The Cassandra Phenomenon is a term describing circumstances in which legitimate warnings or anxieties are scorned or rejected. The term emanates from Greek mythology. Regarding Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), the Cassandra Phenomenon occurs when the partners or family members of adults with ASC seek help, and who are not believed by their partners, family members, professionals and community members, resulting in his/her reluctance to report the symptoms and/or resulting difficulties (Jennings, 2005; Rodman, 2003). The Cassandra Phenomenon is a condition of depression or ill-health that develops from the isolation and loneliness of knowing a truth, experiencing that truth, but not being believed (Simone, 2009). This then explains the hidden nature of the Cassandra Phenomenon, and often results in this aspect of ASC impairments remaining invisible (Jennings, 2005). As Rodman (2003) describes when discussing the experience of adults who are NT in neurodiverse relationships, “we were not believed or listened to by professionals or medical, spiritual, educational or judicial leaders” (p. 23). The lack of validation or invalidation by professionals further exacerbates the confusion of the partner, which can result in experiencing symptoms of the Cassandra Phenomenon.
Grigg (2012) states that, for NT individuals, attempts to find solutions in the context of the neurodiverse relationship “is like living in a constant state of unfinished business, combined with confusion, day in and day out and is probably quite a significant threat to our mental and emotional health, and our future outlook” (p. 63). The resulting unresolved disappointment, anxiety, depression, and anger for NT adults (Aston, 2003a; Jacobs, 2006; Marshack, 2009) has the potential to lead to the Cassandra Phenomenon (CP) and depression (Rodman, 2003). Dashnaw (2020) states that:
“the Cassandra Syndrome is another effort in the continuing attempt to describe the struggle of the neurotypical partner (NT) who too often can’t get validation from their Aspie partner, extended family, or helping professionals…Living with an Aspie partner with no external support creates intense internal conflict, poor self-esteem, frustration, rage, anxiety, depression and a constellation of other symptoms that thought leaders described twenty years ago as Cassandra Phenomenon or Cassandra Syndrome.”
However, Grigg (2012) suggests that the Cassandra Phenomenon is not an experience exclusive to people who are NT. Grigg proposes that autistic people can also experience the Cassandra Phenomenon. When adults with ASC are aware of their difficulties and choose to seek help, the lack of knowledge many professionals exhibit, may cause them to also remain “unheard, judged or misdiagnosed” and trigger similar feelings to those felt by NT individuals (p. 33). Grigg’s recommendation is that once a person receives validation and support, gains awareness that different neurologies are the source of difficulties, and confusion, and affronts have been identified, the journey toward moving out from under the Cassandra Phenomenon’s negative influence can begin (Grigg, 2012).
Dr. Bronwyn Wilson
Dashnaw, D. (2020). Cassandra Syndrome…the struggle to name the NT partner’s despair. Retrieved from https://couplestherapyinc.com/cassandra-syndrome/
Grigg, C. (2012). ASPIA’s handbook for partner support: A collection of ASPIA’s best information for the support of partners of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome. Sydney: Carol Grigg.
Jennings, S. (2005). Autism in children and parents: unique considerations for family court professionals. Family Court Review, 43(4), 582-595.
Rodman, K. E. (2003). Asperger’s Syndome and adults….. Is anyone listening? London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Simone, R. (2009). 22 things a woman must know if she loves a man with Asperger’s Syndrome. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
 Cassandra was a daughter of Priam, the King of Troy. Struck by her beauty, Apollo provided her with the gift of prophecy, but when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances, he placed a curse ensuring that nobody would believe her warnings. Cassandra was left with the knowledge of future events, but could neither alter these events nor convince others of the validity of her predictions (Aston, 2009; Jacobs, 2006). The Cassandra Phenomenon is also known as Cassandra Affective Disorder (CAD), Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder (CADD, Aston 2003a), or Affective Deprivation Disorder (ADD; Simons 2009) or Post-Traumatic Relationship Syndrome (PTRS; Vandervoort & Rokach, 2004).