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A Spouse with High-Functioning ASD

As the months went on, rather than becoming closer, we grew further apart, and were increasingly irritated with one another


MY story begins when I got married. I was 18 years old, a brand-new kallah excited to get to know my kind, timid chassan and build a home and a relationship with him.

Our problems began almost immediately. Despite my enthusiasm, it was so difficult for us to connect. For reasons I couldn’t fathom, my husband, Chaim, was often stressed out, overburdened, and unhappy. He wasn’t able to explain to me what was bothering him and would instead withdraw. He was also a stickler for schedule and routine, and a very picky eater, only wanting one or two types of suppers day in and day out. (Well, at least that part made the cooking easier for me!)

Chaim loved to read and considered books to be his closest friends, preferring to spend time with them over me. He’s super intelligent, and whenever he got enthusiastic about something — his learning (he’s a huge masmid), philosophy, nature, and animals — he talked about it in an almost obsessive fascination. It was very hard for him to relate to or respond to my attempts to engage him in conversation about the topics that interested me. He also played board and card games very intensely, with a strong sense of competitiveness, and that took a lot of the fun out of one of the few ways we had to connect to each other.

I also noticed that while he was a prized chavrusa and respected as a very serious learner, he had few friends he wanted to hang out with outside the beis medrash. He also had trouble carrying conversations about mundane topics and was very uncomfortable with eye contact.

Soon after we got married, we found out that I was expecting twins. I brushed off the difficulties we had as stress from my high-risk pregnancy as well as the normal growing pains of a shanah rishonah couple, and our challenges communicating and connecting as the natural differences between men and women, both in terms of style and topics of interest. Chaim had spent the last few years in a yeshivah dorm, rarely spending time with his mother and sisters. Of course it would be a challenge for us at the beginning! He just needed time to open up and become more articulate and refined.

But as the months went on, rather than becoming closer, we grew further apart, and were increasingly irritated with one another. I began to wonder: is this normal? Most of my friends didn’t seem as anxious or depressed as I was during shanah rishonah. I had a strong feeling that for other couples, forging a relationship had been much less arduous, and they saw better results than we did. I kept comparing our relationship with other couples, and saw how easy regular day-to-day conversations and schmoozing was for them. It was so painful for me to watch that. I was very jealous.

I felt terribly lonely, but I had no one to discuss it with. Apart from the fact that discussing your marriage with friends is inappropriate, I was also ashamed. I didn’t want my family to know something was wrong or that our relationship was experiencing difficulties.

Visiting my family for Shabbos was really awkward. I became anxious that Chaim would make comments that didn’t fit into the conversation, while at the same time I tried to act relaxed, to pretend everything in my life was normal.

As my due date neared, I became increasingly nervous and lonely, and I went to see a therapist. I tried to convince Chaim to come along, but as he is so hesitant to do something new, he refused to come. After a few weeks of me crying and trying to convince him to change his mind, he came with me, but the therapist didn’t chap who he was and kept asking me if I wanted to get divorced.

I found another therapist who validated me and assured me that our shalom bayis wasn’t in shambles because of something I was doing wrong. She felt that my husband wasn’t relating to me in the way most husbands would. I had wondered for some time whether my husband perhaps had ASD. After hearing the therapist’s assessment that my husband’s behavior was unusual, I started to take the idea that my husband had an underlying issue that needed to be diagnosed more seriously.

I did some research on high-functioning ASD and as I read, I froze in shock. This was an exact description of my husband. For example, I read that, “Individuals with ASD oftentimes have sensory issues. That is, one or more of the person’s five senses may be either hypersensitive (overly sensitive) or hyposensitive (with low or diminished sensitivity). For some people with ASD… the noise at a train station, or too many people talking at once at a party, can feel like the loud hammering of metal on metal.”


I googled how a relationship with someone on the spectrum would look and started crying. The information I read was so validating; this was exactly what I was going through. The articles I read described exactly how I felt about our relationship, and how my husband did, too. They made me realize that so many things I hadn’t associated with ASD actually stemmed from it, such as his intense feelings and his incapacity to articulate or explain them.

I brought this up with the therapist, and she concurred that I was on to something.

We were so miserable, that Chaim had no choice but to continue in therapy. We had individual sessions and sessions as a couple. As time went on, the therapist uncovered that he’d always felt different from everyone else, and that he’d been perplexed and upset by his inability to blend in and be one of the guys. His self-esteem had been adversely affected by that. He’d also been severely bullied when he was in school, and this had traumatized him greatly.

Chaim started focusing on recovering from his trauma, strengthening his identity, and learning to control and express his feelings in a healthy way. He learned to avoid triggers and recognize the early warning signs of stress and sensory overload.

In our joint therapy sessions, Chaim and I improved our ability to communicate. We received advice on how to cope with issues that come up in everyday life, but are particularly difficult for my husband, such as making decisions, handling unforeseen occurrences, and changing plans.

In my own sessions, I had a listening ear, someone to help me through my nisayon and work on my own deficits. One particular thing I focused on was maintaining my composure when Chaim became overly emotional or anxious. I’m also working on my self-esteem, to feel 100 percent okay even though my husband might act socially awkward.

We had twin boys, followed by another boy a year and a half later. While the adjustment to parenting twins is a story in and of itself, today Chaim is the most attentive and loving father. His rigidity does have an impact on how he interacts with them; for instance, if I ask him to spoon feed the baby, he finds it difficult to adapt and stop when the baby starts to fuss and needs a break.

I gave up my job to look after our three active little boys, and Chaim is currently looking for employment. That’s really challenging for him, since the application and interview processes are quite stressful. As a result, he isn’t being proactive in his job search. That’s difficult for me, and I have to control myself so that I don’t nag him or get angry at him for putting things off. I know how difficult his job situation is for him, and I know he feels the pressure much more than I do.

I’m getting better at understanding him. And he’s becoming better in every way. He can really understand me emotionally to a certain extent, and in certain areas I trust him very much. He loves to see me happy, and he’s learning to think outside his box.

We have a long way to go before we can create the connection I always thought would come effortlessly, and many times I do feel alone and let down. But I’m trying to get past those emotions. I’m working on being thankful for all the good qualities my husband possesses, including his hasmadah, his commitment to me and our children, his kindness, and his determination to improve himself and help us get along.


What I want people to know about high-functioning ASD

It frequently goes unnoticed in the frum community until marriage. This is because intelligence and hasmadah are highly regarded traits, and these boys excel in both. It’s viewed as wonderful if a teenager or young adult commits himself to learning above all else, and it’s not unusual if he is reserved and spends a lot of time alone, hunched over a sefer.

However, some boys may excel in the classroom or beis medrash but struggle when they return to their dorm or interact with peers. Their extreme devotion to their studies could be an unhealthy obsession or a way for them to avoid social interaction.

Parents, instructors, mashgichim, rebbeim: keep an eye out. If your child or student is exhibiting major hasmadah, verify that it’s healthy and balanced, and that they’re not internally experiencing a great deal of hardship.

Why is awareness and diagnosis important?

There are so many ways people with high-functioning ASD can be helped to function more easily in the world — through social skills training, and psychiatric, occupational, and speech therapy. The younger they are when they receive these interventions, the more helpful and effective the interventions. And these young children will then have an easier time integrating as a member of society, as a spouse, as a parent, as an employee.

What the community can do to help people dealing with this.

There is little communal awareness about high-functioning ASD. Parents, spouses, and adults with high-functioning ASD themselves can feel quite alone and misunderstood. Support groups could greatly reduce that.


The interviewee would like to start a support group for wives in a similar situation. She can be contacted through Mishpacha.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 846)

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