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?

On Twitter

On Facebook

Also to read more from me go to my blog

And have a look at my books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but I did co-write them, trust me on that!)

Kindle Editions

Mark Blakey

Mark Blakey is the founder of the Aspergers Test Site, after a successful career working in IT Mark wanted to share what he learned from his own diagnosis. He is the author of "Emotional Mastery for Adults with Aspergers" and "An Introduction to Aspergers Syndrome". Having received lots of questions from parents with autistic children, Mark went on to found Autism Parenting Magazine. The magazine has become an essential resource aimed at improving the quality of life for families effected by Autism. Its a monthly publication containing lots of helpful articles to help develop social skills, manage challenging behavior and improve communication.

  • Tim says:

    I am a graduate student and public school teacher. According to the AQ, EQ, and SQ testing from the autism website at Cambridge University, I have a severe case of Asperger (I corresponded with Cambridge and the official autistic center at Cambridge didn’t know of anyone in Dallas TX who they could refer me to). I have been through very thorough testing over the last 7 years with things related to my Master’s degree as a Seminary student and public school teacher, yet no one ever said a single word about Autism or Asperger. I am considered normal, just reserved and missing some social cues.

    Where would I go to be tested for Asperger? According to my limited research there is no standard
    comprehensive diagnostic evaluation for diagnosing Asperger.

    Thank you,

    • Lynn says:

      You can be diagnosed by a psychiatrist. Try doing an Internet search for your area for psychiatrists or hospitals who have a mental health department and ask about testing. It would be helpful if you can remember anything about being a child that would be considered atypical for a child.

    • E says:

      My self testing scores are at the high range in Asperger. So I am going to find out if this is true or false positive. Ciao

  • Merlyn says:

    I strongly suggest you review your thoughts that ‘just like mixed race relationships…….’ . Until that point I thought here is a young man with a good understanding of himself and others. But to mix the two together of mixed race relationships and neuro typical and autistic relationships tells me you are way way off the mark.

  • Mel Dearlove says:

    where do you come from that you think mixed race relationships carry stigma?

    • Annie says:

      Mel, I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but in the U.S. there is still stigma attached to mixed-race relationships in many places, especially non-urban where it is less common. Whether it is spoken or not, it is a challenge. Having said that, any time you mix two different “cultures” of any kind it is challenging–religion, socioeconomic, what have you. You should not be hard on the author just because your experience–or perception–is different from his.

  • Penny says:

    I’ve never used the traditional method of entering relationships by going on formal dates with a complete stranger, I get to know people a bit first. With my method, which applies to most other people I know, autism/Aspergers isn’t something you have to reveal and discuss, it’s more a personality trait they can love or hate without needing to know what it’s called (although never mentioning it to a partner seems a bit odd). Personalities either mesh or they don’t, if they don’t, it’s not like an employer who needs to make reasonable adjustments, you don’t match and should probably find someone else. Don’t become someone you’re not to fit around an incompatible partner. If they do match, which is far more likely for an ASD/NT couple than most people realise, it’s not a problem which needs to be addressed.

  • Dee says:

    My husband and I have been married for 36 years. Only last year he got a definite Aspergers’ diagnosis from the Maudsley Hospital in London. I have found this very helpful as I know a little about autism from working in a secondary school with an ASD unit. So I understand his reactions and behaviours much more which makes it easier not to make a fuss about things that don’t really matter [eg finger twizzling when stressed].
    As for prejudice against ‘mixed’ relationships of any kind, agreed it should not exist but it most certainly sometimes does, and I don’t think it was an unfair example. If it was, to a neuro-typical person, tactless, well hey, the author does have Aspergers!
    Thanks to Paddy-Joe for the article and I hope our story gives hope to other ‘mixed’ couples.
    By the way, I’ve just finished reading Siobhan Dowd’s ‘The London Eye Mystery’ which gives a lot of useful insight I felt, via a young people’s novel.

  • Frankie says:

    I am a girl with high functioning autism. I tried dating non-autistic men for years and it didn’t work. My last relationship lasted for 10 years, as neither of us wanted to admit failure and we shared a home so splitting up was difficult. But we were both in therapy and on anti-depressants by the end of it and getting suicidal, so it wasn’t going to work much longer. We are friends, but split amicably. He is now dating a non-autistic girl and I am dating a man with aspergers/HF autism and we are much much happier. I hadn’t dated anyone with autism before and I thought the issues I had in my previous relationships were just normal and likely to happen again. But this time it feels soooooo different! I can’t express how much happier and calmer I am! I wish I had dated other autistic men before, as I can be myself without annoying him and vice versa. He shares and understands all of my ‘oddities’ that annoyed or upset my exes, and because we understand how the other person thinks I feel much closer to him. In hindsight, my previous relationships were like dating someone of another species. They were lovely people, we shared hobbies and interests, we were physically attracted, got on with our familes and ticked all the right boxes on paper. But underneath the surface ‘stuff’ we were just wired completely differently. I’m sure autistic/neurotypical relationships might work in some cases, but in my experience they are a lot tougher and lack the same depth. I feel guilty that my exes wasted that time with me as none of us were happy, but I’m glad I have a comparison and know what I was missing and I think they are all much happier dating/married to non-autistic women now. I would like to stay with my current boyfriend, but if for whatever reason it doesn’t work then I will only date autistic men in the future as it is such a different experience.

  • Jsychk says:

    I think my 15-year husband has Asperger, but he denies it. He is so inflexible, but he thinks I should learn to adapt. He can’t eat varieties (super picky eater), but he thinks it’s my problem of seeing it as a problem because according to him, we can still sit in the same table eating different foods. He doesn’t socialize, which makes it hard for me to make friends as a family because a lot of time he just wants to stay home. He doesn’t want to try anything new. Going to work/school during the week; doing grocery during the weekend. Every day, every week, every month, every year stay about the same. For example, he likes to go to the beach, and it’s always the same beach we go every year. Unfortunately, I am the opposite. I like new adventures, new experience. It makes me feel alive, but now my inner self is dying. I am not sure if I want to live like this for the rest of my life. However, I have been staying at home and taking care of our 3 kids for 14 years.

  • >