I spend half my life trying to not offend people. My safe space is the comments section here on my blog where the only social rule is: be interesting. I’m especially grateful to people who disagree with me; it’s out of control for me to chase someone around arguing with them in person, but in the comments people think: She’s so responsive!

While I was reading the comments to my last post, I saw this comment.

“I’ve been married and divorced twice. I don’t look at it as failing… My life isn’t perfect but it’s pretty damn good and I’m steering my own ship. My house and life are serene. I fill it with stuff I want to do… Having a partner is overrated if you aren’t happy.

I replied:

Only someone with autism would say that. Having a partner is absolutely NOT overrated. Steering one’s own ship IS overrated. Wanting to do everything how we want to do it at the cost of making compromise to share life with someone else is the definition of autism…The human race would not have survived if it were normal to want these things.

She replied:

[I had] a narcissistic/borderline mother who made emotional chaos normal in my childhood…So I picked two husbands where emotional chaos was normal. Then I got sick of feeling emotionally drained and got out. Since then I’ve navigated carefully to protect my serenity. In therapy again now to expand my thinking around this and more. I don’t think I’m autistic. 

I replied: You’re autistic. Here’s why:

Self-analysis is autism
Just because you can spew DSM stuff doesn’t mean you’re not autistic. In fact, analyzing ourselves as a hobby is a marker of autism — we are constantly trying to understand how to world works, and how we feel comfortable. Because actually we can’t do either of those things. And the real reason we are out of step is that our brain makes us blind to ourselves. We see other people clearly but we don’t see ourselves.

But wait, all that analysis has payoff. People with autism are better writers than everyone else, because we spend our life memorizing dialogue and replaying it in our heads trying to figure out what just happened. In my writing course, I never see an autistic woman write bad dialogue — she’s been practicing in her head for too long to ever miss a beat.

Borderline personality is autism
So many autistic women think they are not autistic but “just recovering from a mother who has borderline personality disorder”. But autism and BPD frequently go together and scientists think BPD is so similar to autism that it’s another autism spectrum disorder. BPD is caused primarily by a mother who has BPD and autism; her erratic parenting causes her autistic daughter develop BPD.

Narcissism is autism
Narcissism and autism are so similar that scientists are thinking narcissism might be a subset of autism so we could just delete the narcissism category from the DSM.

There are many published papers explaining why narcissism is part of autism. You don’t need to know every piece of research but you do need to know that if your therapist diagnosed your parents or your spouse with narcissism it’s because the therapist doesn’t understand autism, and you have it, and that therapist can’t help you.

Divorce is autism
When the commenter writes that she’s been divorced twice. That’s probably because she decided the men have a problem (narcissism) and she has a problem (raised by a mom with BPD) and she felt depressed. But depression is part of autism, regardless of who we pick to marry, and staying married protects against the worst depression.

Autistic marriages are likely to end because we have the most emotionally compromised dating pool. If you’re not autistic you sort out people who violate all the social rules for dating. So autistic people are left with a dating pool of each other, and we don’t even notice there’s anything wrong.

Loneliness is autism
That is, until the honeymoon glow turns to marital glower and loneliness seems hard to separate from choice of spouse. I’ve done that. But once you get divorced, you’re forced to diversify your ideas about loneliness.

I used to think loneliness was something I had from not being around enough people, and that’s why I feel less lonely when I write on my blog. But I discovered that loneliness is a neurological disorder. Loneliness isn’t caused by a lack of social support. Loneliness comes from chronic illness or social anxiety. And the only way start feeling less lonely is to first acknowledge it’s an autism thing.

Interestingness is autism
So, yeah, I do think the commenter has autism. She must be really interesting to have appealed to her ex spouses because she — like me — is totally interested in her own stuff. So we are magnets for people who like interestingness. And wanting life to be interesting is not normal. There are higher values than that. But not for us.

So it’s no wonder that adults with autism know more about autism than mental health professionals. And if you want to know if you have autism, don’t ask a professional. Ask someone with autism. And if you want your life to get better after you find out you have autism, talk to people who also know they have autism. You get really smart about yourself really fast once you have that label.

78 replies
  1. Jules the First
    Jules the First says:

    I’m happily single (with a donor conceived toddler, no less). I’m not autistic. I’m aromantic and asexual and I see no point in a relationship. Would it be nice to have someone to take out the trash, or for the dishwasher to magically unload itself? Sure. But that’s why I pay a cleaner $35 a week, which, honestly, feels like a bargain when the alternative is navigating the drama of a relationship.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      So, the issue here is that the relationship with a child is as complex as the relationship with a spouse.

      Asexuality is usually a sign of autism. And the biggest problem autistic moms have is BPD and narcissism which are both disorders where the parent does not see/respond to the complexity of the child’s needs.

      It’s difficult to be a parent with autism. I say this as a parent with autism. The more we can see the better we can help ourselves.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Michelle
        Michelle says:

        I’m really glad you are working on bringing to light the struggles that parents with autism face. There is so little help out there for the parents or for the kids.

        I think in an effort not to seem like it’s about eugenics and autistic people should not have kids at all, people just completely breeze past how people on the spectrum can really struggle with parenting. If a person struggles with personal relationships and workplace relationships they are probably going to struggle with parent/child relationships and the cognitive responsibilities of parenting, too.

        I was the “victim” of two autism spectrum parents and my husband was too, and we and our siblings are really severely affected by it in so many ways. I’ve been thinking about the issue a lot. Maybe I’ll email you some thoughts.

        I think autistic parents can offer kids a lot in many ways related to high IQ (and passing on high-IQ genes), high earnings, financial stability, valuing academic achievement, being creative and childlike as parents, supporting their kids’ creativity, awesome vacations (seems to be a theme haha), hiking and camping, being very nice people – guileless compared to most neurotypical people, not being intentionally hurtful. they could just really use some guidance on how to keep their autism spectrum traits from harming their kids. The kids could use resources too, once grown, to make sense of it without having to just classify their families as having personality disorders (there are lots of resources for being a child of narcissists and almost none for being a child of people who struggled with parenting due to autism).

        Reply
        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          MIchelle, your comment is great. Profound. I feel like this is what I’m aiming for. Everything I’m doing right now is aimed at getting autistic parents to see what we’re up against and get help. We are all coming from generations of autistic parents traumatizing their kids. We need to be the generation that stops. It’s a tall order and we need a lot of help.

          Penelope

          Reply
      • Jules the First
        Jules the First says:

        Bullshit. The difference is that I am interested in and motivated in navigating the complexity of the relationship with my kid, and have zero motivation to engage in a romantic or sexual relationship. My kid is a fascinating little person with amazing interests and passions and watching him discover the world is endlessly interesting. Grown adults always seem to want me to organize their shit for them, and I have zero interest in doing that.

        Reply
        • Brooke
          Brooke says:

          I completely identify with this: “Grown adults always seem to want me to organize their shit for them, and I have zero interest in doing that.”

          As someone who generally dates cis straight men, I have often felt like I’m being interviewed for the role of fun nanny/executive assistant/personal chef. Gender roles and personal aptitudes/interests aside (about which I have lots of opinions), I have no desire to orbit someone else’s sun in someone else’s universe. I don’t know a single person (neurotypical or otherwise) who comfortably, happily takes on that role, although I know a lot of people who have found themselves in it.

          Thanks, but no thanks.

          Reply
          • Cheryl
            Cheryl says:

            When I read this, I was reminded of when I was in my twenties and dating an older man. After a few dates, I visited him in his home–and he put a vacuum cleaner in front of me and acted like vacuuming was a special treat for me! Then he got offended when I was dismayed.

  2. M
    M says:

    Love this. There is so much overlap of narcissism and autism. My parents were both on the autism spectrum and really harmed and neglected us kids. It’s hard getting support for this particular problem because they do not fit the classic definition of narcissism (they are not deliberately manipulative) but they caused a lot of the same harms through their indifference to our feelings and obliviousness to anything having to do with us kids.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Something that I’ve learned from reading about growing up with parents like that is it’s really hard to get a vocabulary to talk about how bad it is. And if we don’t have the vocabulary to talk about how bad it is then it’s really difficult to make sure we don’t reproduce the behavior as adults.

      The big thing about narcissism is that people realized that most narcissists were not trying to be mean. They just had no ability to stop or to understand the cruelty. And then people who actually can understand that they are being mean don’t fit the narcissism definition — they lean more toward psychopath. …or sociopath. I can’t remember which one.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Michelle
        Michelle says:

        I’m intrigued! I’m also in the process of getting a divorce from my spouse who is clearly neurodivergent. I’d love to learn more about this topic…before it’s too late. Any references/ resources?

        Reply
      • M
        M says:

        That’s a great point about how when there’s not a word for something, it’s too easy to repeat it.

        I think autistic parents often end up doing these things (mine did):
        -obliviousness – not noticing their kids’ mental health issues or eating disorders, for example
        -failing to warn kids about dangerous situations – e.g., make sure not to drink too much in college, don’t have sex unless the guy loves you, don’t go hitchhiking on your own as a teenage girl, etc.
        -failing to notice implicit, unspoken things their kids are experiencing or the absence of things – such as, my child no longer is seeing their friends, or my child is not dating at all in their 20s
        -asking their kids to accommodate them, sometimes at great harm to the kids – e.g., asking kids to make big sacrifices to their social lives or educations for the sake of minimizing parents’ stress
        -subjecting kids to intense special interests or pet peeves – e.g., constantly talking about how dumb religious believers are
        -struggling to understand their kids’ perspectives – when trying to get my parents to see how I felt about things they were doing that were hurting me a lot, I felt like back when I was tutoring people in calculus….it took so much effort to get them to grasp it

        Reply
      • Victoria
        Victoria says:

        Autism isn’t a thing, it’s a spectrum, and lots of people present in widely different ways along that spectrum. The lesson here is in understanding how I respond to spectrum-y behavior and manage my responses so I can strengthen my relationships at home, at work, and beyond.

        My son’s autism has forced me to look more closely at my family. As a result, I can see where painful behaviors and patterns are actually autism playing out in conditions that aren’t set up to cater for it. I have a brilliant aunt with a double PhD in math and psychology. She pisses everyone off because she’s in her own world and doesn’t pick up on social cues. So first thing in the morning, for example, she’s talking about politics and geopolitical patterns across the 20th century, and I’m barely awake. But I know she’s not trying to annoy me. I just have to say: “I totally want to hear you, can I have 15 minutes in silence to start my day and then we have a good long chat?” Because tat’s what I need, and I can’t expect her to intuit that. I have to tell her. And then we’re fine and the relationship is in a good shape.

        If I heed popular relationship advice or career advice or any kind of advice that is written by and for dominant logic, all my relationships will fail. But the more people who are actually autistic share their inside perspective on how they operate in the world, the more I can judge less, negotiate more, and live in a world with lots of individualized “rule books”, not just one. One size does not fit all.

        Reply
  3. Paul Hassing
    Paul Hassing says:

    Hi, P. ‘Glow … to … glower’ was unexpectedly poetic. I read it 5 times and wondered what inspired you. Nice! I can recite useless ads from 1970, but have trouble with dialogue: https://imagineday.wordpress.com/2021/10/09/the-night-we-got-anna-fundered/ I have no female perspective, which rather narrows the character field. I’ve been trying for decades, but invariably slip into parody: https://imagineday.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/the-very-bad-detective/ When I have successful dialogue with my wife, I want to transcribe it! Thank you for still being interesting after all these years. Sincerely, P. :)

    Reply
  4. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    I am also divorced and interesting and navel-gazey and unable-to-conform, but my diagnosis is ADHD, not autism. I know multiple autistic people in real life and I can assure you that, while we share some idiosyncrasies, the causality and internal experiences of such things are not the same. Not all neurodivergence is autism.

    Further, trauma research is nascent and lots of things that *look like* mental illness and neurodevelopmental differences are actually trauma. People who’ve been hurt badly enough can manifest all sorts of behaviors that result in incorrect diagnoses.

    For me, I’ve been remarkably transformed by the Somatic Experiencing modality of therapy that was originally developed for PTSD sufferers. No therapy can “fix” ADHD or autism, but I have found more healing from this than anything else I’ve tried. Neurotypical or not, healing past emotional injuries vastly improves quality of life.

    Reply
      • Brooke
        Brooke says:

        I have never heard a single person, expert or lay, suggest that ADHD is form of autism. And I can’t find anything on the website that you cite to support that claim either. Further, I have never heard anyone say autism = neurodiversity.

        I haven’t read all that there is to read on the topic, however, so I am willing to entertain this proclamation. Where did you learn that ADHD = low IQ? And where did you learn that ADHD is a subcategory of autism?

        Reply
          • Brooke
            Brooke says:

            Thank you for sharing the link. I read the articles that you linked to and remain unconvinced of the conclusions you’ve drawn from them. That there are some similarities between some brain structures as they relate to one observable behavior as reported by patients’ parents is interesting but not particularly compelling. My parents couldn’t have accurately assessed my social skills at any point in my childhood. And I did a site search on DisabilityIN to find their definition of neurodiversity; they use it the same way everyone else I know does – as an umbrella term under which asd, adhd, dyslexia and the like are covered. I could find no assertion that autism is the umbrella term, nor any argument that adhd and autism are the same disorder.

            For whatever its worth, I was diagnosed with ADHD 15 years ago at the age of 26 after I had finished my master’s degree. I spent 6 hours doing extensive neurological and LD testing with the folks at Beth Israel in Boston. There was no parental involvement or school district agenda to influence said diagnosis and if I had presented as having autistic traits as they were understood in 2006, I certainly would have received that information in the multi-page narrative report I was given.

            I’ve been reading your blog for about as long as I’ve had my diagnosis. I love it and you because you and I can look at the same data and land on wildly different conclusions and I love being perpetually confounded by you. For sure we are both neurodivergent, but, from my perspective, our styles of thinking could not possibly be more different.

          • Elyse
            Elyse says:

            Brooke, your 2006 diagnosis isn’t worth anything in terms of ASD. They were using diagnostic criteria for men then. Autistic women present much differently and they only started to figure it out in the past few years and develop more accurate criteria for women. So it wouldn’t have been in your “detailed” report bc they didn’t know what to look for. It was very common for them to say a woman studying for an advanced degree who presented well couldn’t be autistic. You might have both autism and ADHD, the ADHD might be a red herring, but the one thing you can’t fairly say is that that report/eval would have picked up ASD.

          • Brooke
            Brooke says:

            [For some reason I can’t reply directly to your comment.]

            Elyse, my response about my diagnosis was specific to the blog post that Penelope linked above, which was all about how schools are diagnosing kids with ADHD because it’s less stigmatized than ASD. I was just pointing out that her scenario did not apply to my situation.

            Yes, in 2006 we didn’t know nearly as much about the brain as we do now. Fortunately, I have been evaluated for multiple conditions since that time (and sadly misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder for several years) and am currently under the care of a psychiatrist who specializes in neurodiversity. I assure you that if ASD were a potential diagnosis for me, it would have been explored.

            In my observation, people with ASD are characterized by rigid, dogmatic, rule-bound thinking, as multiple people have pointed out in response to this post. People with ADHD have, what I would argue, is the complete opposite problem. We are contextual thinkers. We are overly empathetic and sensitive to the experiences of others. Everything is shades of grey, including ourselves. We can’t follow rules or even hold them in our heads most of the time. We are chaos embodied. “Consistently Inconsistent” is a phrase that is regularly thrown around. My ASD friends are the complete opposite of me. We find common ground in our mutual sense of alienation and weirdness.

            Folks with ASD and ADHD may struggle with behaviors that look the same to people on the outside, but the causality of said behaviors is not the same.

          • Lilian F
            Lilian F says:

            Hi Brooke, I love your comment and how you describe us ADHD folks! I’m 51 and was formally diagnosed at 40 something (BTW I have a PhD which I finished back in 2008, but it was the hardest thing in the world to finish, it took me ten years — and I had two sons in the meantime as well).

            I have already heard/read that autism is definitely neurodivergence (as ADHD, etc), and that ADHD is kind of part of the spectrum, but I 100% agree with your arguments about the differences between ASD and ADHD. Thank you for this: “We are contextual thinkers. We are overly empathetic and sensitive to the experiences of others. Everything is shades of grey, including ourselves. We can’t follow rules or even hold them in our heads most of the time. We are chaos embodied. “Consistently Inconsistent” is a phrase that is regularly thrown around” — It describes me COMPLETELY. I also like to say that I am habit adverse.

            I am curious to know what Penelope will respond.

  5. Graham
    Graham says:

    You might be right about the person you refer to from the comments section but your opinion is a bit reductionist. Autistic people (like me) also tend to display polarised thinking with too little room for nuance. Just because it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it still might not be a duck.

    Reply
      • graham landi
        graham landi says:

        I thought you’d like that. Yes, you did tell me and you were right. You’re often right (annoyingly) and you’re certainly very knowledgeable about autism, but you also make definite connections where grey area still exists.

        Reply
        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Yeah, I really do hate grey areas. I think they are such a time suck, because we can make the a little darker and then move on to solve the next problem. When I was studying personality type it looked to me like some people relished life in grey zones and some people didn’t, so you can see grey or not. But it’s like enjoying closure or not — I’m not convinced it’s a right answer as much as a preference.

          Penelope

          Reply
  6. Kitty Kilian
    Kitty Kilian says:

    Really, P. Narcissism is dark and manipulative. You can’t rake them all together just like that. They are not all the same.

    Reductionism is the right term.

    Reply
    • M
      M says:

      I feel like there are many types of narcissism. They are even starting to add the concept of “covert narcissism” or “vulnerable narcissism.”

      I have known the manipulative type of narcissist, the kind that subtly put you down and it feels like warfare just being around them, they are always one step ahead of you with the

      There are also autistic-type narcissists who are so focused on just coping in their own lives and whose brains are so harmed by autism that they are cognitively incapable of being reciprocal with others. I’ve heard it described well as, “nothing is too much for them to ask from others, and everything is too much when asked of them.” it ends up affecting people around them similarly to narcissism. so is it narcissism? maybe another variety of it? it has the self-obsession part (and often the defensiveness and punishing others for speaking up) but not the adept manipulation and social skills.

      Reply
  7. Pearl Red Moon
    Pearl Red Moon says:

    brilliant. I’ll be dissecting this all day and trying to apply it to behaving better. My wonderful husband saved me from my dysfunctional and miserable existence 12 years ago. I wish I could be nicer to him and show my appreciation more often. This information helps.

    Reply
    • Cheryl
      Cheryl says:

      Hi,
      You might benefit from reading this book:
      The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman.
      Sincerely,
      Cheryl

      Reply
  8. Srini
    Srini says:

    This post’s takeaway for me: Everyone is autistic. What? But that means autism is nothing. I am more confused than ever about what is autism.

    And how can you tell that someone is autistic just based on reading two sentences from them?

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The traits I listed are traits that only a small portion of the population has. But only a very very small portion of the population reads 800 word blog posts. So it could very well be that everyone in the entire world who can get through an 800 word blog post has autism.

      Part of the issue here, I think, is how much autistic people normalize autistic preferences. For example, only autistic women shift their weight on one leg when they are standing. If you look at yearbook pictures you can see that the science clubs have all women who do that, and the pom pom squad does not. But we are so used to seeing women stand with their weight shifted to one foot that it looks completely normal to us.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • M
        M says:

        I feel similarly about autism — once you get the gist of it in yourself, you can see traces of it in many places. I see it in my whole immediate family, my husband’s whole immediate family, a few of our other relatives, and many of our friends. I think it’s good to use the broad definition of autism and not just restrict it to the people who are severe enough to get a diagnosis, because even the subtle forms of autism affect people.

        Are you aware of RCCX theory? autism is one part of it, some other parts of the syndrome are hypermobility (elbows bend past 180 degrees), various chronic illnesses, androgyny or transgenderism, high IQ/giftedness, histamine problems.

        https://www.gro-gifted.org/rccx-theory-and-giftedness-a-promising-new-line-of-research/

        Reply
        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Mind blowing. I was thinking about this list already but not like a list. Not like a group of things. It’s so intesting how it is grouped together, because once I see it there, it makes sense. I coach tons of people with PCOS. Everyone who is reading right now and has irregular periods should consider you might have PCOS because it will make getting pregnant difficult so you should start earlier. That’s my public service announcement.

          Anyway, this will not be the last we hear of this list. I am so excited to read about it.

          Penelope

          Reply
  9. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Oh P, you’ve opened a can of worms!

    If people have to start thinking of narcissists as people with a medical condition that deserves empathy and understanding, many of your commenters would rather jump off a bridge.

    Reply
  10. estelle
    estelle says:

    I am amazed at how often you label people as having autism or Asperger’s.
    BTW
    I am female, an engineer, dyslexic.
    I can focus on something until I beat it into submission (yes OCD, or CDO as I like to call it)
    I like being alone yet have many friends and so it’s easy to balance being home and doing stuff with them.
    I am married, never divorced and don’t have kids cause I can’t have them.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I actually can’t tell if you know this: dyslexia is an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is an umbrella term. It’s not a disorder itself, but it’s a term for all the disorders that fall on the autism spectrum. So people who have dyslexia have autism. Dyslexia is one of the most common autism spectrum disorders.

      As an engineer this will be very interesting to you, I think. I did tests with Microsoft engineers and we found that engineers who have ADHD were more likely to get a promotion, but only if they knew how to manage ADHD. If they didn’t know how to manage ADHD they lost the benefits that ADHD conferred.

      So, as an engineer with dyslexia is highly likely that you also have ADHD (they go together almost all the time) and if you found that out it would help you keep things stable at work over the long term.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • estelle
        estelle says:

        see there you go again, applying labels to people you don’t know based upon what you THINK YOU KNOW.
        I do not have ADHD, I was tested. I am dyslexic AND LEFT HANDED, I can’t wait to see what label you apply to me being LEFT HANDED TOO.

        Reply
  11. Jane Carnell
    Jane Carnell says:

    I think what you’re getting at is unless we are each going two-by-two into the ark our lives are not reaching their full potential and we are making baseless excuses for not fitting in to community and society/ Yes? No?
    Some people like being on their own. We need to have that kind of social latitude rather than labeling a Thoreau-type deviant or …some other unfortunate diagnosis dismissing them for not fitting in. And as for therapists. I think my therapist was autistic but she has a partner so she must be adaptive.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hm. Well I am living alone and I don’t think I’ll have a partner, even when my kids are out of the house (will they ever be ???) so I can understand where you’re coming from. That said, the suicide rate for women with autism is extremely high, and it goes up as we get older. I worry about that.

      Penelope

      Reply
  12. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I appreciate this post. It’s insightful. It’s intriguing. And I wonder if this is an issue where, if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

    Having grown up as the family scapegoat in a highly dysfunctional family system with two narcissistic parents, and having made my own relationship mistakes because of it, I learned a lot about family dysfunction through my own personal experience and subsequent therapy. So maybe I’ve only been married once (for 21 years now), but I can understand why people get divorced. And remarried again. And why people prefer to live in their own space. And that’s not autism. It’s human. It’s nice to have an even keel life, where there’s no drama. No toxicity. No chaos. And that’s not autism. It’s functional. It’s enjoying life after having lived a dysfunctional life. So maybe it looks like autism to you. But it’s not.

    Hugs to you, P. And thanks for helping me review something in a different way.

    Reply
  13. Angela
    Angela says:

    Hi Penelope – not related to this post specifically – I’ve been a long time reader of yours and I want to thank you for giving me career advice 15+ years ago. It was regarding helping me decide what field to go into. I said something like accounting vs. nursing and I provided a short detailed paragraph. You said something like since you are equally good at both – pick the one that pays better. LOL. It worked out for me, so I just wanted to say thank you. Interestingly enough, I now have a 5 year old autistic son, so I’m am reading your posts through yet another lens.

    Reply
  14. M
    M says:

    Thanks for bringing up the way that autism-spectrum parents can behave narcissistically as parents (their methods might be different than socially-capable narcs but the results are similar enough).

    Another issue that seems to happen a lot with autism-spectrum parents – and that happened to my husband with his mom – is enmeshment. Look up When He’s Married to Mom and Silently Seduced (books) and Kenneth Adams (psychologist), who has a good YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzFj2abP0cx8tEO1eLyjbDA.

    It’s the perfect storm: autistic mother marries autistic man and gets divorced because they can’t handle the stress of child-raising and the husband isn’t involved and just wants to live like a bachelor. They get divorced and the mom doesn’t date or remarry (social interaction with peers is too stressful), maybe doesn’t even have many female friends her own age, but instead uses her kids (who might not have many friends of their own, if autism-spectrum) for companionship and whatever she is missing by not having a romantic relationship of her own.

    It can really hamper the kids in their own quest to become individuals and make their own families. It can make the kids feel they are only loved because of what they provide to their parent. It can mess with the kids’ ability to know their own desires and be individuals. It’s also really harmful to their marriages if they do end up getting married (has been hard on my marriage, my mother-in-law’s flirting with my husband and taking him on dates (season tickets to fancy shows), they acted like a romantic couple, til I put an end to it).

    The poor kids are just there wanting attention from their parent (it’s mostly moms who carry out enmeshment because they are more involved with child-raising and also what they want from relationships is more non-sexual things like companionship and emotional intimacy, where there is more of a gray area about what’s appropriate and what’s not with your kids), their autistic dad might be off somewhere neglecting them dating again, they are just starving for attention, and they don’t realize the attention and closeness might be too much, or that they should be putting this energy into relationships with their peers.

    Reply
  15. nooo
    nooo says:

    This is 100% factually inaccurate. You are defining autism according to a definition you have made up; you can’t just assign new meanings to words that already have clinical definitions. This post is irresponsible. Please stick to what you have expertise in. This is not it.

    Reply
    • graham landi
      graham landi says:

      It isn’t 100% factually inaccurate at all. It’s dogmatic, which is classic autism. She also knows a lot about autism because it’s hard not to know about things you experience, as long as you keep your eyes open.

      Reply
      • estelle
        estelle says:

        THANK YOU! It’s like a recovering alcoholic who sees everyone having alcohol problems. Or to put in another way; they are so far into the forest they don’t see the way out,

        Reply
        • Elyse
          Elyse says:

          Why are you so angry, estelle?
          You chose to read it.
          Is it because you think Penelope is misinforming people? The people who read this blog are more than capable of doing research and figuring things out.

          Or is it bc you’re horrified at the idea of being autistic bc you think negative things about it and have a fixed mindset?

          It’s pretty hard as an ASD person to watch people react with horror to the suggestion that you might have it. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s part binary mindset and struggle to change the way you view yourself. But your reaction is hurtful anyway.

          Reply
          • Brooke
            Brooke says:

            I don’t want to put words in Estelle’s mouth, but as someone who has spent a lot of time being evaluated by psychiatrists, as it seems Estelle has, I find having someone come along and assign a diagnosis to me based on a comment made on a blog post to be extremely triggering. I, too, got really angry when P suggested that ADHD is ASD (it’s not according to any expert in the field that I know of) and that I might have Asperger’s (I don’t.) Not because there is anything *wrong* with those diagnoses, but because I’ve spent most of my life seeking clarity about myself and having someone call my experience into question – especially without knowing anything about me – is upsetting.

            Yes, Estelle came here and Penelope’s response to her was predictable and maybe she should have been prepared for it, but it doesn’t make it not painful.

      • Amykins
        Amykins says:

        Hilariously, I fit a lot of the descriptions P listed in this post and others (interesting, divorced, navel-gazey etc), and I cannot stand black and white/dogmatic thinking. I live in the gray areas. I’m all “maybe” and “it depends” and “from a certain perspective”. I know some folks with an actual autism diagnosis and when they describe their experiences, I mostly cannot relate. I don’t struggle with most of the things that they struggle with. I do have a diagnosis of (mild) ADHD, so I’m sure that’s where P would say I’m autistic after all, but I’ve never heard any professional describe autism as an umbrella term, and I’m pretty sure my autistic friends would actually take issue with that idea. Colloquially, people ascribe all kinds of symptoms to ADHD or autism, but on some level people are just all variances of, well, people. If we water it down too much, then there’s really no person at all that’s neurotypical. And deciding that anyone who has a few anecdotal or self-described traits that you personally connect with autistic folks or neurodivergence must be autistic is a very autistic thing to do, I think.

        Reply
  16. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I married a man that is the exact opposite of my father. My father was a highly functional non violent alcoholic who went to an Ivy league school, served under the ASA and had a high position in the energy sector. My husband made it to the 10th grade, prone to physical violence ( to walls) works with his hands. Bright and has street smarts. I love my husband. I dont like him. Yes, you can love someone and not like someone. Love is in the will. You can choose to love. I have two kids. He is the best father ive ever seen. That is one of the main reasons I Stay with him. With all the accolades my father has on paper, my husband is 10x the father mine was. I keep reading all these comments, i married my father or mother and thats why im getting a divorce. So what about if you marry the exact opposite of ur mother and or father and you still want to get a divorce? Like me. Just remember, you are the problem too. You are hard to deal with too. You can be selfish. You can be mean. You can be argumentative. You cam be passive agressive and no matter what someone throws at you, you can always make the decision not to be those things.

    Reply
  17. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    The article lands. Many of the comments land. So, if I buy into the premise, I’m a divorced mom of two young kids residing somewhere on the spectrum. I’d like to be a good mom, partner, daughter, friend, coworker, neighbor but just writing this sentence was exhausting. Where the hell do I go from here?

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s a great question.
      1. Get feedback from someone who has autism and will show you where to look in your personal life for the places you are most likely to get hurt or hurt other people. Because we do that a lot, and that’s the first thing we need to look out for.
      2. Get help from a parent who has raised kids with autism to make a plan for how to shepherd your kids through school in a way that gets them the most help possible. By the time they go to college you want them to know how to advocate for themselves.
      3. Read about women and autism a little bit each day so you can understand how autism impacts you on a day-to-day basis and you can learn to work with your strengths and work around your deficits.

      Of course, you should hire me for a coaching session. This is my favorite sort of coaching session to do. But you can also ask a friend if you know someone who can do it. You don’t need a professional. You just need someone.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Andrea
        Andrea says:

        After your reply, I (probably obsessively) traveled down an internet rabbit hole of “women on the spectrum” searches. I found a book titled “Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder”. I didn’t completely relate to the childhood section but I think I suffer from some revisionist history syndrome so don’t rely on my internal narrative in that regard. However, once I reached the adult section, I began earmarking each page that related to my current life. After turning the corners of about 20 pages in a row, I instead turned to my trusty highlighter. It has been enlightening and somewhat of a lifeline. Anyway, just want to share this book here with any commenters who might be interested.

        Reply
  18. Minami
    Minami says:

    I think you’re missing a lot in this post, especially with regard to personality disorders. Your post kind of implies that most if not all abusers are simply autistic.

    From what I’ve seen and read, a major difference between autism and actual narcissism (in the personality disorder sense) is that narcissists do know when they’re being mean – they simply don’t care, because they think they’re justified in being mean. That their victim “deserves it.” There is intention to hurt because they see that as a tool to achieve their ends. As an example, one friend of mine who is dating a narcissist was told that he “is only mean to her because she won’t listen.” So he knows he’s being mean. He just thinks she deserves it, so it’s okay. That does not make what he does less mean, malicious, or abusive. It just means he won’t acknowledge his partner’s humanity and that meanness towards a partner is never justified, under any circumstance.

    They also don’t feel guilt about this – again, because they think they’re justified. Autistic people who do not have a personality disorder often feel a lot of guilt (which is often a big part of the depression).

    I do agree that there is probably a lot of overlap between autism and personality disorders, however. But what I think that should make us all consider is that perhaps people with autism are not the innocent, never-intending-to-be-mean, well-meaning little weirdos that people – both on and off the spectrum – that we so often like to think of ourselves as.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The issue is that clinically speaking, scientists don’t find there is really a person who knows they are being mean and does not fit the definition of psychopath or sociopath.

      Reseaerchers don’t think people with autism understand they are being mean because when people with autism try to stop being mean they can’t. I think this is true for me and the people who are close to me. None of us has ever improved even though we’ve tried.

      More importantly, an effective narcissist is not overtly mean because narcissists are manipulative and generally tell people what they want to hear in order to get what they want. They have a big goal in mind and use other people to get it. But people with autism cannot achieve a level of cruelty that involves manipulation because we don’t have the social skills to maintain it. We are too self-involved on a moment-to-moment basis.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Minami
        Minami says:

        Makes sense but I feel like this kind of contradicts the implications of your post (that narcissism is simply autism).

        Would you say that an ineffective narcissist simply has Asperger’s?

        Reply
  19. Joe
    Joe says:

    Wow. This article and the comments are prophetic. In one feel swoop, you have succinctly and deeply summarized my life: my own shortcomings, my sometimes rocky relationship with my wife, my childrens’ difficulties, where I strain to relate to them and to care for them, my own personal childhood, my parents’ divorces, my current adult relationship with my parents, my siblings’ issues, my own professional frustrations and failures. Everything.
    It’s as if a complicated kaleidoscope vision of myself, my life, my relationships and my history all snapped into focus with this one referencial shift.

    I have been following you Penelope for decades (can I say that?) and all of these years I have, from a distance, supported your struggle at ‘normalcy’ and the hurdles you must overcome to raise children and further a career.

    My psychologically-trained wife has told me many times recently that I (and my father) might be on the autistic spectrum. I wrote that off as a way to categorize my many unrelated childhood traumas and psychiatric illnesses into a convenient generic label. Similar to what a few disagreeing commenters have written above. But as a newly recognized, but lifelong, member of the autistic spectrum, I can now state – in a purely unscientific and subjective way – to those naysayers above, that Penelope is right. This paradigm shift just feels right. It explains literally everything.

    Thank you Penelope.

    Reply
  20. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Penelope,

    If I’m NOT on the autism spectrum, I kind of want to be after reading this blog. But, since I see autism ALL OVER YHE PLACE, I think I probably am in the club. So glad you’re here, too.

    Reply
  21. Caralyn
    Caralyn says:

    I really hope more blog posts on this topic will be written. After suggesting I was on the spectrum 7 years ago, it’s not until this post – and just as importantly, all your responses to comments – that I think you may be right.

    I googled some articles and there’s nothing as satisfying and informative as what you have to say.

    Reply
  22. James M
    James M says:

    I’ve been meaning to bring this up to you for awhile, but this post sort of spurred the thought again. I’ve been wondering for awhile if my mother is actually (somewhat) on the Aspergers spectrum. I think she’d be offended though if I brought it up so I don’t. And she’s a psychiatrist but has no idea (and a bit of a lack of self-awareness). She can talk to people from all walks of life and understand them and how to get through to them in her profession in such a nuanced and fascinating way (I’ve seen videos of her do this that she’s done for educational purposes, worked with her patients when younger, and her patients love her). But she’s awful in social situations and can never read the room, always says inappropriate things, is quiet and almost unengaged unless talking about things in her life that she’s interested in, and is obsessed with her career and nothing else (and has been since she was a child).

    Not sure what I’d do with this info if it was confirmed, but it does let me understand why I get stressed having her around for big family social events, but can tolerate her more 1-on-1 if I keep the conversation on talking about interesting things about her career. And it would let her off the hook a little bit with some of the long-term issues I’ve had.

    Reply
  23. Lilian F
    Lilian F says:

    OK, I haven’t even finished reading, or read the comments, so I don’t know if you’ll think this comment merits responding to, but I have a question — which I think is already kind of answered by mental health people, but you didn’t include it since I guess it’s not your experience — is ADHD autism?

    I feel like I have A LOT of stuff in common with autistic people, but, OTOH, I have a lot of differences. I have no problem with the social aspect (I am an ENFP, my youngest son is an ISTJ and we have a hard time interacting, but we’ve managed to reach compromises)… anyway, why didn’t you include ADHD? Because it’s OBVIOUSLY a neurodivergence? I will go back and read more carefully and also check the comments, but this post is quite fascinating. I imagine a lot of people will have already disagreed with you.

    Reply
  24. Lilian F
    Lilian F says:

    I am not changing what I wrote below, but you already answered it, “And people who have ADHD and do not have autism have very low IQ. So if you have ADHD and you’re reading this blog, you have autism.”

    I clearly have very high IQ as does my older son, so we’re autistic in your book even though we have no problem with social stuff. I at least don’t…

    My original comment:
    OK, I haven’t even finished reading, or read the comments, so I don’t know if you’ll think this comment merits responding to, but I have a question — which I think is already kind of answered by mental health people, but you didn’t include it since I guess it’s not your experience — is ADHD autism?

    I feel like I have A LOT of stuff in common with autistic people, but, OTOH, I have a lot of differences. I have no problem with the social aspect (I am an ENFP, my youngest son is an ISTJ and we have a hard time interacting, but we’ve managed to reach compromises)… anyway, why didn’t you include ADHD? Because it’s OBVIOUSLY a neurodivergence? I will go back and read more carefully and also check the comments, but this post is quite fascinating. I imagine a lot of people will have already disagreed with you.

    Reply
  25. T
    T says:

    I’m a single mother who left a possibly narcissistic man and whose therapist said my mom probably has borderline.

    I have many hobbies. One man said my “interestingness” was what he liked about me. I’ve lived in 5 countries and have had a very interesting life.

    I find relationships exhausting. I want one but as a single mom, I have so limited time that using what’s left on my hobbies is more appealing.

    I’ve never been diagnosed as autistic but according to your recent articles, I fit the profile you are describing.

    I also get a lot of compliments on my writing.

    — I’m intrigued, not convinced yet.

    Reply
  26. Bernadette
    Bernadette says:

    How should autistic people think about kids? It sounds like the ability to recognize our blind spots is low, and the risk of traumatizing our kids is high. I’m struggling with the idea of having kids and it being a bad scenario (us as autistic parents not being able to deal with the pressure, the kids being traumatized by us), and not having kids (which seems isolating and lonely). Struggling to find a good way to think about this.

    Reply
    • ru
      ru says:

      i think the hardest part of parenting feels like i have to give this warm and fuzzy feeling to my kid that i have never experienced before, realistically once per day.

      so when i see other parents trying to do the same thing, that feels less lonely. the cute kid moments are sort of fleeting and gets buried in the day to day to-dos so i can’t say kids make me happy. seeing how much they need emotionally to survive stresses me immensely. and once in a while, my kid will say something surprising about their observation of life and thats the part i love.

      i talked myself into having kids because i told myself this is a life experiment. which is probably also an autistic thing to do. my brain like to think of everything as an experiment to ease into it.

      Reply
    • graham landi
      graham landi says:

      Bernadette. Have kids. They are the very best thing about life. I speak as someone with autism and ADHD. I’m pretty sure my kids are pleased to have been born.

      Reply
  27. Terry
    Terry says:

    Hello Penelope,
    Thank you for making sense of my life but sharing the information I needed to realize I am on the spectrum. 55 year old female diagnosed with ADHD and no matter how much therapy or medication I’ve consumed did the puzzle pieces fit.
    I’ve been reading you for a while but it was your article about women with ADHD and how they’re probably actually on the spectrum. It changed my life.
    It was my lightbulb moment. I now understand all the things about myself that did not make sense to me. I now understand those difficult times in childhood and young adulthood where I didn’t fit in. I still don’t fed in. There’s so many things that I could share but there’s just not enough space in this format. I’ve been married three times, divorced three times. I’m excellent at diagnosing other people, and kept wondering why I was attracted to men who are also on the spectrum, and why I don’t like vanilla people, and my favorite hobby is new experiences. I like those new experiences because they help me understand other people. I obsessively Google and research the smallest thing, I have huge sensory issues at work that affect my paycheck in a negative way. I’ve had a lot of really horrible things happened to me in the last 10 years that I now see are directly in relation to my neurodivergence…I trusted the wrong people. Those days are done! Now I know who I am and I’m better at weeding out the dangerous people. I also I have forgiven myself for the past mistakes because now I understand why those things happened to me. But on the positive note I’m extremely open minded, and I’m able to push through with a positive attitude and I like it even the negative things that of happened as an opportunity to learn more about myself and others. But I want to thank you, you have made a huge difference in my life. Thank you thank you thank you! My family thanks I’m crazy as they don’t see me as autistic but… The joke is on them as I am sure both of my parents and both of my siblings are on the spectrum. Lol. My next job is to find a therapist who specializes in women on the autism spectrum, it’s not easy to find. I had to fire my last therapist because her advice to me was to “push through” and suggested an old an outdated book on ADHD. Her sister told her the book was good as a sister‘s child had ADHD. This therapist advertised as being an expert in ADHD and trauma. 🤣
    Why is this comment so long? Because I over explain things, and now I know why I do that. One advice I would give to people is to find a job where you’re not the only neurodivergent person in the office. It’s flipping miserable. My boyfriend works in IT, he’s surrounded by other people with autism and they can all just be themselves with no masking. I’m surrounded by the dumbest rules such as I can wear black denim to work but I can’t wear very dark blue denim to work because it doesn’t look professional. No clients come into my office, my job is not entirely on the phone. Somehow yoga pants are fine because they’re black… Lol. Now I know why I rebel against such absurd rules. But instead of getting angry with myself or feeling shameful or feeling like I don’t belong, I now realize that the world’s rules don’t work for me. Now I surround myself with like-minded people who are supportive. But it’s still hard, every day is hard. It’s terribly hard. It’s terribly painful. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. I am working to alleviate a large percentage of this By making changes in my life to accommodate who I really am and not what I was taught to be. If you read my stream of consciousness thank you for that lol and again thank you for sharing yourself because you have really helped me.

    Reply
  28. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    You struck a nerve with alot of people. In my opinion that usually means you are bringing up thoughts and feelings they have been trying to avoid for a long time. Myself included. Good article.

    Reply

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