Effects of Differing Neuro/Developmental Levels on Neurotypical/Autism Spectrum Adult Relationships


A developmental milestone is a significant neurological step in the progressing physical, emotional, intellectual, mental, spiritual maturity of a person to adulthood.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a term used to describe a spectrum of neuro-developmental disorders. It is genetic and results from neurological factors that delay or prevent the developmental maturity of many or sometimes nearly all functional brain systems.


Failure to reach certain significant mature milestones can have an aberrant effect on a person’s ability to function successfully in relationships.

The confusing, differing maturity levels between the couple result for the NT, in a unique Post Traumatic Relationship Syndrome which Karen Rodman of FAAAS has termed Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome. (OTRS).


Mature developmental milestones reached by NTs


Where levels of development  may arrest in adults with ASD

Effects on adults with ASD as a result of not reaching mature milestones

Effects on NT partners of incongruous developmental milestones in the relationship

Joint attention

Interest only in one's own needs; OCD; narcissism

Difficulty sharing experiences & interests

Perspective, interests & needs disregarded by partner

Theory of mind/Theory of own mind – awareness of self and others


Inability to see one’s own or another's point of view

Inability to be “ in someone else's shoes”; fails to acknowledge and denies truth of partner’s view

Loss of sense of self; insecurity; uncertainty of own reality

Ability to read and interpret body language / facial expression


Limited understanding of body language / facial expressions


Inability to register others’ emotions

Emotions unacknowledged, not validated and disregarded by partner


Ability to repair & maintain relationships, have life-long friendships


Inability to repair and nurture relationships


Few, if any, real friends

Unresolved disputes, unfinished interactions and unresolved emotional upset; no resolutions to problems

Emotional reciprocity

Lack of empathy for people

Inability to relate to or sense others’ emotions

Lack of input / return of feelings / emotional support


Desire or need to socialise and make "small talk", interest in others


Inability to see the need for small talk; socialises for own ego/manipulation; narcissism


Difficulties in making relationships, uses role playing, copying & masking outside home to cover deficiencies


Lack of intimate connection such as “pillow talk”, real friendship, loving foreplay

Sense of humour / understanding of irony & human frailty

Limited humour/ inability to laugh at oneself and one’s own mistakes

Limited ability to admit to mistakes, sees others as the cause of their difficulties


No redress when wronged, receives no “natural justice”

Abstract language

Limited to literal understanding of language

Limited ability to understand irony /metaphor / jokes


Unrequited efforts to make themselves "heard" / lack of loving banter

Desire to share own and others’ interests

Obsession with own interests; OCD

Difficulty sharing anything


Loneliness in the relationship, few shared positive memories

Ability to generalise learning to new situations

Rigid compartmentalisation of concepts

Inflexibility in learning new ways and growing


Unacknowledged and non-validated perspectives

Abstract thinking; higher order thinking skills

"Concrete" thinking, lacking schema changes after childhood; lacking insight/inferences/extrapolation skills


Little appreciation of "hidden" meaning in life; unable or very slow/unwilling to learn new ways of being


Denial of truth; “gaslight” phenomenon; self-doubt


Imagination and ability to dream of possibilities


Solitary imagination


Tendency to remain "stuck in a rut” in life


Reduction and narrowing of life experiences


Development of auditory skills and articulate verbal skills


Deficient oral / aural communication with receptive / expressive language difficulties


Tendency to misinterpret others’ intentions; uses non-sequitur


Object of misunderstandings producing self –doubt/ confusion


Takes responsibility for own actions


Blames others for problems / mistakes; lack of insight into own responsibility


Inability to acknowledge or learn from mistakes; belief in own superiority; always right despite evidence


Falsely blamed, develops strong anger arising from injustice and false accusations


Ability to share problems and concerns as a means to solve them


Inability to share problems or foresee consequences and possibilities


Tendency to get into problem situations; “Mr Magoo” Syndrome; oblivious to turbulence of problems


Requirement socially / emotionally to fix the unconsidered consequences


Social conscience, sense of “fair play” and natural justice


Undeveloped social conscience & overly strict adherence to own rules; narrowly focussed, unable to interpret nuance in life

POSSIBLE psychopathic, sociopathic or criminal behaviour, black and white attitude to life; extreme zeal for perceived righteous pursuits or power; “god-like”

Exposure to insufficient or unsafe conditions / dismissal of concerns and reality, may feel intimidated & humiliated; affected by family violence/abuse

Ability to react & act spontaneously

Inappropriate responses or no response

Awkwardness, lack of caring in family and social situations; poor parenting

Deficiency of positive feedback or assistance

Innate knowledge about social behaviour

Lack of real understanding of social behaviour

Desire for isolation or over socialisation

Undesired isolation, lack of options for full participation in life; controlled, narrow social life

Comfort, pleasure & pain in sensory experiences

Sensory overload or unawareness

Excess or avoidance of appropriate touch & physical contact

Deficiency of human physical contact; enforced/deliberate celibacy or uncomfortable assault

Intuition about life; innate knowing

Lack of intuition

Lack of common-sense

Obligation to repair social gaffes & misunderstandings by partner


Balanced development of emotional and intellectual skills


Development of intellectual skills over emotional skills


Interactions limited to intellectual responses unless prompted


Feelings of being socially mimicked and depended upon, as a social “seeing–eye dog” & surrogate parent


Ability to show love and respect in tone of voice, eyes, treatment of others


Limitation to "gifts of service"

Cold and unloving behaviour, lack of compassion, lack of empathy

Object of manipulation, intermittent reward; experiences fear with loss of trust in the relationship & self

Attachment to people, places and things

Lack of attachment to people

Attitude that others are dispensable


Unrequited love; lose self-esteem, feel unappreciated, manipulated, used

Reflection and insight into self

Lack of sense of self in relation to others

Inability to reflect on own life


Obligation to solely accommodate partner’s needs without compromise or negotiation


Ability to make decisions using emotions and intellect


Uncertainty of own feelings about things


Poor decision making / naiveté


Hopelessness in seeking partner’s opinions or commitment

Executive functioning

Lack of executive functioning and organisational skills;

Inability to navigate complex processes and use forethought to perceive consequences; passive aggression

Obligation to prompt or fulfil partner’s neglected duties


Ability to prioritise tasks and multi-task


Limited to one task at a time, usually a special interest, strict routine or obsession


Neglect of urgent responsibilities / panic


Obligation to solve urgent disasters alone and for partner

Context awareness, fast intuition; unconscious cognition

Context blindness; mindblindness; lack intuition

Prompt Dependent; inability to react/behave/adapt spontaneously to different social contexts/changes or making necessary exceptions to rules

Obligation to remind and prompt with cues each time; confusing interactions & conversations; feeling not understood

Able to generalise implicitly and explicitly on global and local tasks

Unable to generalise learning

Inability to adapt appropriate strategies   when particular responses/ behaviours are essential

Feels the need to constantly guide and assist their partner to avoid embarrassment for their spouse


Ability to gain wisdom from experiences


Lack of generalisation of learning and awareness of important experiences


Strongly inflexible or absent personal philosophy / ideology


Superficial, unfulfilling relationship; physical illness as a result of stress

Physical co-ordination

Poor fine/ gross motor skills; Tourette’s; hand flapping

Unusual gait, unco-ordinated movement, tics; inappropriate facial expressions; immature attempts at “play”

Senses the unusual movements and facial expressions as intimidation.

Mature ability to control thoughts, emotions, words, actions according to circumstances.

Lack of impulse control, uncontrolled meltdowns, inappropriate anger; rage cycle

ADHD, ADD, OCD, tantrums; manipulates and controls others by fear, anger, anxiety, verbal/physical violence; possible depressive symptoms

Living with constant stress, fear, unresolved anger, domestic abuse and violence. Death by a thousand paper cuts. Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome (OTRS)


JA Morgan BEd Grad Dip © 2016


The chart was compiled by a widely experienced retired educator with post graduate qualifications who has been in an almost three decade long marriage to a man diagnosed with High functioning autism (Asperger’s syndrome) by Professor Tony Attwood in 2005. The author has facilitated a support website for neurotypical spouses/partners for several years. The chart was compiled in collaboration with other facilitators of international NT support groups. These facilitators together have over eighty years’ combined experience of living with a spouse on the autism spectrum. They have also heard from many tens of thousands of adult NTs living in marriages and relationships with someone with Asperger’s/Hfa. The value of the quantity and quality taken together, of that experience of being in contact with so many NTs, cannot be ignored. The chart is also based on numerous neuro scientific research/investigations, along with results of other research into the circumstances of our situation conducted over many years.


Researchers of neurotypical experiences:
Dr Lisa Abel, Dr Cathryn Rench, Jennifer Bostock-Ling, EC McNeil, R. Doley, Kim L Bolling, Professor Tony Attwood, Maxine Aston


Support websites


Based on the work of educational theorists

  1. Piaget’s Stages of Development
  2. Bloom’s cognitive/affective learning and taxonomy of higher order thinking skills
  3. Kohlberg’s development of empathy stages

Other references:
Goleman, D, Emotional Intelligence

Kourkoulou ALeekam SRFindlay JM Implicit learning of local context in autism spectrum disorder

Vermeulen, Peter PhD Autism: From Mind Blindness to Context Blindness Autism Asperger’s Digest | November/December 2011

Neuro science research:
1.  ‎Pierce … brain response to personally familiar faces in autism: … - ‎

2.  Autonomic and brain responses associated with empathy deficits in autism spectrum disorder. Gu XEilam-Stock TZhou TAnagnostou EKolevzon ASoorya     LHof PRFriston KJFan J

3.  how people with autism experience pain Society for neuroscience https://spectrumnews.org/.../in-autism-brain-responses-to-pain-dont-matc...
4.  Perspective-Tracking Brain Response Could Help Identify Children with Autism
5.  Charting the typical and atypical development of the social brain KA PelphreyEJ Carter - Development and psychopathology, 2008 - Cambridge Univ Press