A mixed-neurological marriage is an adult relationship between a typically developing person and a person who has high-functioning autism, formerly known as Asperger’s. In a nutshell, high-functioning autism is autism without intellectual or language impairment. Most of the obvious signs of high-functioning autism diminish after childhood and many adults with high-functioning autism marry and have children (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Attwood, 2015).
Mixed-neurological marriages have neurological incompatibilities just as mixed-faith marriages have religious incompatibilities and mixed-orientation marriages have sexual incompatibilities. The marriages are mixed because autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interactions and communication, two of the most important aspects of adult relationships.
Many people with high-functioning autism remain undiagnosed. It is common for couples to marry without any knowledge that one partner is on the spectrum. As autism has a genetic component, mixed-neurological couples may have children with autism. Whenever a child is diagnosed, it is valuable for the parents to consider whether one or both of them may also be on the autism spectrum. Mixed-neurological couples face communication incompatibilities related to the differences in their brains.
Mixed marriages are vulnerable to domestic abuse and both partners are vulnerable to trauma in their relationships.
There are currently no evidence-based marital therapies for mixed marriages and it may be unethical for religious leaders, families and professionals to discourage divorce. Both partners are in need of support and resources.
High-conflict divorce is common and some attorneys may unknowingly be exploiting families with autism. Laws designed to prevent conflict can protect vulnerable families and children from the trauma of mixed-neurological divorce. Partners should leave divorce as financial equals.
People with autism have theory of mind and immediate empathy deficits. Theory of mind and empathy are important in parenting. In most cases, primary parental responsibility should belong to the typically developing partner after divorce, regardless of gender.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition DSM-5 TM. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Attwood, T. (2015). The complete guide to Asperger’s Syndrome (Revised ed.). London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.