Neurodiverse Relationships – Karen’s Story

Neurodiverse Relationships is out now, and you can read two exclusive extracts here on the JKP blog. This is the first book of its kind to provide perspectives from both sides of a relationship in which one partner is autistic and one is neurotypical.

In this extract, having first read her husband David’s story, we’ll learn how Karen feels about change. We hope these extracts, told in the couple’s own words, give you a good idea of the content of the book and how it may offer insight and understanding to some couples. Each chapter is on a different subject, such as anxiety, finances, intimacy and parenting. Each chapter also concludes with insights and advice from Professor Tony Attwood. 

neurotypical

An NT Perspective: Karen’s Story

When we met I was going through a lot of change. I had just left university and literally a couple of days before David asked me out had dumped my long-term serious boyfriend of six years. This was the person I had expected to marry, and the feeling had been reciprocated, but in the last year he had gone off to university as a mature student and the freedom had gone to his head. I was devastated and angry, but I was not one to sit at home and mope. I had student debts to pay and having a job to do kept my mind off my woes somewhat.

I joined a temping agency and ended up at this strange engineering company in deepest darkest Newcastle on the edge of the Tyne. I was a little nervous about starting, but David was one of the first people I spoke to and he went out of his way to make me comfortable. The company was full of educated engineers – all men, the only women were the admin staff. I have always been a tomboy, being brought up with two brothers and many close male friends, and I felt completely at home. I was happy to sit and chat with the engineers at breakfast and lunch. Perhaps my joining in with the men was taken as flirting, but I chatted and laughed with them all equally. David was one of them.

Unbeknownst to me, as we sat having coffee on the lawn, David actually entering sunlight was unheard of. So there’s the first change he made for me: he downed tools and made an effort to make social contact. I didn’t notice anything odd, but this change was closely observed by his colleagues and, especially, by the women. One girl in particular who was the same age as me took my home phone number and passed it on to David and instructed him to ring me.

I was a little surprised at the communication but thought ‘Why not?’ I moved in with him within a month and stayed for a year before I got my dream job in London. He treated me like a princess, and who wouldn’t like that?

Fast forward two years and we were married with a baby on the way. It is true that we told the vicar that we didn’t want children and, at that moment in time, neither of us was mentally prepared for them. I knew what it was like to have a baby in the house as my sister arrived as a little surprise when I was 16. After the initial shock she was loved and adored by all of us, but I observed how tired my mum was, and I wasn’t ready for that yet. I’d only just started on my career. However, something changed – apparently only in me although I thought it was a joint decision – and I got pregnant. David was wonderful during the pregnancy, very supportive and loving, and even during the labour I couldn’t have asked for anything more. But he completely changed before we even got Morgan home from hospital. He was very rude to my mother and extremely anxious around me and the baby. I thought it only natural so didn’t worry about it at first.

As time went on I found the baby very hard work. He didn’t sleep, he didn’t feed. I’ve just discovered that David thought I had post-natal depression – I really didn’t. I had the baby-blues on day four as most mums do. I was tired and obviously David wasn’t the focus of my attention any more. You’d think if he thought I was actually depressed he would have suggested I get some help. He never did. I did lose my temper with him massively one day. His idea of helping me not be so tired was to move into the spare bedroom. I went berserk! I felt rejected, unsupported and unloved. He was terrified of me as I started throwing things, and he decided that moving rooms wasn’t a good idea after all. That moment was pivotal for me. I didn’t often lose my temper but I was at my lowest ebb and he had just tipped me over the cliff. However, I saw the fear and confusion in his eyes and I stopped. I calmed myself down. I try and walk away now when he is winding me up, as I know I am the only one that can stop the situation getting worse. I changed that day. In some ways I grew up but I wonder if I lost a bit of my personality. Perhaps I sacrificed standing up for myself in order to keep a happy household for my little family.

We’ve now been married 18 years and our eldest child is 16. He also has Asperger’s syndrome but getting to know and understand my son as he grows has helped me to know, understand and tolerate David a lot more. I see my son in him, especially when he is bewildered.

I have to stamp on my own spontaneity regularly so as not to invoke too much change in our home. I love change. It is fresh and exciting, but to them it can be confusing or even terrifying. We now plan change as much as we can, but sometimes life just happens.

For example, we both work from home, so one day I suggested, as the kids were at school and it was lunchtime that we should pop out for lunch. The mention of food is always welcome and is the one thing I can be spontaneous about with David! He thought it was a great idea. We got ready to leave the house when I had an idea. We had been cutting the hedge and had a load of rubbish to take to the local tip, which was on the way. I suggested my brilliant idea of killing two birds with one stone, thinking he would immediately realize it would save us two trips, but no. He had the most enormous strop and was most disagreeable. I quickly realized my mistake and tried to backtrack, saying I would go another time. However, I had already put the thought in his head and he knew that this was what I wanted or I wouldn’t have suggested it. He wouldn’t let me back down and insisted on putting all the rubbish in the car with bad grace and driving to the tip. The atmosphere over lunch was horrendous. I wished I’d never opened my mouth. I try to think more than one step ahead these days. It’s quite exhausting at times, especially when you are always the one at fault.

As mentioned by my dear husband, changing the furniture is a big issue for him! My mother used to move furniture around all the time. I would come home from school and the dining room would have moved into the conservatory and the study into the front room. I didn’t mind a bit. I’m not sure how my dad felt about this. To me, furniture is not fixed to the floor so why shouldn’t it move around? It gives the room a new feeling without having to decorate and helps with a thorough spring clean.

The first time I did this was a complete surprise to David, and he never lets me forget it. I used to come home from work a few hours before him as, unlike him, I stuck to my office hours. I decided to rearrange the room as it hadn’t changed since the day I moved in and I felt I could organize it better.

Later, when he walked through the door, he just stood there paralysed, apart from his mouth, which was opening and closing silently. I knew then I had done something wrong. He insisted we change it back there and then. At the time I thought that maybe I had stepped over some invisible line with it being his house that I had moved into. Now I know that if I had given him advance warning and a set of detailed plans he would have let me do it.

Of course this makes moving house a complete nightmare. Again, I love change and I love moving house – a change is as good as a rest! I must be so annoying to him. And yet we’d still be in that tiny little starter home now if I hadn’t insisted we needed more room. When we do move house you might expect there to be great discussions about where the furniture will go but no, it is all being

worked out in his head or drawn up with little scaled sofas on his CAD package. He doesn’t trust my instincts and imagination at all. I’m usually right when I say a piece of furniture will fit in a certain place, but he only remembers the times I am wrong. To me, if I am wrong we move it back or try somewhere else. What’s the big deal?

The other major issue is when we change cars. This wasn’t much of an issue when we first married as I didn’t drive and didn’t have an opinion. In the last twelve years however, especially since our little business has contract hire cars, both of which need to be changed every three years, this has caused massive problems.

For a start he has low self-esteem so whenever we went to the more prestige car showrooms he would be very rude to the sales people or, if we were ignored, he would march out in disgust vowing never to go back. He doesn’t seem to understand the concept of window-shopping, and, though sales people would love to sell to everyone who walks into their showroom, they know the likelihood of a sale is low. Also David seems to think that if I say I like a car what I’m really saying is that I must have it there and then. He can’t relax and enjoy himself, despite the fact he actually loves cars and anything to do with them.

Our most expensive purchase through the company was an Audi. Unbeknownst to me, David had always hankered after an Audi. You would never have guessed as he spent a lot of his driving time insulting Audi drivers and criticizing what he saw as their aggressive driving styles. This turned out to be his reaction to thinking he wasn’t good enough for an Audi. After a massive strop when he had walked out of a showroom because he felt we were being ignored, he sent a letter of complaint to the manager. He actually received a very polite phone call back though unfortunately the manager reinforced David’s fears. He admitted that his sales teams were trained to look out for likely looking clients and ignore those who they deemed not serious. I pointed out that the people most likely to be able to afford an expensive car were not the ones dressed up to the nines on a Saturday, but those who weren’t outwardly trying to prove their means. The manager agreed. He then arranged for David and me to come in for an appointment and arranged for the exact cars that we were interested in to be there to look at.

All well and good you might say. We ordered the car David liked (I got to choose the colour, which he didn’t care about as long as it wasn’t flashy red) and we waited for it to be delivered. On the day we were due to collect the car we took the children who were very excited. The plan was to drive down in one car and drive back in two. I would drive the old car. It took ages for the car to be handed over and David had to sit in the car with the salesman for about 40 minutes while he explained how everything worked. The children and I stood outside all the while. When we eventually left, David immediately stalled the car, which I think annoyed him. By the time we got back home he decided he hated the car and was never going to drive it again. This was exactly the same car as the one he had test driven and loved.

We’ve had the car for over two years now and most of the time he is fine with it. He still doesn’t like the handbrake, and I can tell when he is anxious as his driving gets erratic. We have started to look around for a new car, but I’m hoping that now he is used to being an Audi driver he is a little more confident and that this time will be easier for both of us.

Buy your copy of Neurodiverse Relationships here

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