Autism and Relationships Part 2 – when both people have autism
In a previous article relationships between autistic people and neuro-typical people was discussed. But what about relationships between two people who are both on the autistic spectrum? There are obviously benefits to two people with autism being in a relationship, but there can also be difficulties. These can be different than the difficulties faced by a neuro-typical couple, or a couple comprised of one autistic and one neuro-typical person. Some of these issues are explored below.
Two autistic people may be drawn to each other for many reasons; this could be merely because they are attracted to each other, and like each other as individuals, or they may have set out to find somebody with autism to have a relationship with because they feel that only another autistic person could understand them as an individual. Some autistic people don’t like the idea of dating neuro-typical people as they feel only somebody else with autism will be able to relate to them and properly meet their needs.
Dating is one thing, but getting in to a serious, long-term relationship with someone is quite another; as things get more and more serious, moving in together, or even marriage could be contemplated. This can be stressful and difficult for any couple, and is not something that just affects autistic people. Individuals with autism may be much more set in their routines, and having their space and belongings around them is often much more important than it is to most people. Beginning a serious relationship with somebody doesn’t just mean another person coming into their lives, it means all the routine and order that they have in their life will change, to be replaced by something else. Sometimes individuals with autism may avoid getting into a relationship because of this, and others will hope to find a way through.
One of the difficulties that can come of two autistic people being in a relationship with each other is that while they may have a greater understanding of the way their partner does certain things, they may also be less able to cope with this. They may also be less able to alter their own routines or behaviours to suit their partner. For example, if they find something to be very difficult because of sensory issues such as a certain noise their partner makes, but their partner makes that noise due to an issue relating to their autism, there could be all kinds of problems. If neither party feels able to compromise in their behaviour, or their reactions to their partners, then there may be a lot of arguing over something that neither individual can help. This can happen more often than may be thought; often autistic people can find other autistic people`s behaviour incredibly annoying due to their sensory issues and way of seeing the world. Just because two people have autism doesn’t mean they will understand, or forgive, everything their partner does. Everyone with autism is an individual, and just as unique as every neuro-typical person.
It may also be possible that both autistic individuals could struggle with their decision-making skills as this is something that is fairly common among autistic people. If they do, and neither one can step forward and take the initiative with something, then things may well get left. This could be luxuries such as holidays — which neither party thinks to plan for — or it could be more serious, financial issues. In both making decisions and stepping forward and initiating plans, it is important to have at least one person in the relationship who feels confident to do this — or to have good communication between both parties. It is not good to have one person making all the decisions and being in complete control, but at the same time, stuff does need to get done, and it can’t be constantly left, or put off, or forgotten about. It may well be that being organised and getting things done comes naturally to one or both individuals in the relationship, but problems can arise when confidence and assertiveness are issues for both people
Often both autistic people will have their own routines which they may be set in, and they may have specific things that they do every day, or a particular routine regarding where everything has to go in their house. This can lead to conflict when these two sets of routine clash. Often the best thing to do if people are contemplating moving in together is, instead of moving into one person’s house, the couple could both move into a third house that they have chosen together. This will obviously be stressful for both parties, but it means that both people are on an equal footing, and maybe they could create new routines together — accommodating each other’s needs. It can be hard for an autistic person to view a house with their belongings in as `shared` if they were living there before their partner moved in. As for dealing with conflicting routines, it is important for each person to keep in mind how important routine is for them, and understand that this is the same for their partner. It might not be easy for them to put themselves in somebody else’s place, but any effort made in this area can help the relationship to work. This might lead to them having a slightly unconventional relationship — depending on what the routines are — but as long as it minimises conflict, and keeps both parties comfortable and happy, this is the most important thing. If a routine is causing any problems that simply can’t be ignored, then a compromise will have to be reached. If it can’t, then obviously the relationship itself will be in danger.
Sometimes two people with autism get into relationships quite inadvertently; it is entirely possible for someone to go through their life not knowing that they have autism, and in a surprising number of cases parents are beginning to detect autism in themselves, after their child is diagnosed. The knowledge and tools for a correct diagnosis were simply not there in the past — or at least not used frequently enough — and there are a lot of undiagnosed autistic people out there. Whether the autism had a factor in the couples getting together is not known, but finding out that both parties are autistic after years of not knowing or having any clue can be a huge surprise to everybody involved. It doesn’t have to change anything in the relationship, but knowing can actually make things easier. It may help them to understand things about their partner that has been irritating them for years. It may well be difficult for one or both partners to accept this information, and that could lead to some conflict — the ways of dealing with this will vary depending on each individual person, so it is difficult to give advice here. The problems that can be encountered are basically the same as the ones discussed above, except there may have been a problem for years without either person having known why. To some the diagnosis of autism may seem like a terrible thing, but if the person is already autistic, then knowing simply equips them to deal with it better. It is not as if they wouldn’t have had the exact same problems if they`d remained undiagnosed — they simply wouldn’t have had access to the wide network of support that may be available. Unfortunately, a lot of these couples find their relationship has already broken down when they reach this point, but gaining the information about why they behave the way they do, why this behaviour can be difficult for other people to be around, and what they can do to lessen its impact can still be of great value to them. It can help them make sense of why their relationship has broken down; help them see that in reality it was no one`s fault, and better equip them for future relationships. It may also mean they have a greater understanding of their child if they are both autistic — although again, as mentioned before, two autistic people living together can bring its own set of problems.
In conclusion, relationships in the modern world should not be restricted by issues of gender or race, let alone whether somebody has autism or not. Some people do refer to those with disabilities or learning disabilities having relationships as the last taboo, but in reality this is ridiculous and highly offensive. If people like each other, they date, they have a relationship and that`s it — if they are of different ethnic origins, religions, or whether or not they both have autism shouldn’t make any difference to this. That is not to idealise it, and say that it won’t come with any problems — every relationship will come with problems whether autism is involved or not. If somebody goes into a relationship thinking that theirs will be the exception and everything will go smoothly, then they are probably going to be in for a bit of a shock at some point. But the idea of these problems shouldn’t scare people from getting into a relationship — be it a neuro-typical person and someone with autism, or two autistic people. Not every relationship where both people are autistic will work out, but like every other relationship the best thing is for both parties to listen, to try to understand, and to try to accommodate each other. It won’t work every time, and there will always be somebody with a bad story to tell, but this shouldn’t stop people with autism from going after what they want.
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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Paddy, thank you SO much for your insightful article!
I’m a neuro-typical woman who has loved a man with Asperger’s for more than 11 years.
Routines, personal space and possessions are very important to him and it’s easy for me to forget how important these things are. Our routines and lifestyles often clash, but mutual respect and caring seems to go a long way towards understanding one another and living in harmony.
Thank you again for your wisdom.
Thank you for writing this; this may have information I can use to vocalize my exculpatory information/testimony in a hearing (where my civic rights were shredded…), because it has a great deal of information that I felt about myself, but was unable to express. I am wondering if one of the symptoms of Asperger’s is a difficulty in expressing oneself, that is, a lot of concepts “pile up” and they need to be expressed sequentially, but the ideas/concepts get conceived in a haphazard manner. If anybody who reads this wishes to contact me for any guidance/assistance (for me…), my Email addresses are: ScottDeutsch@mail.wowmail.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank You!!
Speaking as an Aspie who has raised Aspies, yes, an inability to express yourself is one of the foremost defining charachteristics of being Autistic. Search the current version of the DSM and I think you’ll find what you need.
Unfortunately, when an adult learns of the autism it can also ruin relationships. I have considered writing about this component of adults with autism.
Very good article. Keep them coming.