parent opinion

'Two years ago, I found out my husband was autistic. It saved our marriage.'

Nearly two years ago, my husband Kane, was diagnosed with autism

Following his diagnosis, when we told those close to us there was a mixed response. Some who knew Kane well agreed that it made a lot of sense. Others were confused - but he didn’t 'seem' autistic? This speaks to some of the progress still to be made around what autism looks (or doesn’t look) like, but I understood where they were coming from. I was one of those people for a long time, too.

Seeking a diagnosis.

The journey to diagnosis actually began with my psychologist. I started seeing a therapist during what can be described as a turbulent time in our marriage. I would often describe (and vent about) the difficulties we were having in our relationship. There was a sense of overwhelming frustration between Kane and I. We seemed to be constantly butting heads - having the same arguments again and again. 

At times it felt like we were on completely different pages, yet we were both committed to problem-solving and making things work. This meant we’d pursue different ways of resolving matters but would always seem to circle back to the same problems. My psych picked up on patterns in Kane’s behaviour and the things I was lamenting about in our relationship. She gently suggested that Kane sounded autistic and after around a year of seeing her, encouraged us to seek an official assessment.

Watch: Mia Freedman interviews Michael From Love On The Spectrum. Story continues below.

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How autism looked in our lives.

These patterns and traits my therapist gleaned from my stories showed up in our life in a variety of ways. Some of those ways didn’t necessarily phase me whereas others did, massively. The more inconsequential aspects were things that you could consider ‘quirks’. Things like Kane’s immense dislike of walking barefoot around the house because of the feeling of sand and grit underfoot (with three kids and a dog, there’s a lot of that). He thrives with predictable order and regiment - he could eat the same thing, wear the same thing and within reason, do the same things day-in, day-out and be quite happy. Something that always makes me laugh is the way he insists on having his ‘side’ of our bedroom. I often come into our room to find piles of my stuff thrown across his invisible barrier, back to ‘my side’. Order restored.

Other things though, had more of a profound impact on our lives. Kane’s ‘black and white’ way of thinking became a source of contention for us, particularly when we had children.

He is incredibly clever and has always enjoyed researching and learning into the area of wealth-building and money. When we first got together, he would talk about his future plans for financial freedom. Truthfully, this was something that attracted me to him. Not just his plans to make money, but he radiated masculine energy. He has a ridiculous work ethic and is unapologetic and single-minded about what he wants and I found that sexy AF. My messy, ambivalent and go-with-the-flow nature craved his bold determination and structure. I felt safe and secure in his future planning, assuming that he also had my best interests at heart… Boy, was I in for a shock.



A recipe for financial success, or disaster.

Kane’s ‘recipe for financial success’ as he called it, didn’t allow for flexibility. That was the point of a recipe, if you don’t follow it, it won’t work out (he clearly didn’t cook like me). It started to become a recipe for disaster. 

Not long after we married, Kane suggested we join finances. Being impressionable and under the belief that he was doing it to take care of things, I was happy to follow his lead. Before kids, while we both were working, there were no major issues. However, when children entered the fold, money became the main source of constant arguments. Kane had an expectation that I would be on board with managing our finances exactly as per his recipe. As anyone in a successful long-term relationship would know, it’s all about compromise and collaboration. Kane wasn’t the kind of guy to ad-lib when he was cooking and he definitely wasn’t playing when it came to his future financial freedom. This didn’t lead us down a great path. I felt really disempowered when Kane genuinely thought he was doing the right thing by me.

Neurodivergent parenting.

Then there were the kids. Having children was always on the cards for us and they’ve been our most exciting adventure. Kane is a terrifically hands-on Dad and will happily take on any parenting-related tasks. He loves spending time with the kids, playing and teaching them new things and they thrive in his presence. With the joy and purpose they brought, parenting also brought about more tension. As they surpassed the baby years, Kane found it harder to be adaptable and flexible to their changing emotional needs. As any parent knows, each day with children can look different. There’s a kind of fluidity needed in being attentive and receptive to your kids' needs in order to meet them where they’re at. Kane's parenting style could be considered authoritarian. He believed in consistent punishment and a no-holds barred approach. Add to this dynamic the changing pace of being a fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) worker - it was difficult to find common ground, and we clashed a lot over how we were raising our family.



Why seek a diagnosis as an adult?

When my psychologist initially recommended Kane be assessed for autism, I questioned what the point would be - I mean, he’d gotten this far in life without knowing, surely at 34 years of age it wouldn’t make much difference?

She believed it would likely be a helpful thing to guide us to better solve our recurring issues, particularly around finances and parenting styles. I felt nervous in approaching Kane about the whole subject but he was surprisingly open-minded to the process. He said he often felt vexed about why he viewed the world so differently from others and was keen to explore this further.

During the assessment, the psychologist explained how, if Kane was a single guy, without kids - he may never have had a reason to seek a diagnosis. We learned that undiagnosed autism in adults often becomes more apparent in the pressures of long-term relationships and parenting.

Opposites attract for a reason.

Since his diagnosis, Kane has linked in with a therapist of his own that has experience with autistic adults. She has been not only a fantastic resource for Kane but an insightful and reassuring presence for me, too. When Kane first started seeing her, we naively had an expectation that she was going to offer autism-friendly solutions to our problems. We were prepared to read the books, follow the steps and do all the things she was expecting of us to ‘fix’ our problems.  


Instead, she helped us recognise that the basis of our recurring arguments perhaps wasn’t neurodiversity but rather, a lack of understanding and acceptance of each other’s uniqueness. She reminded us of the power of the differences that first brought us together. And how over time we became more intolerant of these differences, instead of embracing and appreciating them.

Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, speaks to an expert in Autism, and a woman with lived experience to find out why so many people go undiagnosed. Post continues below.

With her guidance, we’ve been able to rediscover the beauty of our complimentary traits and how they can be the threads weaving the fabric of a strong partnership. I feel so grateful for everything Kane is. He’s honest, fiercely loyal, strong and his sense of surety about life remains an anchor when I’ve felt adrift in the turbulence of my emotions. In fact, the matter-of-fact way by which he lives has always given me a sense of security, knowing that he’s unlikely to change his mind about much - especially loving me.

Autistic or not, sometimes we need a reminder to affirm our partner’s qualities. I feel a little ashamed that it took a label of autism for us to practice radical acceptance of our differences, but ultimately I’m grateful for where we are now… even if it took a diagnosis to get here.

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