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The Autism Course for Spouces Is an Effective Training Program

Friday, 3 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
E. M. Blijd-Hoogewys1 and A. Talboom2, (1)Autism Team North-Netherlands, Lentis, Groningen, Netherlands, (2)MEE Drenthe, Assen, Netherlands

The autism symptoms – the persistent deficits in social interaction and communication, and the restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior and interests - not only lead to problems in adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) but can also have a major impact on their potential romantic relationships. The Autism Course for Spouses is developed to help women of men with ASD. Since, there are also men without an official ASD diagnosis – f.i. because a husband does not see the need to look for such a diagnosis - the course is also accessible to spouses of men with presumable ASD.

The aim of the Autism Course for Spouses is fourfold: receiving psycho-education on autism, gaining insight in the effects of autism on the partner relationship, receiving tips to improve the communication with the autistic man, and stimulating the empowerment of the spouse. In doing so, the focus in the course is more oriented towards strengths - of both the spouse and her autistic partner - than (only) towards shortcomings.

The Autism Course for Spouses contains ten sessions, taking place every other week, each taking two hours. There are eight to ten participants and two therapists. Each session has a specific theme. The order of the themes is fixed.


The objective of this study was to test whether the Autism Course for Spouses is effective. 


In total, N=88 spouses (M=49 years old, M=23 years of relationship, M=2.4 children), of husbands with ASD are included in this study.

Prior to the course, a semi-structured interview is conducted with each spouse: in order to check whether autism symptoms are reasonably present in the husband (measured indirectly) and whether the spouse concerned would fit in the Autism Course for Spouses.

Next to that, all spouses filled in questionnaires prior to the course, right after completion of the course and at follow-up (3 months later). The following (Dutch) questionnaires were used AQ (Autism Questionnaire, version for spouses), visual analogue scales (concerning relationship issues), UCL (coping), SCL-90 (multi-dimensional list of complaints) and Rosenberg (self-esteem).


Concerning the husband with (presumable) ASD: 38% had an official ASD diagnosis at the beginning, 87% had an AQ score indicative for ASD. It should be noted, that the cut-off score of this questionnaire is set for adults with an autistic disorder or Aperger’s disorder; PDD-NOS is not included.

Research shows that the women reported significant improvements right after completion of the course: concerning the interaction with their husbands (Chi Square, p<.05), their coping style (paired sample T-test, p<.01), their general wellbeing, psychiatric symptoms in general and specifically concerning depression, anxiety, somatic complaints, insufficiency and distrust (Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test, p<.05), and self-esteem (paired sample T-test, p<.05). At follow-up, self-esteem has improved even more (p=.05).


The Autism Course for Spouses is an effective training program.

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