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Monday, 31 March 2014

Living with Aspergers - why criticism doesn't work

We must be more than halfway through Lent - and my resolve to give up criticising Ethan for the whole Lent period (partly as an experiment to see how it changes things) has had mixed success.
The first few days were a massive failure. Ethan seemed to annoy me more than ever (it's like when you're forbidden to eat something and that's all you want to eat)! I had less patience and grace than ever before. It was as if, as soon as I vowed to stop criticising, someone turned up the heat!
The first morning of Lent, I was full of fresh hope and determination. Then Ethan took the kids to school. A positive thing - he was being thoughtful and selfless, giving me a break and letting me have a lie-in. Except it caused more stress than if I'd just taken them myself.
At 8am, Ava still wasn't dressed. Oliver was wearing Sam's clothes and Sam was immersed in a game that Ethan had set up for him on the ipad.
Ethan, in his pyjamas, was emptying the dishwasher and cleaning the kitchen cupboard handles (a worthy pursuit but really not the priority right then).
I busied around, shouted, got the kids organised, got Ethan organised (including criticising his choice of spoon for Oliver - a teaspoon for rice krispies - it was taking him forever, and criticising him for not giving the kids a drink).
Half an hour later as bags were being assembled, I handed Ethan two letters and a reply slip, explaining that the two letters were for Sam's teacher and the slip was for Oliver to take into pre-school. I knew he wasn't listening and, at the risk of nagging, said it again...and again. I even got him to repeat the instructions back to me (childish, I know, but necessary).
On the way out the door he held up the pile of papers in his hand and asked 'So these are all Sam's?' ARGH! With the general stress of the moment and already having had to get all the bags and lunchboxes from the kitchen side that Ethan had forgotten and calm Sam down whom Ethan had pushed out of the way a bit too hard in irritation, I launched into an attack: I criticised his inadequacies. I shouted that being married to him was like having another child. I patronisingly asked him whether he could manage to remember who's letter was who's long enough to get to school. And I did it all in front of the kids.
As he and the kids tumbled out of the house, and I was starting to feel a little guilty, Ethan led them all straight into a huge puddle at the side of the road. The last thing I heard, as they trudged down the road, was Ava moaning that her sock was wet!
When all was calm again and I was by myself, I felt bad for my outburst. Ethan's behaviour, lack of engagement, inability to priotise and vacannt-ness (if that's a word) is infuriating. But it's not deliberate. And me criticising, patronising, putting down and blaming certainly doesn't help either of us. It damages how I see Ethan and it damages how Ethan sees Ethan. And, I'm ashamed to say, the kids are starting to copy me and 'tell Ethan off' when he messes up (or come and tell me how he's failed). It must be crushing for Ethan's self-esteem and damage his sense of acceptance by his family. And, as long as I'm focusing on the shortfalls, I'm missing the countless little achievements, efforts, successes and selfless acts that Ethan brings to each day and which take so much from him.
When I criticise, rather than spurring Ethan on to be better, I push him further into defeatism, self-doubt and feelings of failure. Who's going to strive to be better with those emotions swirling around in their head? I also feed feelings of disdain, superiority and contempt towards Ethan in myself; when, actually, there is so much to be glad about and to celebrate in Ethan. Criticism holds us both, as individuals and in our relationship, back.
So, instead of criticising I'm trying to:
a) keep quiet (not meaning to preach but praying for Ethan when I feel like killing him yields amazing results - it brings me peace and seems to shift things in him)
b) talk things through with Ethan after the heat of the event
c) examine my own behaviour and attitude and identify where I need to make changes
d) for everything I pull Ethan up about, I try to tell him one thing he's great at.
I'm not always successful - I find it almost impossible to hold my frustration and anger in when Ethan has done something annoying/stupid/insensitive. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. And the results are so much better for us both. The more I try to understand, the less I feel the need to criticise and the better Ethan responds.
One thing I've learnt for sure: outright, unreserved, criticism doesn't work.


  1. thanks so much for sharing! As a wife who is only now coming to terms to an Aspie Hubby, even if he doesn't care to admit it, and doesn't care to be diagnosed, I am seeing the light. Your post here is something I can totally relate to. I've done the criticisms and all that and it is only pulling us apart. Things are rough now and I am wondering if it is too far too late. Good to know that there are others out there. Thanks once again. I am following your blog now.

  2. I've read that cats don't respond to discipline the way dogs do--cats get rather offended if they're punished for something. However, when they're given incentives, they respond much better and do the things you want them to do. Sometimes I like to think of my Aspie Hub as a cat :)