Neurodiverse Bonding Therapy™ is a counseling protocol I have developed for my work with couples in which one partner is autistic and the other is neurotypical. It is based in four principles:
1. Education makes all the difference. It is important that both partners understand what it is to be autistic and what it is to be neurotyplcal, and that these are fundamental biological differences which cannot change. These differences manifest across all domains. We spend time making certain they are understood, and we refer frequently to them as we move into understanding the behavioral differences. We want to be certain to sort myth from fact.
2. It is critical to understand that there are differences between partners that can result in projected misunderstandings of each other's intentions. While this can happen with all couples, for the neurodiverse couple it is an area of particular significance. We explore this using specific examples from the couple's relationship.
3. Years of accumulated hurt and frustration often saddle both partners with unacknowledged grief. It is important to understand and acknowledge this in order to release it, which can result in less defensive assumptions and behaviors. This is the way to rebuild trust.
4. Skills for successful communication derive specifically from understanding each other's way of being in the world. Under stress, individuals respond according to type, and this can lead to endless arguments, confusion, and hurt. Three of the most important skills are these: recognizing potential conversational hotspots in advance; understanding the use of specific language; creating mutually acceptable methods of reaching agreement or postponing to a specific time in the future. This is the area of growth for a couple which can lead to greater closeness. It is the realm where change is possible for both partners.
Ongoing sessions weave these elements together in support of the couple and their unique concerns. Generally, couples experience a lowering of anxiety, a greater tolerance for differences, and a willingness to move forward with a new understanding of what is possible. On occasion, couples learn that the differences between them require making changes in their lives that involve considering separation or divorce. Either way, these decisions are reached with knowledge, understanding, and mutual respect.
Through workshops and presentations, I provide training to other therapists. There is little exposure to this topic in graduate school. Traditional couple therapy is often not useful and can also be harmful to neurodiverse couples, according to reports I hear from the couples with whom I work. It is my goal to increase awareness among therapists regarding the distinct experiences of the neurodiverse couple, and to help them see how to offer effective support. I developed my practice to acknowledge and address this gap in counselor training.