"Cassandra Syndrome" is a term that Dr. Tony Attwood first coined in his book, The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. It describes a situation where an individual with Asperger's Syndrome (a form of autism spectrum disorder) is in a relationship with a neurotypical partner. The neurotypical partner often feels dismissed and unheard, leading to feelings of frustration, resentment, and even anger.
Defining Neurodiversity and Neurotypical:
Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist with Asperger's Syndrome, first coined the term "neurodiversity" in the late 1990s. The term is now used to describe the range of neurological differences within the population, including conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism spectrum disorder, and even some traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
While there is no one-size-fits-all definition of "neurotypical," the term is generally used to describe individuals with no neurological disorders or differences. In other words, neurotypical people are considered "neurologically average."
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobehavioral condition that affects a person's ability to communicate, interact with others, and have typical motor and sensory behaviors.
ASD is characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication issues, and unusual or repetitive behaviors. The medical community now recognizes that there is not one "type" of autism but rather a spectrum of symptoms and behaviors that differ significantly from person to person.
Current research shares that men are four times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than women. However, this number is changing as we become more aware of the prevalence of ASD in women and girls.
Differences in Brain Wiring:
What is fascinating is the brain differences between those on the autism spectrum and neurotypical individuals. The autistic brain is wired differently than the neurotypical, and this difference in wiring can account for many of the challenges and strengths that people with ASD face.
For example, people with ASD tend to be very literal thinkers and may have difficulty understanding sarcasm, metaphors, or jokes. This literal thinking can also lead to strengths in attention to detail and pattern recognition.
People with ASD may also have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which means that their brain has difficulty processing sensory filtering information. This condition can lead to Sensory Overload, where an individual is bombarded with too much sensory input and becomes overwhelmed.
While everyone's brain is wired differently, those with ASD tend to have more extreme differences in brain wiring than neurotypical individuals. These differences can account for many of the challenges and strengths that people with ASD face.
What is Cassandra Syndrome?
Cassandra syndrome is named after the Greek mythological figure cursed by Apollo. Apollo blessed her with the gift of foreseeing the future, but when she rejected his advances, he cursed her so that no one would believe her predictions. In other words, she had knowledge others didn't have, but she could not share it effectively.
In neurodiverse relationships, one partner has a different way of processing information and communicating than the other, leading to misunderstandings and frustrating communication breakdowns. However, there are ways to decode Cassandra syndrome and improve communication in neurodiverse relationships.
What Causes Cassandra Syndrome?
There are a few different things that can cause Cassandra syndrome in neurodiverse relationships.
One is simply a lack of understanding about how the other person processes information. Communicating can be challenging when we don't understand how someone else perceives the world effectively. Psychoeducation for both the neurodiverse partner and neurotypical is key in overcoming this challenge.
Lack of Empathy:
If we cannot see things from another person's perspective, it's easy to become wrapped up in our point of view and ignore their needs altogether. This concept is known as the empathy gap and significantly contributes to Cassandra syndrome.
Different Communication Styles:
Another reason Cassandra syndrome occurs is that people with ASD tend to communicate differently than neurotypical individuals. Those on the autism spectrum may not pick up on nonverbal cues, such as body language and tone of voice. They may also prefer to communicate in more literal, concrete terms, leading to miscommunication and frustration on both sides.
Another cause of Cassandra syndrome is that people with ASD often have different priorities than neurotypical individuals. This can lead to disagreements about what is important in a relationship and how to spend time together; it is vital to be understanding and patient as you learn about your partner's priorities.
Differences in Social Skills:
People with ASD often have challenges with social skills; this can make communicating difficult, leading to frustration and misunderstanding. However, there are many resources available to help improve social skills. With practice and patience, communication will improve over time.
Diverse Learning Styles:
We all have different ways that we learn and process information. Some are visual learners, while others are more auditory or kinesthetic. Communicating can be challenging when we don't understand someone else's learning style.
Another cause of Cassandra syndrome is an imbalance of power in the relationship; this can result when one person feels like they are the only "normal" or the only one who understands what's happening. It's important to remember that both partners are equal and that each person's experience is valid.
Lastly, Cassandra syndrome can be caused by a difference in cognitive abilities. People with ASD often have higher-than-average IQs, while neurotypical individuals may have average or lower-than-average IQs. This difference in cognitive abilities can lead to tension and conflict, as the neurodiverse individual may
How to decode Cassandra Syndrome:
If you think you might be experiencing Cassandra syndrome in your relationship, you can do a few things to help decode it.
First, try to educate yourself about how your partner perceives the world and what their needs are. Reading books and articles and talking to professionals specializing in autism spectrum disorders is essential.
Second, be understanding and patient as you communicate with your partner. They may not pick up on nonverbal cues or understand sarcasm, and it's important to be clear and direct. Self-esteem and patience are essential in decoding Cassandra syndrome.
Third, learn about your partner's priorities and how they like to spend their time; this will help you understand their perspective and make communication easier. It's also important to be flexible and willing to compromise.
Fourth, try to find ways to improve your social skills. There are many resources available online that can help with this. With practice, you'll be able to communicate better with your partner.
Fifth, make an effort to connect with your partner on their level; perhaps you can become more involved in finding common interests or learning about things that are important to them. With time and patience, you can build a strong, supportive relationship.
Sixth, manage your anxiety and stress levels, especially working some physical movement into your daily routine. When we're feeling overwhelmed, it can be challenging to communicate effectively. Try to take some time for yourself every day to relax and de-stress; this will help you be more patient and understanding with your partner.
Lastly, remember that both partners are equal and that each person's experience is valid. Everyone has different needs and perspectives, so respecting each other's differences is essential. If you can do these things, you'll be on your way to decoding Cassandra syndrome in your relationship.
Cassandra syndrome can be frustrating and challenging, but there are ways to decode it and improve communication in your relationship. By educating yourself about how your partner perceives the world, being more empathetic towards their perspective, and managing any anxiety you may have, you can start rebuilding trust and communication in your relationship.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution to decoding Cassandra Syndrome. It's essential to be flexible and adaptable as you navigate your relationship. You can build a strong bond with your partner.
And if you think you or your partner may be experiencing Cassandra Syndrome, please reach out for help. We at the Neurodiverse Couples Counseling Center can provide you with the support and resources you need to decode this syndrome and improve communication in your relationship.
Barbara (Blaze) Lazarony, MA is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist #127882, Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor #10253, Transpersonal Coach, Author & Speaker. Click here to learn more about Barbara Lazarony.