Autism and Relationships, Part One — Autistic people and neuro-typical people
The basis of any relationship, whoever it is between, is to a have some level of ‘give and take’; each person has to be understanding, and respectful of the other one`s needs. This becomes harder when autism is involved because often neuro-typical people don’t understand the wants and needs of autistic people, and vice-versa. But this is obviously no reason why autistic people and neuro-typical people shouldn’t have healthy relationships.
After an autistic person has been on a few dates they may want to think about whether the relationship is going to get serious, and if they think it is, they may need to discuss their autism. If two people are planning to have a future together they need to be able to understand each other. If the neuro-typical partner doesn’t have a good understanding of autism, then it will be simply too difficult for both people involved. There is a general belief that because somebody physically doesn’t appear to have anything going on, any issues they have are not particularly serious. This is the first thing that needs to be cleared up. The neuro-typical partner needs to understand that they are getting into a relationship with somebody who has autism; it is not something that they just had as a child and have grown out of, or something that doesn’t particularly affect them. It is also worth the person with autism trying to explain exactly how their autism does affect them; for example, if they don’t want to be going out socialising, they could try to explain this to their partner, and their partner will hopefully respect this. Equally, if the autistic partner needs a certain routine and structure, they should try to explain this too. Also, if they feel they will need time away from their partner — whether they are living together or not — they should express their need to have this. But at the same time it is give and take; it is not fair for somebody with autism to not even try to change some aspect of their behaviour that their partner finds difficult. Autism shouldn’t be the dominant issue in a relationship, but it is something that people need to consider. Even though it is difficult for a person with autism to look at their behaviour and attempt to change it, the reality is that everybody needs to change some aspect of themselves, or their routine, when they get into a relationship. To expect a neuro-typical partner to completely change his or her behaviour to mould itself around an autistic person`s needs is unfair.
Communication is also vital in relationships. Ideally both parties would be able to explain how they feel, and what they want out of the relationship, and each other. One problem with this is that if somebody has autism they generally need to be told things clearly — hinting at things, and hoping the autistic partner picks up on the feelings is not the best way for a neuro-typical partner to go about expressing themselves. This is why it is important for the neuro-typical partner to make themselves heard and understood in a sensible way; certain ways of behaving that may be normal in other kinds of relationships may not be effective if one partner has autism. The best way of dealing with someone who is autistic is the same way people should deal with anybody they respect — be upfront, be honest, and don’t keep things to yourself and expect the other person to guess what you are thinking or feeling.
Having said that, a lot of people with autism struggle to express their emotions. They might find it hard to do typical things that demonstrate that they love a person, or to express themselves properly if they are upset. This doesn’t mean that their feelings have any less worth, or are any less intense; it simply means that it may take a while for them to be able to comprehend them and express them. Partners should be patient, and try to understand the best they can what the autistic person is feeling — and not dismiss it simply because it is expressed in a different way to what they would normally understand.
There is no reason that people with autism can’t have successful relationships with neuro-typical people. It will more than likely present its fair share of difficulties, but this should not put either party off. The likelihood is that it may not be the same as a relationship between two neuro-typical people, as so much may be different from what is considered the norm, but this does not make it less valid.
Some autistic people have the belief that they should only date other people who have autism, and while there is nothing wrong with them doing this, they shouldn’t feel that they have to simply because they are autistic. It might take a lot for somebody with autism to get into a relationship with somebody who is not on the autistic spectrum due to the problems they may have with socialising, communicating and expressing their emotions. But once they have, if the two parties work together, and the neuro-typical person learns all they can about autism, then there is no reason why their relationship should not be as strong and successful as everybody else’s. The best advice for neuro-typical people is to read plenty of books on autism — preferably written by autistic people — to get rid of any misconceptions they may have, and allow themselves to be educated by the person they are with. Equally, the person with autism must try their best not to let their autism dominate the entire relationship. The problems that will arise, and the ways of dealing with them will be different for each couple. The best way of dealing with them is also the hardest for a lot of autistic people — a couple should sit down and discuss the issue between themselves, and come up with solutions that they both believe in. Communication might be hard, but without it relationships struggle to work. The chances are, for somebody with autism, communicating with a partner, while it will likely not be easy, will be easier than a lot of other things they have had to do in their life. Things might not be perfect, but things are never perfect in any relationship. Just like mixed race relationships, relationships between neuro-typical people and autistic people might carry a lot of stigma, but ultimately they are just another way of being normal and happy.
My name is Paddy-Joe Moran. I am a 19-year-old autistic author of two books, and co-founder of autism advice service ASK-PERGERS? If you need any more help or advice about Asperger’s, or simply want to talk about it check out my free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?
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