MacMillan's 10-Step Neurodiverse Family Systems Approach:

A Comprehensive Framework

to support neurodivergents and their families throughout adulthood.

Anne MacMillan, MLA

Author of the 10-Step Neurodiverse Family Systems Approach, Consultant, Coach, Educator and Expert Witness

About Anne

I grew up in a neurodiverse family knowing nothing about Level 1 autism or attention neurodivergence (ADHD). Then, unbeknownst to myself, I married a Level 1 autistic man. That means I have a lifetime of experience with Level 1 autism, attention neurodivergence and close family relationships as well as over two decades of experience with Level 1 autism in marriage.

I was so confused about what had occurred in my family of origin that I studied developmental psychology as a young undergrad. After having children, I completed a research-based master's degree in clinical psychology at Harvard University. It was during my graduate studies that I finally realized that my husband was autistic.

From there, I did some of the world's first quantitative research on Level 1 autism and intimate life partnerships. Then, in 2017, opened a private coaching and consulting practice attempting to see if there was anything I might be able to do to actually help this underserved and under-recognized population.

All this work and life experience has enabled me to finally offer a foundational 10-Step Neurodiverse Family Systems Approach to help professionals across the world understand how to serve all members of neurodiverse families.

I take some of my own clients, too. Please reach out if you're interested!

I self-identify as a high body empathetic neurodivergent who just might also be a bit attention neurodivergent (ADHD). I am not autistic.

Our Services

Level 1 autism has a significant impact on dating, marriage, parenting, separation and divorce. Yet many individuals in neurodiverse intimate life partnerships (or life partnerships between autistics and non-autistics) had no idea that one partner was on the spectrum before tying the knot. Professionals, confused by the autism and Neurodiverse Relationship Dynamics (NRD) have offered misdiagnoses and poor advice, adding to the burden Level 1 autistics and their family members have faced.

Likewise, Level 1 autistic adults have little career support, facing the work world with little to no recognition that their autism affects their professional relationships.

R.E.A.L. Neurodiverse seeks to provide services that support these unmet needs.

Level 1 Autistics and their Families

Professionals support level 1 autistic children through school, but once adulthood rolls along, almost no services are available. Until recently, a majority of level 1 autistic adults were completely unaware that they had autism. As more and more adult diagnoses take place, level 1 autistic adults and their families are still left without appropriate support.

Level 1 has a significant impact on dating, marriage, parenting, separation and divorce. Yet many individuals in neurodiverse marriages (or marriages between autistics and non-autistics) had no idea that one partner was on the spectrum before tying the knot. Professionals, confused by the autism and they dynamics of neurodiverse communication, have offered misdiagnoses and poor advice, adding to the burden level 1 autistics and their family members have faced.

Some of today's most successful tech entrepreneurs have level 1 autism, creating a new world in which autistic innovation has an impact on everyone's daily lives. Yet level 1 autistic executives still struggle with the social difficulties associated with their neurologies, sometimes facing career and family roadblocks that impede the successes they desire.

REAL Neurodiverse seeks to provide services that support these unmet needs.

Anne MacMillan, MLA

Author of the 10-Step Neurodiverse Family Systems Approach, Consultant, Coach, Educator and Expert Witness

Recent Blog Posts

Man and woman doing the tango

It Takes Two to Tango

June 14, 20233 min read

“The moral of the adage should be the opposite. In actuality, it takes two to get along.”

What happens when you're not safe to walk away from a fight?

"It takes two to tango" is an old adage often interpreted to mean that fights only happen because both people are participating.

Its moral is: if you’re part of a fight, it’s your fault, too. You wouldn’t be in the fight if you weren’t choosing to be in it. And, if you want to stop a fight that you’re part of, stop your half of the fight and the fight will end.

And, that’s true if you have the power to walk away from a fight. An adult can choose to leave any fight that it’s safe to leave. And by leaving you win…..

But what happens when you’re not safe to walk away from a fight? What if you can’t get away from the other person? What if there are other people, possibly small children, depending on you to stay in the fight?

If you can’t walk away, is healthy to always allow yourself to lose just to keep the peace? Is it better to start fighting back?

The moral of the adage should be the opposite. In actuality, it takes two to get along. It takes two to work together. It takes two to be a team. It takes two to collaborate.

Neurodiverse relationships are rife with fighting and low on teamwork and collaboration. Teamwork and collaboration are easier when both people have theory of mind skills. When each partner can somewhat accurately perceive the other persons’ perspective and intentions, they can more easily find ways to work together for the mutual benefit of both.

When only one of the two people in a relationship has theory of mind skills, that person, the neurotypical partner, is working to be aware of the other partner’s, the ASD partner’s, intentions and perceptions. Yet at the same time, the partner with ASD isn’t keeping in mind the neurotypical partners’ intentions and perceptions. The result is that both partners are thinking about the ASD partners’ intentions and needs and only the neurotypical partner is thinking about the neurotypical partner’s needs.

Things can get out of balance after a while, favoring the partner with ASD’s needs. And people with ASD do, at no fault of their own, have a lot of needs.

In marriage, ASD partners’ needs do not negate the needs of neurotypical partners who, over time, become worn due to the lack of reciprocity in communication, caregiving and connected sexuality and affection.

A marriage is different than a parent-child relationship, a therapist-client relationship, or a teacher-student relationship. Ideally, it is a relationship of equality in which both partners are working together or caring for each other. But in mixed-neurological marriages, due to the difference in theory of mind skills between the partners, this kind of reciprocity and teamwork doesn’t happen.

It does take two to tango. Watch the dance. It is a neurotypical dance with both partners responding to the other. It is about connection, eye contact, sexuality, and working together for the benefit of both. The tango is a dance of social communication and autism affects social communication. The tango can’t happen in neurodiverse marriages because only one partner’s brain knows how to do the dance.

It takes two to tango.

It takes two to work together.

It only takes one to perpetuate a fight and it’s not always possible for the other spouse to walk away

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Anne MacMillan, MLA

Anne MacMillan is the founder of REAL Neurodiverse Marriage. She has 21 years of experience with autism and marriage, a lifetime of experience with autism and close family relationships and has been coaching and consulting individuals managing autism and marriage since 2017. She has a master's in psychology from Harvard University where she did some of the world's first quantitative research on autism and marriage. She is neurotypical.

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