Author sheds light on Asperger relationships

Asperger syndrome (AS) is a diagnosis branching from Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) where the individual has difficulties with social and communication skills.

While a child with Asperger’s might find it challenging to spark a conversation with a fellow classmate, adults with AS also have communicative difficulties when building lasting romantic relationships.

IU’s Marci Wheeler recently coauthored “The Partner’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome,” a book helping to provide advice and strategies for female adults whose partners are on the autism spectrum.

Wheeler first became interested in working with people with disabilities when she was an undergraduate student at IU. She performed volunteer work for people with disabilities, and in the mid to late ’70s had her first opportunity to work with an autistic child.

“At the time, there was very little known about autism. I found it very interesting and wanted to find out what these people were all about,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler received her undergraduate sociology degree and her master’s degree in social work at IU. She’s been working as a social work specialist at the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at IU since 1983.

For their recently published book, Marci Wheeler and coauthors Susan Moreno and Kealah Parkinson interviewed more than 100 couples where one partner has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“Susan Moreno was the spear-head for the idea,” Wheeler said. “Both of us had been working at different agencies, trying to find a way to get more information out there on the matter. She eventually initiated the idea to write a book and asked me to help.”

Six years into their marriage, Wheeler’s husband Phil Wheeler was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Marci Wheeler met Phil Wheeler after she completed her undergraduate studies. They happened to be living in the same building, met each other and struck up a friendship.

“Our friendship eventually blossomed into a romantic relationship,” Marci Wheeler said.

Marci Wheeler married Phil Wheeler without either of them knowing about his Autism disorder. Because of her career as a social work specialist, Marci Wheeler received
newsletters from the National Autism Center.

One day, her husband was reading one of the newsletters and told her that he thought he had Autism.The story Phil Wheeler read was about a girl who felt out of place as a child and had to have her only friend teach her how to act socially and communicatively with others.
“He called me while I was at work telling me he read this article and simply said, ‘Hey, I could have Autism, too. This girl sounds exactly like me when I was growing up,’” Marci Wheeler said.

Marci and Phil Wheeler decided to take him to a specialist who had experience with adults on a spectrum where they were told Phil Wheeler did in fact have an Autism
Spectrum Disorder.

Marci Wheeler said her husband has a very mild case of Autism and went practically his whole life without knowing he had the disorder.
“He always knew there was something a little different about him. He had difficulties in relationships and couldn’t figure out why they didn’t work well,” Marci Wheeler said.

She said that many people with Autism are very intelligent and do well
academically, but social and communication skills like building relationships, finding a place to live, paying bills and so forth become difficult.
Being in a relationship with someone who is autistic can be challenging at times, especially with communication differences, Marci Wheeler said.

People on a spectrum tend to think very literally and concretely where the majority of people without a spectrum are more abstract, use idioms and implied understandings that aren’t as familiar for a person with an ASD, she said.

Despite these challenges, Marci and Phil Wheeler always overcome such difficulties, and she embraces the positive aspects of their relationship.

“We both just try to be aware and understanding of each other,” Marci Wheeler said. “Being with someone on a spectrum can be very refreshing because they can be extremely passionate and trustworthy.

“They also enjoy the simple things in life, which helps to feel like you can get away from the rat race at times.”

Marci Wheeler helped to write “The Partner’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome” to reach out to the women in these relationships.

“I wanted these women to have a place they can turn to not feel alone and show them that there are ways to work through such difficulties and challenges when having a relationship with someone on a spectrum,” Marci Wheeler said.

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