware of his behaviour. I suspect though, from your description, that he does not need any 'help' at all. Furthermore, having the label 'aspergers' attached to him might cause more harm than it avoids.

Who cares what he is if you love him. Stop worrying and get on with your life.
posted by 0bvious at 8:34 AM on July 27, 2008


i don't think his quirks add up to a diagnosis. might he have asperger's? possibly. does it matter? do you love him? i would look into therapy for yourself to address the fear that the things you dislike about him will overtake the things you love about him.

it's not disloyal to have doubts. perhaps you are having second thoughts about the relationship and are looking for a legitimate, no-fault reason to end it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:40 AM on July 27, 2008


anon, I went through the same thought process as you, only after I was married, and spent a lot of time considering divorcing my husband, who I thought really must be the Aspergeriest Aspie who ever lived. So, it's good that you are thinking things through before you commit to a marriage.

That said, if you had never heard of Asperger's, would the personality traits of your boyfriend still be a concern? As I said, I went through the same thing as you, but only after I had learned about AS and autism (via a friend who is a spec ed teacher). Looking back, I think I went looking for a way to explain my husband's few oddball tendencies, and AS seemed to fit the bill. But plenty of other things fit the bill too - like he can just be a general jerk, or gets easily stressed, or has a minor health problem that affects his moods. It doesn't sound to me (not a doctor, not a special ed teacher, just a worrywart who reads too much) like your bf has AS.

As far as potential children, remember a child will pick up on a parent's tendencies to act a certain way in certain situations, or they may not. It all depends on the child, and your willingness to teach and model the desired behavior. You, as the mother, will have a significantly greater impact on your child's developing personality in the first few years. If you teach your child techniques for handling stress that don't involve hand-flapping, for example, then there's a pretty good chance your child will continue to use that method rather than resorting to your boyfriend's method.

I wouldn't worry too too much. Maybe learn some good techniques for getting yourself to sleep at 2am? Things that work for me are: crossword puzzles, reading, and writing down my worries so I don't forget to worry about them at a more appropriate time than the middle of the night. And once I write them down, they seem to cease being worries, for whatever reason.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:40 AM on July 27, 2008


Your description of him reads like some astrological archetype. That is to say that it's all rather vague, and more or less universally applicable to any person.

It's all in your head.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:42 AM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


He has lots of friends, male and female, and I don't think I know anyone who has closer friendships than he has.

Focus in on this one. Does he hang out with his friends one at a time or in very small groups? Has he indicated a strong preference for doing this? Is he consistently awkward in large groups? Even when the groups are made up entirely of people friendly towards him?

If he handles groups well (not in terms of making a presentation, but as a relaxing social occasion), Asperger's is not likely. Check out John Ratey's book 'Shadow Syndromes' for a discussion on Aspie's preference for intense friendships.
posted by BigSky at 8:42 AM on July 27, 2008


OP here.

Thank you all for the responses. (And I'd still love to read more.) It is reassuring and thought provoking. Those who wrote about how Aspergers is more of a description of a personality and less a Disease with a capital D, were helpful as well. I think he has a lot of coping mechanisms today, but I suppose it's telling that he had very close, fun friendships even as a pre-teen and teen.

I know his personality has a lot of contradictions and it is part of what I love about him, and also part of what has made him succeed. (And we have certainly talked about my concerns about his obsessing, etc. We just haven't talked about my fear that he might have Aspergers because I think that would be unnecessarily hurtful.) And yes, of course I do have my own genetic and/or marital concerns, which is a whole 'nother AskMe and we talk about them too.

As I was reading these answers, I was trying to think more about what worries me enough to post this question. Labeling him something on the internet is obviously pretty meaningless, and that's not the point. I think my principal concern is that, if he has a disease, it could get worse as he ages, whereas if he's just quirky there's no predicting how he'll change. I don't know if that happens with Aspergers but I sometimes have visions of him morphing into Rain Man. I'm exaggerating and clearly conflating Aspergers and Autism, but that's one fear. The other fear is that, if he has Aspergers our kids would be more likely to be Autistic, but it seems from what I'm reading above that that is not such a concern. (And yes, I know this worrying is my problem, and I also fully realize the limitations of the internet.)

I know I have a great guy, and I love him very much. But when your man starts flapping his hands and doing other things that sound like Aspergers, than you do sort of wonder. I think it's fair to say that he's known in part for his OCD-qualities, he's certainly known for his aversions to noise (and light), etc. Still, if all stays the same, I'm thrilled - we cope together with his anxiety, obsessions, paranoia, etc., and we cope together with my more trying qualities as well. (And most of the time we just have fun and love and support each other.)

P.s. Grumblebee - this comment ("I get extremely irritated and yell, "And I should care? WHY?"") is totally him. I've heard it a thousand times. But I guess he's not alone in that.
posted by doeshehaveit at 8:46 AM on July 27, 2008


I'm NOT looking for a reason to end it. I just worry a lot. Last night he was the focus of my worrying. Usually it's my parents' health.

He's relaxed in groups his friends or family, big or small. He's very awkward when he's nervous (meeting new friends of mine, getting to know my family, job interviews, etc.) My friends and family have felt genuinely hurt (and they're not sensitive types) because his lack of eye contact made them think he was disgusted by them. (They've gotten over this as he has gotten more comfortable with them and stopped doing it, but they've nearly all commented to me about this, independently. And they still say things like "he comes off as unfriendly - does he realize?" Like he wouldn't possibly act like that if he did realize.)
posted by doeshehaveit at 8:53 AM on July 27, 2008


From some Googling on whether autism-spectrum disorders tend to be progressive, i.e. do they worsen over time:
In contrast to the picture in schizophrenia, the loss of contact in Asperger children was not progressive, but was present from the start, and they did not show a disintegration of the personality.
The Many Faces of Asperger's Syndrome p. 29
Kanner and Asperger made the point that autism is not a progressive disease. Asperger emphasized that, contrary to the process of deterioration, which is frequently seen in adult psychoses, his patients showed increases in adaptation and compensation. So convinced was he of this that he presented overall a quite optimistic picture of outcome.
Autism: Explaining the Enigma p. 16
posted by XMLicious at 9:13 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


There were some interesting comments in another thread a while back that do a good job of explaining Asperger's. The really thorough commenting starts here.
posted by salvia at 9:17 AM on July 27, 2008


I have an official psychiatric diagnosis of Aspergers, as do my siblings. My maternal grandparents, genetic and step parents all show shades of the disorder. This is because it's a spectrum disorder, which means that you can have characteristics of the disorder without having enough to have it, and while my bloodlines are on their third generation of this, things haven't been getting worse, so at least in my family Aspie + Aspie does not equal autistic.

One thing I've learned is that the person doesn't have to officially have it to make the coping skills work, and indeed a lot of the things I learned to cope with my family's eccentricities work on so called neurotypicals. Used to panic attacks from over stimulation? Excellent when someone panics for other reasons. Awkward conversations? Leveller mode, where you spell out exactly what you want, is a blessing.

The other thing I've learned is that no one family member shares the Aspieness the same way. We're all pretty clumsy, too smart for our own good and socially awkward, but my brother and I both totally -dominated- our nerdy cliques as teenagers, and so far only my sister has trouble making friends, and we think she'll grow out of that, and is showing signs she is. Meanwhile my friends, frenemies and enemies show different shades of Aspieness, from my boyfriend's tendency to get irate at scientific incorrectness (the only shouting argument we've had was over thermodynamics), someone else in my social circle might have an unhealthy obsession with Harry Potter, etc...
posted by Phalene at 9:50 AM on July 27, 2008


Don't feel disloyal. You feel how you feel and your concerns are natural. It's OK to wonder and express doubts and ultimately look out for yourself. You know you love him and this doesn't invalidate that. You've done some homework, you've vented some worry and gotten some feedback and support, and now I think it's time to talk and take action. I think since it is a prickly seed of worry inside you that will continue to cause and anxiety and doubt, you do need to bring it up and address it, if only so you can release it, even if nothing else changes. I think the order of events would be:

1. Determine your objective. Before you talk to him it would be good to be clear about what you will do with his answers, or with other information you may find together. What if the diagnosis was that he did have AS and doctors (hypothetically) were able to give you percentage odds that your kids would have some kind of ASD? How does 50/50 sound? 80/20? Is that enough for you to leave him and try for better odds? What if whatever he has is known for getting worse with age, or with having unpredictable swings? Is that enough for you to break it off now in your best interests? Or do you plan to stay with him but just want to be prepared? If it is confirmed that he has something, do you want him to seek possibly available treatments for it? Are you just so curious that you can't relax until you know one way or the other? Have a clear objective before you bring it up with him. He'll want to know why you're asking. "I'm worried about our future together." "I'm worried about our kids." "I'm wondering if you could get help to make your (or our) life better." Etc.

2. Talk to him. Ask him about those parts of his personality - how he feels about them, has he worked on them, is he working on them, does he want to work on them, has it always been this way, does he know what they stem from, have they gotten worse, has he ever been diagnosed with anything, etc. Mention that you're concerned because (insert reasons).

3. Diagnosis. If step 2 goes well and he's amenable, you all could look at getting some kind of assessment or diagnosis if there is anything there to diagnose.

4. Prognosis. If there is a diagnosis, of whatever, find out from professionals what the odds are of it getting worse later in life, to the degree that you might not be able to handle it. The answer could be that nobody knows. You could also find out from support groups online or in person for people who have loved ones and especially spouses with (diagnosis). Is it so bad that they recommend you don't get into it for your own sake? Also learn from professionals what the odds are of passing on (diagnosis) to your kids. Also learn what treatments or coping techniques may exist and whether he/you all want to consider them.

5. Decide.

I'm not in the camp that thinks he's just a normal dude with the usual basket of quirks. It sounds like there is something, or multiple somethings, going on. Everybody likes a clean and orderly house, but most people don't get "very upset" about it when it's not, or when a blue sock makes it into the whites hamper. It sounds like he has a broad platter of obsessive behaviors and interlinked anxieties plus some other abnormal traits and behaviors that, as you mention, he is known for as distinct from most everybody else. Do these add up to Asperger's or something in the ASD category? Only one way to find out. He certainly does seem to have a lot of good relationships with friends, which sounds generally counterindicative.

He sounds like a great guy overall, pretty well rounded and balanced and interesting and active and loving, and it sounds like you have a great relationship overall with someone you love. It sounds like he is able to live a basically normal life despite the behaviors thanks to your patience and understanding, and that both of you are able to let the challenging issues be the minor part of the relationship, outweighed by the good stuff. That's a lot more than many people find. If he's worth loving, maybe it's worth letting go of doubt and committing to taking whatever the future brings, knowing you will deal with it.

Good luck!
posted by Askr at 10:04 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


A lot of these describe my partner, who is a strong introvert with generalized anxiety disorder. I have put causes as well as strategies we've used to reduce these behaviors.


1) He is obsessive about things being "just so" because his parents were strict and drilled that into him, and also because he has an anxiety disorder that expresses itself in a need to control his environment. He was worried that he had OCD, but he doesn't. Working with a CBT-trained psychologist reduced these behaviors, within a few weeks. He'll always be neat, though, and he'll always brush his teeth individually (!!!).

(2) Noise REALLY bothers him, because he is introverted and that makes him more sensitive to environmental distractions. His anxiety disorder makes him more sensitive to everything. Again, CBT is helping with this.

(3) He likes to collect things, which only bothers me when it's expensive or large things (our apartment is small). He is considerate about it, so we see no need to change it.

(4) He loves music. A LOT. Obsessed. He plays four or five instruments. He goes to work, spends time with me, has friends, so it doesn't really negatively affect his life. So we let it be.

(5) He memorizes things like mass transit routes, maps, etc. This is due to his hometown having very harsh weather, and his parents warning him repeatedly that if he got lost, he would die (!). It also plays into his anxiety issues. It embarrasses him a bit, but it's not a big deal because he knows the NYC transit system inside out and can relax on it. When we were in Boston it was really useful, if strange. Oh, but watch when there's a subway outage. He FREAKS. Again, I think that's more anxiety than anything.

(6.1) He doesn't flap his hands.

(6.2) He doesn't lack empathy for strangers. I often do, especially people on TV. I chalk this one up to living in a huge city, it dulls empathy for everyone but people you know socially.

(7) He doesn't get hooked on phrases.

(8) He gets very upset when things aren't "right" , see number 1. Strict upbringing plus anxiety disorder.

(9) He was never great at math but he is an excellent programmer. There are a lot of people who are bad at basic math but good at other academic subjects (hello, English majors!)

(10) He hates onions, to the point where he gets mad about the fact that they're in so much food. I feel the same about olives and tomatoes. It's not too annoying, we just don't cook with them. He has become more polite about it in public.

(11) He's a bit odd. That's OK with me.

(12) He's is terrified of change, but only certain kinds, and otherwise is quite adventurous. He's more terrified of the concept of "change" than of actual change, I think. Again, anxiety disorder.

(13) He has a lot of anxiety. Anxiety disorder. CBT is helping.

(14) He like routine a lot, again, strict parents and anxiety disorder.

(15) It's very hard for him to make eye contact with people when he feels shy. He meets people and has plenty of friends. This really happens when I introduce him to people I know, that he doesn't know. I think it's his need to control situations (anxiety disorder) combined with the fact that he is supposed to converse in a friendly way with complete strangers, but they are important to me so he doesn't want to fuck it up. I let my good friends know that he is shy, he doesn't hate them, and he'll warm up eventually.

You marry someone knowing that they might change, and they might not. It's a long and scary leap. Is he willing and able to work on the things that matter to you? Are you willing to put up with smaller quirks, without resentment? When you picture him raising your children, do you smile or do you feel anxious?

Good luck--
posted by sondrialiac at 10:13 AM on July 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's almost all been said above, but I would simply stress that a lot of these things can only be what we used to call, "quirks," and nothing more. However, today many would say, and I might tend to agree, that your boyfriend has obsessive tendencies much more so than anything that would fall under the spectrum of autistic disorders.

As for your future together and its probability for success, it's simple: either you accept him as he is - not as you wish or hope for him to be someday - or you do not. If not, warning flags should fly.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 1:31 PM on July 27, 2008


I have an anxiety disorder (PTSD) and fairly extreme aspergers (the actual diagnosis was high-functioning autism).

He doesn't sound all that aspie to me, personally. Anxious, yes; slightly obsessive, yes.

Admittedly, most people wouldn't pick me as aspie these days; I spent a few years learning how to act relatively normally and how to behave in groups and relationships. I still find empathy and sympathy very hard, unless it's about something I've experienced myself. Most of my facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, etc, were learnt by rote - I've been doing it for long enough now that it looks natural, but as soon as I pass a certain threshold of stress or lack of energy, I revert to my actual natural state. Unless I pay very close attention, I am unaware of how other people are feeling - I was often told I can be tactless, insensitive, and downright heartless at times. I'm not - I just have to work to notice what comes naturally to most people.

I am hypersensitive to light, noise, smell, touch, taste and movement. When I am stressed, I need rhythmic, well-known background noise to calm me down, and a visually quiet environment, with pleasant or neutral scent, comfortable clothes, a comfortable chair and a familiar drink, such as tea. If I am really exceptionally stressed, I curl into a fetal position under blankets in a quiet room, and remain perfectly still until I calm down.

I have a lot of very close friends these days. Growing up, I had none. I read a book whenever I could - walking, sitting, waiting, when I was around people - all the time, basically. I couldn't cope with interacting with people, they were too illogical and complex and hard. Reading was my shield against the world. If someone took my book away, I totally broke down until they gave it back. My vocabulary was and is extensive; it took a long time for me to learn how to talk like something other than a science paper. If I get tired or upset or excited, my language choice deteriorates, and I start talking using extremely formal words, which is often intepreted as me being angry or cold, when it's really just me reverting to my normal.

I am not atypical for an aspie who channeled their obsessive interest into learning about social interactions - and make no mistake, it was an obsession. I analysed people for hours a day, every day, talked about it incessantly with whoever would listen, asked questions, practiced guestures, postures, expression - for years. I'm still obsessed with relationships. I have a lot of friends partially for this reason - exploring different modes of relating to people is fascinating to me, and apparently watching me do it is fascinating to a lot of other people.

There are other things, of course, and my expression isn't the only possible one - but to me, your guy doesn't sound like an aspie, just a pretty normal guy with some quirks.
posted by ysabet at 3:33 PM on July 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


Having worked with a few autistic adolescents as a teacher and taking my experience from that---doesn't sound like he is on the spectrum to me. If there are things in your relationship that concern you, you are probably best off tackling them specifically rather than looking for a clinical diagnosis.

It sounds like you are looking for ways to assure that he will not grow worse in worrisome traits in the future---and this is something you simply can't guarantee, illness or not.
posted by lacedback at 7:41 PM on July 27, 2008


I think my principal concern is that, if he has a disease, it could get worse as he ages, whereas if he's just quirky there's no predicting how he'll change.

I don't know how typical I am, but I don't think I've grown worse (I'm 43). A few of the Aspie traits that I'm comfortable with (e.g. some of my fun obsessions) are more pronounced, but that's not because they've intensified. It's because -- as a middle-aged guy -- I'm more comfortable in my skin than I was when I was younger. So I'm more apt now to say, "Who cares if it's a bit weird. I like doing it, so I'm going to do it!"

The flip side of that coin is that some other traits have seemed to diminish. I'm more sociable now, for instance. Again, nothing has changed in more core. I've just learned how to "pass" a bit better.

A lot of this depends on non-Aspie traits. For instance, how stubborn is your boyfriend? How much does he care about your feelings? Part of the reason I'm more sociable now is that I care about my wife and friends. I don't want to hurt their feelings or embarrass them, so I don't -- even if it means a bit of discomfort for me sometimes. Remember: for most high-functioning Aspies, certain things are harder to do (or to stop) than they are for "normal" people. That doesn't mean they're impossible. Is your boyfriend the type of guy who will put in the effort?

The one way in which things have gotten worse is oversensitivity to noise and other stimulus. And that seems to be the thing I can't control. If it was really, really important to my wife that we hang out in noisy bars, we might have a problem. I can force myself into a conversation into a stranger, but if I'm around loud noise for too long, I just can't take it.
posted by grumblebee at 5:10 AM on July 28, 2008


1) All except time. 2) Yep! HATE noise because I'm just sick. to. death. of. noise. 3) Yep, all neatly sorted and labelled. Only that thing in the box, every one of those things must be in that same box. Things with a relationship may be in the same box but first rules apply. 4) Not football - gardening, sewing. 5) I don't set out to memorise them but I do. Is that the same? 6) No flapping. If he thinks it's cute he's picked it up from somewhere perhaps? In that case a different gesture/emotion but yes. 6b) Nobody cares about people they don't care about! (Get real, because they just don't.)
7) Uh-huh! 8) UH-HUH!! 9) Math ok but YES YES. 10) I eat NO FRUIT whatsoever (except I will eat lemons and limes in stuff. Meals ect.) there's a few other things I'm not fond of (but not like how I can't fucking stand fruit) but other then that I'll eat anything 11) ..Duh. 12) I like a plan. 13) Refer 12. 14) Refer 12. 15) At any time but sure, whatever.

So there you go. Do I have Aspergers? NO. OCD? :) Maybe?? I feel like yelling at you too right now. But something more along the lines of "Why are you making this a problem?" and likely "I couldn't give two fucks what your friends think." (Which I think might be important to note as nobody else seems to really want to do that.) Lazy-messy/anal-neat person.. That I don't know. Just because.
Adventure, trying new things, yes, yes, yes!! But how can that be?? I figured out how I manage to get away with that one. If I go over the possibilities of a situation and have a plan ready to follow for every thing that might come my way - it affords me a false sense of spontaneity. There's a moment of indecision we all look at each other. Then suddenly I exclaim with careless abandon "Yeah fuck it, let's do it!!" "Yeah!!" And off we go.

I'm so wild and reckless... - no I'm not! I was just daydreaming one day this situation came up, it seemed like a possibility and I've already explored every angle! I have meticulously weighed that exact situation. Is it safe? Will there be stuff to eat and drink? If people I don't like are there is that going to shit me to tears? How annoying is too annoying? If annoying people need to be ditched how can this be done? All the contingencies of that plan and of every point I've mentioned so far... And the rest of it. :) I'm an INTP - maybe he is too??

But um, could you just be hyperventilating over getting married perhaps? He's not changing, those are the facts on how you perceive him. Any deal breakers in that list? Like you said you're a bit of a hypochondriac - you make up shit that isn't real. A better question might be can you even trust your own judgement and are you comfortable with that...? (Because your arguments consist of.. you being convinced he has Aspergers and nothing else.. I'd be pretty confidant there's not a chance in hell.)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 7:34 PM on July 30, 2008


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