logo Maxine Aston
MSc. Health Psychology
C&G 7407 Further Education
Diploma in Casework Supervision

Specialising in relationships affected by Asperger Syndrome.
Individual, couple and family counselling.
Conference speeches, lectures & workshops.

Author of What Men With Asperger Syndrome Want to Know,   The Asperger Couple's Workbook,   Aspergers in Love  &   The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome

Affective Deprivation Disorder
Maxine Aston
Affective Deprivation Disorder (AfDD) is a relational disorder resulting from the emotional deprivation sometimes experienced by the partner (or child) of persons with a low emotional/empathic quotient or alexithymia.

Coined by researcher Maxine Aston, AfDD was first applied to partners of adults with Asperger Syndrome, many of whom showed disturbing physical and psychological reactions to the lack of emotional reciprocity they were experiencing in their relationship. Maxine was later to broaden AfDD's applicability to include disorders other than Asperger's such as depression, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, personality disorder, and substance abuse disorder in which the same low emotional intelligence or alexithymia is a key relational factor.

To qualify for a diagnosis of AfDD some or all of the following indicators in each category must be present:

One Partner must meet criteria for a diagnosis of one or more of the following:
    • Low Emotional Intelligence
    • Alexithymia
    • Low Empathy Quotient

Relationship Profile includes one or more of the following
    • High relational conflict
    • Domestic abuse: emotional and/or physical
    • Reduced marital or relationship satisfaction
    • Reduced relationship quality

Possible Psychological Symptoms of AfDD
    • Low self esteem.
    • Feeling confused/bewildered.
    • Feelings of anger, depression and anxiety
    • Feelings of guilt.
    • Loss of self/depersonalisation
    • Phobias - social/agoraphobia
    • Posttraumatic stress reactivity
    • Breakdown

Possible Psychosomatic Effects
    • Fatigue
    • Sleeplessness
    • Migraines.
    • Loss or gain in weight.
    • PMT/female related problems.
    • ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis).
    • Low immune system - colds to cancer.

The easiest way to understand AfDD is to relate it to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is caused by sunlight deprivation which can cause a neurochemical imbalance in the brain. The symptoms of SAD usually occur regularly each winter, starting between September and November and continuing until March or April. A diagnosis can be made after three or more consecutive winters where the symptoms, including a number of the following, continue to recur.

Sleep problems:
Usually desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake but in some cases, disturbed sleep and early morning wakening

Feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine

Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, usually resulting in weight gain

Feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self - esteem, sometimes hopelessness and despair, sometimes apathy and loss of feelings

Social problems:
Irritability and desire to avoid social contact

Tension and inability to tolerate stress

Loss of libido:
Decreased interest in sex and physical contact

Mood changes:
In some sufferers, extremes of mood and short periods of hypomania (over activity) in spring and autumn.

Most sufferers show signs of a weakened immune system during the winter, and are more vulnerable to infections and other illnesses.

SAD is very, very real! However where SAD is about sunlight deprivation - AfDD is about emotional deprivation!

Similar symptoms experienced by the SAD sufferer, are experienced by the AfDD sufferer. Yet there is an even more damaging effect for the AfDD sufferer insofar as it is another human being, they probably love, who is unintentionally responsible for their emotional deprivation. Emotional reciprocity, love and belonging are essential human needs, if these needs are not being met and the reason why is not understood, then mental and physical health may be affected. Awareness and understanding can eliminate this.

AfDD is a consequence of the relational situation a sufferer is in, therefore it is possible to find ways to rectify this. Just as sunlight restores the balance in SAD - emotional input and understanding can restore the balance in the person affected by AfDD. Relationships when one partner has alexithymia can work if both partners work together to understand their differences and develop a better way of communicating, showing emotional expression and loving that works for both of them.

The following treatment issues can be explored with those suffering AfDD:
    • Rebuilding Self Esteem
    • Having a voice
    • Looking at negative responses.
    • Looking at self image.
    • Building confidence.
    • Becoming assertive.
    • Attending a Workshop.

Finding Self
    • Identifying Parent - Child roles.
    • Changing learned helplessness.
    • Rebuilding self.
    • Rebuilding family and relationships.
    • Rebuilding a social life.
    • Finding support.

Maxine's present focus is on Autistic Spectrum disorders with particular emphasis on Asperger's Syndrome, due to the high 85% prevalence of alexithymia in this spectrum. ASD's frequently include an impairment in theory of mind (ToM) ability which is thought to further aggravate the affective deprivation experienced in AfDD. For more information on this subject visit Maxine Aston's website at: http://www.maxineaston.co.uk/

Differential diagnosis of 'Primary' and 'Secondary' emotional deprivation:

The closely related term “Emotional Deprivation Disorder” is an informal concept referring to a more enduring emotional deprivation whose etiology is different to that of AfDD. Although the two concepts have similarities of behaviour, a differential diagnosis is made on the following criteria:

Emotional Deprivation Disorder is an enduring disorder of the self stemming from deprivation during childhood development, and is differentiated from the relational disorder proposed by AfDD in which the individual's behaviours are reliant on the dynamics of a current relationship.

These two distinct disorders may sometimes be co-present, as when someone with EDD habitually seeks out emotionally depriving relationships in adulthood, which lead to a further embedding of the entrenched deprivation experience.

The best way to distinguish EDD and AfDD is think in terms of the permanence or transiency of the emotionally-deprived condition. EDD is a primary and enduring condition which seems to alter little over time or with changing circumstances. Whereas AfDD is a secondary relational condition which disappears after the evoking stressful situation has been altered. The secondary deprivation of AfDD is much more likely to be responsive to treatment intervention than EDD.

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* What Men With Asperger Syndrome Want to Know
* The Asperger Couple's Workbook
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* AfDD Paper

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* Embracing Difference in the Therapy Room. Contempory Psychology 2013
* Could your Husband be Autistic? Daily Mail: March 2013
* Asperger Syndrome in the Bedroom
* BACP Info Sheet G9
* Growing Up In an Asperger Family
* Asperger Syndrome in the Counselling Room

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