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Tony Attwood Says What He Really Thinks

By Paula Durbin-Westby; originally posted on the ASAN Northern Virginia blog.

Note: The anti-“Cassandra” campaign has nothing to do with Tony Attwood personally but everything to do with his endorsement of the “Cassandra Phenomenon” (aka “affective deprivation,” “Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder,” etc.). We continue to hope that Dr. Attwood will address the situation and disassociate himself from the concept, even given this recent video release.

Approximate locations of the comments addressed here are given for those who do not want to watch the entire video.

In this video, posted on AutismHangout, and titled April 9, 2009, Tony Attwood clearly states:

[minute 7:47 into video] “We have what we call the Cassandra Phenomenon. In Greek mythology, Cassandra had the gift of prophecy, but the curse that no one would believe her. So what can happen is that, at home, you see these sorts of components, but other people will think ‘You’re mad, what do you look for in a relationship?’, etc.

“Now, what you tend to get is a sense of loneliness. Often, ironically, the partner is an extreme socialite, which was chosen by the person with Asperger’s so that in fact, they could have social guidance: a maternal, caring, compassionate person, who is very good at understanding his point of view, but may not be that he’s good at understanding your point of view.

“So the issue is going to be: loneliness, affection deprivation [minute 8:37 into the video].

“When the person is upset at themselves or upset about something they tend to go inwards and not share their concerns or emotions and may get by with the capacity of affection that I call a “cup,” not a “bucket, and this particular lady may have the capacity of a bucket and she gets a cup. And she feels depressed, very very common with those who are a partner… who have a partner with Asperger syndrome. Now, there are a number of good books in this area, most published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, at and then a new book just out, by Maxine Aston, which is a workbook for couples. Now, one of my concerns here is that other people may not believe you and some people you can’t convince it unless you say “Marry him and live with him!”

Continuing at [Minute 10:07]: “And what happens is, you become Aspie. It’s an infectious process, and she may not like the sort of person she’s become…

On May 8, 2009, Attwood posted his form letter on the FAAAS site, as a response to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s petition, and as a response to the very many individuals who have written to him over the years. Although in that letter, he claims that “Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder,” was coined by Maxine Aston and is not an official diagnostic category,” in fact, it’s quibbling.

Attwood himself started using, and still uses, the term “Cassandra Phenomenon” and also feels quite comfortable using “affective deprivation” at the same time that he publicly pretends to distance himself from the whole concept. In addition his unprofessional talk of the partner of a person with AS “becoming Aspie- it’s an infectious process” is both inaccurate and also demeaning. For people on the autism spectrum being compared with “infection,” and an infection that leads one to “not like what has become” one does wonder whether Attwood’s assertion in the form letter that “in all my presentations, I have approached the issues in a very positive way examining strategies to make a successful relationship” is accurate.

ASAN has addressed the inadequacy of the form letter here.

If Tony Attwood has, within the past two months, stopped believing in and using the terms “Cassandra Phenomenon,” “affective deprivation,” and the metaphor of “infectious process” he should immediately inform the Autistic community, either via another form letter posted to FAAAS, on his website, or directly to Autistic individuals.

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