How Autism Grew my Faith

A new book from Stephanie C. Holmes. Available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.
3 Topics now available on DVD
Stephanie has collected her teachings on Aspie/NT marriage into a 5 part DVD series. Also available is "Moving Beyond Surviving to Thriving: ASD issues that impact marriage & Family" and "Spectrum Teens and the Issues they face".

There are clips of the marriage sessions on youtube:

These videos can be ordered from the Appointments and Products tab.

Complex Cases: Aspie- NT Marriage: Cassandra Phenomenon

Complex Cases: Aspie- NT Marriage

Cassandra Phenomenon Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome

By Rev Stephanie C. Holmes, MA, BCCC

Certified Autism Specialist

As my work with Aspie- NT couples has expanded now across the US and other countries as a consultant, coach, or counselor, it is becoming clear to me that the Aspie- NT couple phenomenon is growing in numbers and there is not significant growth in understanding and working with couples with this unique dynamic among secular or Christian counselors. I receive emails or Skype contacts usually by a wife (in most cases who is the “neuro-typical”/NT) who is desperate for help because a child is diagnosed or suspected of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD/ Asperger’s/High Functioning Autism) and perhaps, just perhaps her husband is as well. Current CDC statistics report in 2015 the rate of ASD is 1 out of 68 children. As children are being diagnosed, it is becoming a common issue that a parent (usually, but not always, the father) becomes suspected of being on the spectrum as well. As some spouses say it, “I think my husband may have a touch of this” or “I am not sure if he has all the traits but the diagnoses explains…..” Usually, my first email contact the spouse asks the question “Is this Narcissism or Asperger’s/ASD?” (This question is addressed in a previous AACC blog NPD or ASD). Since the word “Asperger’s Syndrome” did come upon the scene until 1994 does that mean it did not exist before 1994? Certainly not. So, what about persons who met the criteria, but well before 1994? Those individuals would be adults presently and often married and had children.

As I was perusing sites about Aspie- NT marriage what is becoming clear and unsettling to me is an “US vs. THEM” mentality (NT vs. ASD). Blogs or sites that lean more heavily toward Aspie support can be quite harsh or terse about blaming the NT’s as the results of all the issues that perplex or confuse or traumatize the Aspie person. Sites that lean more heavily toward support of the NT can be quite vicious, cruel, demeaning, or paint a picture of hopelessness for any kind of marital satisfaction with someone with ASD, or an Aspie. Let me be crystal clear that neither side is creating an accurate picture. I also want to address this “US vs. THEM” in a two part series. This one will focus on the NT spouse and the next will focus on Aspie/ASD issues in marriage as to give equal time to issues creating challenges and sometimes psychological trauma (for one or both spouses) in this complex marriage situation.

For those who are reading my work for the first time, please know I am the not just a counselor/therapist who works with persons on the spectrum, I am the mother of someone on the spectrum and desire to write from both perspectives as I am NT but deeply love and advocate for my own Aspie/ASD child. However, today I want to address some issues from the NT perspective, in discussing what is being called “Cassandra Phenomenon” or “Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome.” Disclaimer: I am NOT saying that living with a person on the spectrum will automatically cause OTRS but there are challenges and stressors that come with daily living in a spectrum household. My desire is not to offend or disrespect Spectrum persons but to build an understanding of some challenges in the Aspie- NT marriage. This article will reflect more on the NT perspective.

What is Cassandra Phenomenon or OTRS? This term was coined by Families of Adults Affected by Asperger’s Syndrome ( and their site can provide more detail for the history of the name. However, in Greek mythology the basic story of Cassandra was that Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy and foreseeing the future out of an act to seduce her and when she rejected him by spitting upon him he cursed her with a curse of never being believed. Cassandra then had the power to accurately predict the future and would warn and educate about something about to happen but because of the curse would be dismissed, rejected, or disregarded. The event would come to pass again and again but the curse of never being believed would be the never ending source of her pain and frustration in life. (She had forewarned her people about the Trojan horse and was dismissed). The townspeople saw her as insane, mad, a liar, and eventually living between this gift and curse ultimately drives her to complete insanity accompanied by incarceration. Therefore, spouses and parents in a spectrum household identify with this conflict. Let me reflect on a personal experience with my child and the education system.

Although there are countless stories for me to draw upon, the most vivid involves a situation with my daughter’s first 3rd grade teacher. My daughter was diagnosed, she had a IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in place, and I was meeting with the teacher before the start of the school year to discuss my daughter’s school supplies and where my daughter should be placed for seating (preferential seating as described in the IEP). This teacher had a rule first of all about school supplies. All students would use the same supplies, they would not be individually owned but shared by the community, and all supplies would be the exact color, size, style, shape etc. despite any child having a learning need, issue, or challenge. This was issue one. My daughter is sensory aversive and using metal handled scissors is a source of discomfort and frustration for her. I begged and pleaded on her behalf first of all for her to keep her supplies in her desk because Aspies do form attachment to their objects, have difficulty sharing, and some of her supplies needed to be different due to her sensory challenges. Specifically, her scissors needed to have a rubber type padding on them and her favorite color is blue. This was request was denied. I asked the teacher to show me where she planned for my child to sit. She decided the preferential seat was the seat on the front row, opposite a student, and the desk was close to the exit door. This teacher had desks lined up in rows wherein desks faced each other, so students would be eye to eye, direct contact. There was an odd amount of desks and I found a desk that was alone without another desk directly in front of the desk placed on the front row but deeper into the room away from the exit door. My child had a history or running (out of the classroom) and a history or breaking her pencils and throwing them out of frustration when work was overwhelming or the pencil hurt her hand. I forewarned that it would be a possible scenario that she could escape the class (which later she did often) or if she was using those horrid metal handled scissors get frustrated and throw them and the risk would be it would hit the student seated in front of her. Out of her sensory issue, not mal intent, she would fling the scissors and not take into account there was another person seated in front of her. This was dismissed and the teacher maintained she was following the IEP and SHE chose the preferential seat. Within 3-4 weeks of the school, it happened.

The class was working on a cutting project, my daughter did not want to use the scissors, was forced to use them, she got frustrated and flung the scissors. The scissors (blunt edge) went flying by the ear of the student in front of her. The teacher demanded she apologize to the student, pick up the scissors, and resume work. My daughter, who saw in black and white, did not see a need to apologize for not hitting him with the scissors, did not want to finish the project and remained seated. An assistant was called in who immediately grabbed my daughter from her seat and attempted to force her to pick up the scissors. Surprised and scared about being picked up from behind, she hit the teacher and when he began to put her in a therapeutic hold she bit him trying to get out of the hold. The call comes to me that I need to pick up my daughter and she is suspended because she “assaulted a fellow student with scissors unprovoked, refused to apologize, and hit and bit the assistant for no reason.” This event eventually led to her being dismissed from the school and put temporarily into a secluded classroom because she was “too dangerous to be around mainstream students.” In attempting to plead my daughter’s case/advocate on her behalf and bring up I had forewarned this situation, and this was not entirely her fault, the fault was pinned on me. This entire situation could have been avoided if I had been heard. The school psychologist suggested to those present at the meeting, perhaps the mother has Munchausen’s by Proxy. From that point forward I would try to educate and forewarn and advise, but if the that school psychologist was there I was dismissed as mentally unstable- you know Munchausen’s by Proxy. This was a source of daily, weekly, monthly stress. When I miscarried several times in 2007, the doctors attributed the first to enormous stress levels, and the most stressful thing I dealt with was the school system and constantly not being believed and dismissed. They say her issue was behavioral and only required discipline but because the mom (me) was emotionally and mentally imbalanced I was causing this behavior and it was manifesting at school. This was also present at church, my daughter was usually delightful at church because she loved it as a child, but I would write up little manuals or guidelines for “what if” scenarios but often be told “She may do that at school or home but she never does that here.” On more than one occasion what I predicted would happen and the teacher would look at me disbelief and quickly dismiss I had predicted the outcome. This is extremely stressful. When you have knowledge and try to forewarn and prevent, then get rejected or dismissed, the stress of wondering when or where something will happen or waiting for that next call is unbearable.

In a marital situation, if the couple is 35 years old or older, more than likely the spouse presenting with ASD/Asperger’s is undiagnosed. Perhaps a child was diagnosed and then the NT spouse begins to learn about the syndrome/spectrum and see these same traits in her spouse. She begins to look back on the marriage in hindsight applying this syndrome to some pretty hurtful times where her husband maybe was inattentive, dismissive, or worse something happened that could have been prevented had he heeded her warning. She researches this and brings this up to her spouse and often the Aspie spouse quickly dismisses it. After all, he did marry, is usually pretty successful at his work/job, and he does not have a disability, in fact maybe you are the crazy one. You are the one who cries, gets emotionally upset, and I think you are negative and critical constantly bringing up things I supposedly do that hurts you. We do not need marital counseling, you need counseling. The pattern continues that the wife begins to read marital books and attends seminars, perhaps she needs to be a better wife. Maybe he is right that it is all in her head and she is negative and critical. She is feeling anxious or depressed and begins counseling. Counseling is not helping. She may decide she needs psychotropic medication to cope with her marriage/life because she feels disconnected with her husband, she feels he does not give empathy, she feels dismissed, they lack mutual interest of shared enjoyment, but maybe if she tries hard enough things will improve. She may try to discuss her feelings with friends who more than likely have NT husbands and they tell her their husbands do similar things (but trust me no- where near the level of the Aspie man) that she needs to pray harder, try harder, find ways to work on it. After all, the Aspie spouse usually presents to the public as docile, maybe quiet or naïve, they cannot imagine she would feel the pain of isolation and other challenges she is describing. She may seek spiritual counsel and the person tells her this is because she needs to be more submissive and respect her husband and she will find contentment and happiness. She has tried everything, counseling, talking, spiritual advice, something else seems amiss. She may get him to go marital counseling because she is not satisfied in marriage and she is feeling maybe like she is going crazy. Does she feel what she feels? Does she see what she sees? Is this normal? Does he have this Asperger thing or is she making it all up? If the marriage counselor is unfamiliar with ASD they usually see the Aspie presenting as quite calm and saying “You know I am quite content in this marriage but she is negative and critical and so emotional. I think she really needs the help.” The wife has been through years now of reading books, seminars, counseling, talking through this with friends and is presenting as anxious, depressed, discontent, and 9 out of 10 times marital counseling will be unsuccessful and things continue to spiral downward. Studies suggest between 70-90% of marriages that are Aspie- NT end in divorce. Hence, what the wife may be experiencing is Cassandra Phenomenon or OTRS.

To this side of the Aspie- NT equation it is important first off to validate the concerns and challenges of the NT spouse without a lot of advice giving. After seeing the couple together a time or two together I find it is better to do the majority of the work separately.

The NT spouse needs:

  • Validation: It is very important for the NT spouse to have a safe place to vent and receive care, communication, being heard, and points of frustration understood.


  • Realize that the NT spouse feels trapped, especially if he/she is a Christian. If there is not addiction/physical abuse/adultery the NT feels there is no way out or conflicted about wanting to terminate the relationship.


  • The NT spouse will be conflicted about the diagnosis or possibility of the spouse having Asperger’s/ASD. To one point the diagnosis or possibility of a label validates that there are challenges, but since ASD is a permanent challenge there may be hopelessness that there can be anything to change in the marriage where the NT feels there will be fulfillment in the marriage. The NT spouse often feels there was a bait and switch. First of all they did not know they partner had ASD. Second, often times when the NT person is the object of the ASD person’s affection/obsession there is much more attention and time spent in the quest of the relationship in the courtship period. When the focus shifts after marriage, the NT partner is left wondering what happened to the person I dated and fell in love with? Why do they no longer pursue me?


  • The spouse out of frustration may want the Aspie spouse “cured” or “fixed.” As a parent of an Aspie there is nothing to “fix”. There is a neurological wiring difference that serve that person well in other areas of life which does happen to challenge intimate relationships but the Asperger’s/ASD is not THE root of every problem. Be careful treading here. For mutual marital satisfaction each spouse will have to learn some compromise. Each spouse will need new communication tools and ways for each to satisfaction in the marriage. The NT spouse may be burned out/exhausted/ carrying years of hurt and frustration, be gentle and move slowly not placing all the responsibility of adaptation on the NT spouse. Aspie/ASD spouses if motivated can learn new skills, adapt and modify , but not “change.” Change is not a word that should be used as it is very offensive to the person on the spectrum.


  • This is a process. The NT spouse has been long comparing the marriage possibly to a couple of two NTs. The dynamic of Aspie- NT is different marriage connection and one has to give up the dream of having a NT-NT marriage with an Aspie spouse. The marriage will be different but it does not have to be “less than” or “unfulfilling.”


  • Unfortunately, Aspie spouses can lack motivation to change and being that they are not feeling as dissatisfied may have trouble getting started or making steady progress. This makes the NT spouse feel unimportant and lack security. It is important to help the Aspie spouse understand there are changes and adaptations to be made that he/she will not see as important or valid but in sacrifice to the one they love if they want the spouse to feel secure, connected, important will need to make some necessary adaptations and modifications.


Cognitive- Behavioral therapy is the main modality to use with the Aspie- NT couple. Modalities that focus on emoting or making the Aspie “feel” certain things will not be effective. Aspies will need to know the logical reasons and explanations of why you are asking them to do or modify certain things. A cognitive, rational approach with some reality therapy will be most effective. This is one side of the marriage equation. Next month we will look at the marital equation from the Aspie/ASD point of view.

I will also being teaching a track workshop at this year’s World Conference on Aspie- NT marriage.

Comments are closed.