The Other Half of the Rainbow

Abstract of the Dissertation

  

The Other Half of the Rainbow:

Physical and Mental Well-being of Women in Relationships with Men with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Comparison to Women in Normative Relationships

By: Pnina Arad 

Professional School of Psychology

Sacramento, CA, 2018

© 2018

Pnina Arad

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

Abstract

A large number of women in neurodiverse relationships report a deterioration in their physical and mental well-being, which they directly relate to symptoms of their partner’s Autism. The aim of this study was to conduct an empirical research into the question of whether the relationship between a Neurotypical woman and a man with Autism Spectrum Disorder is significantly different from a normative relationship and what effects has such a relationship on the physical and mental state as well as sense of wellbeing of such women.

Research Questions

  1. Do women whose partners have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum report being the victims of physical or psychological abuse to an extent that is different from women who are in a normative relationship.
  2. Is the physical and mental health of women whose partners are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and that of women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum significantly different from the physical and mental health of women who are in a normative relationship.
  3. Is the personal sense of wellbeing reported by women whose partners are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and by women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum significantly different from the personal sense of wellbeing reported by women who are in a normative relationship.

Methodology

The research population included 648 women in three groups:  228 women (35.2%) whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder ; 203 women (31.3%) who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum, without having a formal diagnosis ; 217 women (33.5%) in the control group, with normative partners, without diagnosis and without suspicion. All women participating in the research were in the past or are currently in a relationship with a man, for a period of at least one year. Most respondents live in the United States. Others  live in European and English speaking countries.

Data collection was performed through on-line self-reporting questionnaires which served to evaluate the level of physical and or psychological abuse of women, as well as their own sense of physical and mental health, a measurement of symptoms of depression and an evaluation of their personal sense of well-being. All rating scales are highly reliable and valid and were used in their language of origin (English).

Data analysis was conducted with SPSS ver. 24. Pearson correlations were calculated for continuous background characteristics, and Point-biserial correlations for dichotomous background characteristics. The research assumptions were examined with multivariate analyses of covariance (MANCOVA), comparing the three groups, while controlling for relevant background characteristics. Pearson correlations were calculated among study variables for each group. Thematic content analysis was conducted for the responses to the open question in the informative questionnaire and for the list of diseases mentioned by the women. The power obtained was 0.99.

Summary of the Quantitative Findings

Significant positive correlations were found among physical abuse, psychological abuse, PHQ15 somatic symptom subscale, PHQ somatic symptom module, PHQ depression module and Beck Depression Inventory. A positive correlation was found between perceived health and subjective wellbeing. Significant negative correlations were found among all scales of abuse, somatic symptoms, depression, and perceived health and subjective well being.

All research assumptions were fully and significantly confirmed (p < .001).

Significant differences were found for both physical and psychological abuse among women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum and women with a normative partner (p < .001). Women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum similarly reported being the victim of physical and psychological abuse at a significantly higher rate than women who are in a normative relationship. Furthermore, for all three groups, the report about psychological abuse was at a significantly higher rate than the report about physical abuse (p < .001) . A significant gap differentiated between the two experiential groups of women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum, and the control group.

Significant differences were found among the groups for the three measures of health that were used in the study (p < .001). Women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum reported similar and significantly different levels of health than women in the control group. They reported lower perceived physical health, more somatic symptoms and higher somatic symptom severity.

Significant differences were found among the groups for the two measures of depression that were used in the study (p < .001). Women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum reported significantly higher levels of depression and higher depressive symptom severity than women in normative relationships.

Significant differences were also  found among the groups for the personal sense of wellbeing (p < .001). Women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum reported significantly similar and lower levels of subjective wellbeing than women in normative relationships.

Summary of the Qualitative Findings

Most of the respondents in all groups related either to  their partner or to the relationship.  Women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum described having a worse experience of the relationship and more feelings of distress than women in normative relationships. The references made by women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum significantly focused on negative aspects of the relationship, in comparison with women in normative relationships (p < .001). Respectively, the references made by women in normative relationships significantly focused on positive aspects of the relationship. There was no significant difference between women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum.

A negligible number of women with normative partners related to problematic topics included in the diagnostic criteria of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, while 77% of the women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum and 56% of the women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder related to these problematic topics. The frequency of references to the criteria was significantly higher for women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum, than for women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The majority of women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum related to various aspects of distress they experienced as a result of the relationship. Only fifth of the women in normative relationships related to feelings of distress they experienced as a result of the relationship. Additionally, there was a higher rate of women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder than women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum who made references to feelings of distress experienced as a result of the relationship. All differences were found to be significant (p < .001). This finding contradicts the finding that emerged from the quantitative analysis.

Women whose partners have been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum reported a stastistically significant higher rate of chronic and auto-immune diseases than women in normative relationships (p < .007).

Discussion and Conclusions

The quantitative and qualitative findings of the current research study suggest that the relationship between a Neurotypical woman and a man with Autism Spectrum Disorder is significantly different from a normative relationship. The current research provides empirical evidence indicating that women whose partners have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and  women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum are the victims of physical and psychological abuse at a higher rate than women who are in a normative relationship. Findings also reveal a significant gap, showing a higher rate of  psychological abuse than physical abuse for women whose partners have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and  women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum, in comparison with women in normative relationships.

The findings of the current study strongly indicate that women whose partners are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and  women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum qualify their physical and mental health as worse than women who are in normative relationships. They report a higher rate of chronic and auto-immune diseases, a higher rate of somatic symptoms and higher somatic symptom severity. They also report higher levels of depression, higher depressive symptom severity and a lower sense of subjective well being than women in normative relationships.

One of the prominent findings that emerged from this study is the lack of difference between women whose partners are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and  women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum, for most of the examined measures. Thereby, it is important to acknowledge that as far as ‘the lost generation’ is concerned, namely, the adult population with high functioning autism that reached maturity undiagnosed, the existence or absence of a formal diagnosis is irrelevant, as the lack of criteria prior to the release of updates in DSM, prevented them from being diagnosed earlier, during childhood.

Findings of the current study support previous research as well as personal and professional information provided by the vast nonscholarly literature in this field. The findings point at a severe condition of distress shared by women whose partners are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and  women who suspect their partners to be on the Autism Spectrum and shed light on specific difficulties, which demand serious consideration on the part of medical and mental health professionals. The main limitations of the study are reliance on self-report, the use  of convenience sampling and the impossibility of pointing towards causation.

The current research has significant clinical and practical implications concerning the need to develop effective interventions, with the aim of providing appropriate treatment and support for this population of women, as well as the need to develop preventative, instructional and therapeutic measures to help neurodiverse couples preserve and maintain their relationship. Since the number of people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder is on a constant rise and given the fact that most of the high functioning adult population is undiagnosed, it is of utmost importance to raise awareness to this topic, to enrich the expertise of professionals in relevant fields through educational programs, so as to increase their alertness and potential for assisting women and neurodiverse couples in navigating the difficulties brought on by these complex relationships and offer treatment that can relieve and ease their distress. Recommendations for future research, clinical and practical implication are provided in the conclusion section.

Dr. Pnina Arad

Consulting and Coaching

 

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