1. New Konoiche
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    New Konoiche Member

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    One of my characters has a boyfriend with Asperger's Syndrome and...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by New Konoiche, Jun 26, 2013.

    There is a going to be a scene where he physically attacks her in the midst of throwing a temper tantrum. I think violence against women is a huge deal and normally, I would say she should get rid of him immediately. However, I think the situation is a little bit different here, due to his disorder. She will certainly be angry at him/apprehensive about their relationship after that, but at the same time, I don't want her to seem callous about his issues. I have a family member with Asperger's and I know that sometimes, they cannot control their behavior. Yes, they should still be held accountable for their actions, but at the same time, I think it should be taken account that his violence was not indicative of his usual behavior. Also, my MC, Jutta, has a lot of issues of her own (not Asperger's, but Social Anxiety), so it would make sense if she somewhat understood where he was coming from. How do you think I should address this difficult situation?
     
  2. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    Okay, here are my thoughts on this. Firstly, if you have a family member with Asperger's Syndrome then I'd think you'd have far more knowledge on how people deal with the outbursts than just about anyone that would answer you, unless of course they have first-hand experience themselves.

    Secondly, it's really down to you how you want your MC to deal with it. Even looking at normal relationships that suffer from domestic violence the response from the women – men as well for that matter – varies hugely. Some may walk out the door right away, some will forgive them the first outburst and swear if it happens again they will leave, while others may beat them right back, hit them over the head with a frying pan when they turn around, and many other possible choices for good or bad.

    The simple fact is you need to decide how you want your MC to react to it based on the person you have created. How they react is largely going to be based on what type of person they are, and the one detail you gave us is not really enough to decide on how they would respond to a violent outburst.
     
  3. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    I wish that this essay, by Terry Ann Thaxton, was available for free in digital form. I read it in the last issue of The Missouri Review and it explores a mother's experience with her son, who has Asperger's Syndrome. If you can get your hands on it, it might give you some literary perspective in terms of how to write these delicate matters.
     
  4. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is kind of a tough question, but I feel it's important to point out that a boyfriend is completely different from a son. A boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is completely optional, continuing only through the consent of both parties, and both should feel that they are overall benefiting from the relationship. A parent/child relationship is not (generally) severable. The parent needs to care for the child. The relationship does not necessarily have to be mutually beneficial. Ending a relationship with a boyfriend is rightfully viewed in an altogether different light than ending a relationship with your own child.

    Also, everyone with Asperger's is not necessarily violent. They might act out due to frustration at not being able to communicate their feelings or understand others. But it's on a continuum, and not everyone necessarily needs or requires "special" treatment. If he's functioning at a high enough level to have a girlfriend, he likely isn't entitled to that much more additional consideration than anyone else.

    Ultimately this relationship needs to be about the two people involved and the benefit they each derive from the relationship. Anyone can lash out or do something that is inconsistent with their usual behavior or personality. While his lashing out could be explained by his Asperger's, that doesn't necessarily mean that the girl should stay with him.
     
  5. ponyo11t
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    ponyo11t New Member

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    I'm on the autism spectrum and can help, but I'd need to know what triggered him. People with autism don't become physical for no reason. Usually, in moderate to high functioning autistics (like those with Asperger's), they only respond psychically to a sensory "attack." If he was touched in a bad way, or screamed at, he might respond with a push or a punch, but not much more than that. It's a reaction, not a conscious choice. It's somewhat like how people jump when they're surprised or jerk their hand away from a hot stove.

    If it's a mental trigger, like breaking a promise or changing a schedule, then he'd most likely respond verbally and maybe throw stuff. It's highly unlikely that he would actually attack the girlfriend, unless he has significant mental health issues or is a somewhat low functioning autistic.

    On a personal note, I hope you're not making him into a violent person solely because he has Asperger's. ;~;
     
  6. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    I find calling Asperger syndrome a disorder quite offensive, and, no, I do not have it, though I have been through tests as a child to check if I fit the label, and as such I know a fair amount about it. I absolutely agree that the person should be held liable to their actions, in fact in the exact same way other, "normal" people are. In fact I would just mention him having Asperger's, like the way you'd mention someone being blond, and move on, and let the reader judge for themselves (whether his having Asperger's matters, whether she was right to do whatever she did etc. etc.). You don't have to be over the top, telling everything, and you certainly don't have to be misinformed or discriminatory (though your characters very well might be). Show, don't tell, you know.
     
  7. New Konoiche
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    New Konoiche Member

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    Thank you for your advice, everyone! I will definitely check out that article from the mother's perspective.

    Yes, this is my thought as well. He is a character who is very upfront about having Asperger's, so she knew at least partially what she was getting into with him, but, as I said in the original post, he is not a violent person in general. That said, he is sort of in a "bad place" when she meets him (a lot of self-esteem issues and more tantrums than usual). As for what set him off, not quite sure about that yet. I'm thinking that it actually has nothing to do with her and its also pretty early in the relationship, so it comes as a big surprise (the first big tantrum she's ever seen from him). After this, Jutta's mom is really upset about it and wants her to break up with him, but Jutta's feelings are a lot more ambivalent.
     
  8. New Konoiche
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    New Konoiche Member

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    Hi, Bjornar Munkerud. I didn't mean to offend and am sorry if I did. I know some people consider Asperger's a disorder, while others just see it as a difference in world view. To me, something is defined as a disorder only if it causes problems in every day functioning, which is definitely the case with Ethan. Also, Ethan himself kind of tends to define himself as someone with Asperger's and often talks about it. Even more problematic, his family also tends to think of him mostly in terms of having Asperger's and think of it as somewhat of a bigger deal than it is. In fact, maybe more of his problem is that he has been coddled than his actual diagnosis. So, it's sort of a complicated situation in that I want to be sensitive to his needs (and, more importantly, have Jutta be sensitive to them) because it is a real Syndrome and he really does have it, while also showing that defining someone by a diagnosis can be damaging.

    Jutta's situation is sort of the opposite, I guess. She has Social Anxiety but does not usually discuss it and its far from a distinguishing feature.
     
  9. Megumi
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    Megumi New Member

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    I am on the autism spectrum and I agree with what ponyo11t said.

    The only thing I can think of for him being phisically violent with her and that to be related to the Asperger is that there were a lot of stressfull things happening to him at the time and that she did`t gave him enough space or tried touching him without previous notice.

    Verbal tantrums and shouts are a lot more common reaction (when overwhelmed) in Asperger`s syndrome than physical violence. And if it (physical aggresiveness) happens, it is more likely to be as described by ponyo11t: "If he was touched in a bad way, or screamed at, he might respond with a push or a punch, but not much more than that. It's a reaction, not a conscious choice. It's somewhat like how people jump when they're surprised or jerk their hand away from a hot stove." So, if he is more aggressive than a single push or punch, I think you should relate that violent behavior to things different to him having Asperger`s syndrome (maybe an early trauma, or being physically abused by someone else).

    And I also agree with this that ponyo11t said:"On a personal note, I hope you're not making him into a violent person solely because he has Asperger's." Be aware of the power of stories (in the form of a book, or a film, or whatever), because they create stereotypes about people, even if you do not intent to do so.

    We (people on the autism spectrum) usually have to cope, on a daily basis, with more anxiety than neurotypical people. Now I will transcribe some quotes from the book “Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety: a guide to succesful stress management” by “Nick Dubin”. The book is written primarly to help people within the autism spectrum to understand and cope with anxiety, so when the author use “we” and "you" he mainly refers to people within the autism spectrum and mainly people with Asperger (because the author is diagnosed with Asperger`s syndrome). And the term “Neurotypical” refers to people outside of the autism spectrum which are part of the “norm” or “majority” (that excludes people outside the autism spectrum, but with some neurological difference: for example people with ADHD <Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder>, etc):


    There are a number of characteristics and reasons that explain why individuals with Asperger’s experience greater amounts of stress (here are the main ones the author refers to):

    Low frustration tolerance

    Hypersensitivities

    “For people with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders (ASD),one or more of our five senses are often extremely sensitive and can get easily overloaded (Attwood 2006). You may be less tolerant than most people are of bright lights, loud noises, certain kinds of fabrics, etc. These hypersensitivities can cause undue stress in your life.”

    Perfectionism

    “People with Asperger’s have very low frustration tolerance when they are unable to be completely successful in their goal-oriented activities.”

    Unpredictability


    “People with Asperger’s have a low frustration tolerance toward unpredictability,and life is unpredictable in almost every respect.”

    “Most likely, you feel like you constantly have to be on guard for things that could possibly happen around you.”

    “The energy you expend detecting possible threats in the environment is depleting. It takes a lot of energy to be anxious about every possible thing that can go wrong.”

    Transitioning

    “People with Asperger’s are known for having low frustration toward making smooth transitions between activities. When a situation is threatening and takes a lot of energy to confront, it makes the next situation that much more daunting. If I am relieved to have made it to work because driving is hard for me, I will have to recover from the drive before I’m able to focus on my job.”

    Monotropism

    “Many people with Asperger’s have good central coherence when it comes to understanding processes that Simon Baron-Cohen describes as “folk physics” (Baron-Cohen 1997). Someone with Asperger’s might be able to explain how quantum physics, chaos theory, and other complicated scientific processes work, yet be stumped to explain basic psychological processes that most neurotypicals take for granted, such as why people act a certain way at dinner parties. What I’ve just described is a discrepancy in one’s intelligence between how things work and how people behave. It’s a discrepancy common among people with Asperger’s.”

    Monotropism in social situations

    “Many of us with Asperger’s are so absorbed with the details of a given situation, we end up missing other important details and consequently aren’t very good social problem solvers. I would venture this causes stress on a daily basis because it is harder to see social situations globally. You may only focus on one aspect of the social encounter. Again, because you have to work so hard in social situations, it’s hard to know what to focus on and what to ignore. Your challenges with auditory processing may make it nearly impossible to process all incoming information, so conversation is a huge strain. You never know when to respond, what to respond to, the inflection with which you should respond, etc. You can now begin to appreciate how being monotropic in social situations creates a huge amount of anxiety for you.”

    “When you fall victim to your own social misjudgments enough times, it begins to take on a toll on your psychological well-being. Again, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, you become conditioned to feel like a social failure, thus encouraging a kind of hyper-vigilance on your part. The problem is the more hyper-vigilant you become, the more monotropic you will become.”

    Problems reading nonverbal cues

    “Research tells us that 85 per cent of the communication that takes place between human beings is nonverbal (Young 1998). Just imagine what that means. If people with Asperger’s struggle with interpreting nonverbal cues (which we do), we are missing out on the majority of communication that is taking place. Not only does this make communication a frustrating venture, but it also causes a lot of anxiety. Since you can never be sure you are correctly interpreting someone else’s body language and/or nonverbal cues, it forces you to work harder to understand what is being communicated. Since working harder takes more energy day in and day out, it can become an exhausting endeavor. The exhaustion gives way to anxiety, and it becomes a never-ending vicious circle.”

    Auditory processing difficulties

    “Aside from the challenges people with Asperger’s have reading nonverbal cues, many of us also have difficulties processing auditory information quickly. Much of the auditory information we receive gets muffled. In day-to-day conversations, we have to work harder than our neurotypical counterparts when it comes to processing incoming information. While neurotypicals naturally understand subtle vocal intonations and nuances, it may not come as easily for you and me. Consequently, we may tend to analyze what people are saying to make sure we are correctly interpreting what we are hearing. This effort to understand another person becomes tiring over a long period of time, and it is anxiety provoking.”

    I hope this helps you understand more about Asperger`s syndrome and the autism spectrum. ;)
     
  10. New Konoiche
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    New Konoiche Member

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    Thank you for the info, Megumi! Very helpful stuff :)

    I'm thinking maybe he could actually verbally lash out and maybe say something mean instead of actually hitting (maybe calling her a bad name like a bitch or something similar that he wouldn't ordinarily say). I think it would achieve a similar effect to physical violence without quite the same amount of controversy and Jutta's mom would still definitely have something to say about it. She would probably be surprised/upset at first, but later understand that it was part of the outburst. As I said, he's having a lot of issues not related to Asperger's, but they cause him to have more outbursts/tantrums/symptoms than usual. If she were to break up with him (which I think will probably happen eventually in the story, but not at this point), it will be more because of the fact that she wants him to deal with his own problems and be in a better place rather than because of this incident.
     

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