I have two questions for you, but first I want to tell you our story to put the questions in context. My boyfriend and I have been together for 3 years. When I met him he had just started graduate school (at age 43). A month after we started dating his father died and his whole life unraveled before my eyes. He withdrew from school and went into a depression. He didn’t look for work, didn’t go back into his program when the time came, lost his place to live, and had to move to some family property four hours from where I live.
I could see how much he struggled and I knew there was some genuine and significant barrier to him getting his life together but I couldn’t put my finger on it (PTSD? An attachment disorder? Pervasive developmental trauma?). In any case, I have been loving him as best I can without trying to “help” him or “fix” anything. (I am a mental health counselor, and majorly co-dependent, so believe me this has been a herculean act of restraint.)
A few months ago he mentioned that he really relates to the way Temple Grandin explains thinking in pictures and he thinks he might be on the autism spectrum. I considered this. I have been racking my brain for three years trying to understand what is going on. I am a counselor, for pete’s sake, how could I not recognize this? (Possibly because we studied the autism spectrum for 10 whole minutes of my 60 hour master’s program—but that is the topic for another day).
I began reading everything I could find and suddenly everything made sense. After I read Tony Attwood’s Complete Guide to Asperger’s I told my boyfriend that it was like someone had taken all the individual puzzle pieces of observation I’d been collecting over the past three years and fitted them together so I could finally see the whole picture. Now we were onto something, something big, something that explained all the trouble he was having and had been having all of his life (and why he couldn’t say “I love you” with words although I felt more loved by him than I ever did by my ex-husband who said “I love you” every day.)
I encouraged him to read about it, too, (which he is doing) and I have continued reading and reading and we have been talking about it a little bit at a time since then. One thing that just about every article and book I’ve read repeats over and over is that the Aspies who have some measure of happiness in life are the ones who have someone (almost always a mother or wife) who helps them structure their days and navigate the intricacies of the neurotypical world.
I began thinking that my strategy of not “helping” which I thought was so healthy of me (finally, for once!) was actually, in this case, the opposite of what was needed. So, I am beginning to offer help with his job search, depression, and unbearable living situation. In the course of my research I came across your blog. So, finally, I get to the first one of my questions to you: Do you think this is an appropriate thing for me to do? Or would you tell me, as I have read in your responses to parents, that I should just love him and do things we enjoy together and let him figure out the rest?
And my second question is: how can someone with Asperger’s develop an internal locus of control? Tony Attwood says it is quite common in Asperger’s to have the sense of an external locus of control and I think this is what holds my boyfriend back even more than executive function problems or trouble dealing with people (although that causes him a lot of trouble).
He feels completely at the mercy of outside forces and seems to have no idea that he actually has any power to play a role in creating a positive future for himself. Any hint of a suggestion that he can make positive changes in himself and his life seems to make him feel quite hurt and even angry. If he can’t realize he can change his life for the better, he can’t feel any motivation for taking steps to do so and that seems like a hopelessly stuck place.
Did you once have an external locus of control and, if so, how did you overcome it? Do you have any suggestions that you think could help him? I love this guy so much it makes my heart hurt. I want so much for him to have a happy life and for us to have a fulfilling relationship something like what you seem to have with The Farmer. Do you see hope?