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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 3/16/07

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Dear Readers,

This column recently featured a letter from a woman who suffered for years in an abusive relationship, only to conclude that her husband might have been a long-time sufferer of Asperger’s Syndrome.

The chronicle, appearing in two parts (2-9 and 2-16), was a personal account. The author spoke of her own research and analysis – absent any reference to professional diagnosis or evaluation. In her own words “An undiagnosed mentally ill spouse, he possessed an array of symptoms ranging from bipolar, borderline personality, to unadulterated temperamental rage.”

The following letters were written in response to Drowning in a Sea of Asperger’s. We welcome this opportunity to offer the reader an up-close and comprehensible look into the nature of this specific disorder.

Letter #1

Dear Rachel,

I am compelled to respond to the wife who wrote in “Drowning In A Sea Of Asperger’s.” First, I want to state clearly that in no way am I attempting to diminish the pain and suffering experienced by this wife/mother and her family at the hands of her abusive husband. My heart truly goes out to her.

That being said, I wanted to address what this woman points to as the apparent cause of her husband’s extreme emotional states, unpredictability and abusive behaviors. The title of her letter makes it obvious that she is attributing the downward spiraling of her husband and the eventual demise of her marriage to Asperger’s Syndrome. This is where I have a problem. I have quite a bit of experience with both Autism and Asperger’s (they are TWO different disorders that share some of the same characteristics – the author used them synonymously). I am a speech pathologist who has worked extensively with children “on the spectrum.” I am also a mother of an eight-year old son with Asperger’s Syndrome.

As I read this woman’s letter, I became increasingly bothered by her description of Asperger’s Syndrome – how it had “incarcerated” her husband “in a cloak of isolation,” made her husband “manic-depressive” with “excessive paranoia,” and that it is an “unrelenting and uncompromising illness” dominating her husband’s every thought and action. Anyone reading this description not familiar with the disorder would not hesitate to institutionalize my son.

My son is NOTHING like this man (nor are the other people I know with Asperger’s). Yes, he has behavioral challenges and sometimes struggles with transitions and changes in routine, and yes, he is most definitely socially awkward. BUT, he is HAPPY, outgoing, affectionate, inquisitive, and full of life. He has friends who accept him – quirkiness and all.

I am not denying that there are days when frustration gets the better of me. But there are many more days when we see progress and small steps in the right direction. Those are the days I cry -out of joy. There are many reasons for my husband and me to be optimistic. Granted, the road is a bumpy one, but in the end our son will reach the places he is destined to go and, G-d willing, will do so successfully.

Rachel, your readers are entitled to know the reality of Asperger’s – that rather than being a hopeless and devastating disorder, individuals with this syndrome tend to be exceptionally bright, creative, innovative and quite successful in their profession of choice. In fact, many of them develop meaningful relationships, get married, have children and lead fulfilling and prosperous lives. They also typically have unique perceptions of the world that enable them to contribute to society in many wonderful ways.

Numerous well-known personalities are believed to have had, or currently live with, Asperger’s – including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates, to name a few.

Some questions for the writer: What was your husband’s childhood like? Did he have a stable family life or was there dysfunction in the home? How did his parents handle disagreements and their emotions? Based on your letter, it appears that your husband was diagnosed in adulthood. However, that should not have prevented needed intervention during his earlier years. If indeed your husband has Asperger’s, he would have been demonstrating characteristics of the disorder all his life. One does not acquire it; it is present at birth (but can be difficult to diagnose).

Did anyone notice your husband’s unusual/inappropriate behaviors? Did his parents/teachers seek out specialists to address these concerns? It seems from your letter that your husband has not received any type of remediation at any point in his life. Additionally, it is not uncommon for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome to also be diagnosed with other disorders, such as Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADHD or ADD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

In all likelihood, many variables brought you and your family to this devastating point in your lives. I feel it is wrong to blame your husband’s myriad issues solely and squarely on Asperger’s Syndrome. I am sure that anyone reading this letter, who knows someone with Asperger’s Syndrome will share this sentiment.

Hopefully, readers hearing of this disorder for the first time will now have a more positive attitude and outlook. My husband and I are blessed with this unique and special neshamah from Hashem. We love him, adore him and are so proud to call him our son.

Letter #2

It is with great interest that I read the two-part articles from the woman who was married to a man with “Asperger’s Syndrome.” In the first part she stated that he is “bipolar” then went on to blame his actions on Asperger’s.

As a mother with a son diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I take great exception in confusing these two very different illnesses. He either has Asperger’s or bipolar. These are totally different, with totally different symptoms.

People with Asperger’s generally don’t exhibit the mood swings, irrational and cruel behavior as described by the afflicted man’s wife. They are generally extremely intelligent albeit uncomfortable in social situations. Thus it is the “geek” anti-social behavior that usually defines them.

Frankly, to confuse the two is very upsetting to me, as my son and most people with Asperger’s (Albert Einstein, Mozart, Thomas Jefferson) are very gentle, keep to themselves, have very high IQ’s, and are extremely honest because they don’t know how to lie.

Someone with bipolar who exhibits symptoms like those described by the letter writer should be on medication and closely monitored. Since Asperger’s does not manifest symptoms of violence and the like, there is no known medication for this syndrome.

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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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