There were tears in my eyes tonight while I watched the film, “Refrigerator Mothers” on the PBS program, POV.
From the 1950s and persisting as late as 1990, psychology students were learning that autism was a result of mothers not bonding with their children — of them being detached and frigid. It’s heartbreaking to know how wrong so many experts in the medical profession could be, and how much anguish “experts” brought to mothers of autistic children in the decades after these disorders were recognized, but before autism was more correctly identified as having neurological origins.
During one of the film’s personal stories, I felt more than compassion. I felt a kinship of sorts because I recognized the mother’s feelings of confusion and underlying disbelief, eventually culminating in anger at the way she had been harmed by the therapy professionals subjected her to for the frigidity disorder she never had to begin with. I recognized some of the struggle in her story because it reminded me of the difficulties that high functioning disorders, such as Aspergers, bring to a marriage, and how spouses (disproportionally women, possibly because there is a higher instance of these disorders among males) can be mistreated by counselors who don’t understand how these problems present.
From different marriage counselors, I heard that I was being too sensitive and much too quick to label my ex-husband’s behavior as abusive. That was probably due to his honesty, sincerity and intense sadness as he recounted to them how he felt in our marriage and the happiness he wanted to us achieve. Our counselors didn’t have the skill to figure out that he was unable to comprehend or adjust any contributing factors in his own behavior, or they took much too long to figure it out. On the other hand, there I was — anxious, upset, and close to anger about being mistreated and unheard. They decided I must be the one with the problem. Therapists told me that the answer was for me to listen to my husband more, and to practice talking less. My ex would be much happier by our next appointment, because a person with Aspergers often mistakes their one-sidedness in conversations and other social situations as being the ideal way relationships should be. The only way I survived those weeks was to shut down my emotions and try to stop wanting anything. My husband couldn’t not have Aspergers, but my life changed, or shall I say was given back to me by degrees, after he was correctly diagnosed and I realized that I wasn’t a horrible person who couldn’t see how her horribleness was hurting the man she loved.
Because high functioning autism wasn’t being diagnosed when many of today’s affected adults were children, they and the spouses who fall in love with their intensity and concentrated attention without knowing what it could mean, can find themselves in a quagmire that is often exacerbated by inexperienced professionals who don’t specialize in those conditions. No wonder a part of me identified with the women in “Refrigerator Mothers” who tried so hard but were criticized and mistreated by the psychological community that should have been helping them to cope.
It seems to take a long time for certain perceptions to change, but if we can share our stories, whatever they may be, we can reach out to each other here in cyberspace and at least offer solidarity while we wait for the professionals to catch up.
- Asperger’s on TV (morelikeaveragemom.wordpress.com)