If you have a partner with Autism, have you encountered blunt remarks that hurt feelings, felt frustrated due to the fixed routine of your partner, and felt loved when they notice minute things about you? If you are a person with Autism, have you ever felt annoyed by your partner’s style of communication or anxious about your relationship’s future, or sensory triggered by your dating spot? These phrases pops-up our mind with a question – Can people with Autism be in a relationship? YES !! Of course, they can.
A complex developmental, neurological condition that impacts a person’s social interaction and communication skills. It’s called a spectrum, consisting of various conditions that affect people to varying degrees. Its signs and symptoms typically appear in childhood. However, people continue to experience signs when they grow old. For people on the Autism Spectrum, relationships can be complex and confusing.
Autism & Emotions: What You Need to Know
People with Autism may find it difficult to express their emotions in a way that is socially expected. It may impact their relationship, making their partner assume they are ‘cold’. They sometimes inappropriately express feelings as they face trouble capturing social clues and body language.
Can people with Autism fall in love?
Love is an emotion which can be experienced by any living organism, including people with Autism. It’s a myth that people with Autism cannot experience a complex emotion like love. They might have their own way of expressing it or might experience love differently. They might struggle to express love verbally or through typical social clues. Understanding these differences will navigate you to have a better relationship with your partner and foster inclusion.
How to understand if a person with Autism has romantic feelings?
As described above, it may be hard to interpret, but there are a few indicators that you can consider:
- Verbal communication: the person may explicitly express their romantic interest
- Attention and Interest: They may show interest by initiating conversation, knowing more about others’ life and looking for opportunities to spend time.
- Gestures: engage in offering assistance, giving thoughtful gifts or showing kindness.
To have a clear understanding, it’s better to have honest and open communication.
Intimacy and Sexual Relationships
A feeling of emotional closeness with your partner is intimacy. People with Autism express their needs differently based on their understanding, knowledge, values and beliefs about sex. They might feel anxious due to sensitivity to physical contact. A need for repetition might restrict the playfulness of sexual contact. Not being able to feel or express sensations to their partner and not being able to read theirs can result in miscommunication.
Challenges faced by people with Autism:
People with Autism interact and process experiences differently. Thus, their approach to romantic relationships may differ wholly or slightly from neurotypical people. It brings in the following challenges to deal with:
- Finding dates to be too-formal
- Struggling with social skills – such as making eye contact with date or partner, reading social cues
- Limiting themselves to routines, people with Autism resist making any schedule changes, even if they are surprises.
- Worrying about neurotypical people not wanting to date them or be with them in a relationship, thus a fear of being rejected
- Spacing out in-between conversations
- Having narrow interests might make your partner feel insecure as they think you prioritize your interest over their relationship.
- Being sensitive to sound at a particular volume or tapping of feet can be challenging for your partner to remember; you must repeatedly remind them.
These challenges result in myths and misconceptions. A few of them are:
- They lack empathy
- Don’t require social interaction, prefer to be alone all the time
- Dont experience general emotions
These statements are stereotypical with no research basis. People with Autism are as capable of connecting with others through empathy and can socialize and experience emotions like any other people across the globe.
How your partner might feel:
- No one understands them
- Unable to understand social cues and frustrated that why people can’t say things directly
- Feeling heightened anxiety that results in over-analyzing and overthinking about situations and events.
- Feeling jealous of siblings or friends who are dating or in relationships
The feeling of a non-autistic partner:
- They may feel tired of helping their partner navigate through social interaction.
- Ignored as their partner is unable to understand body language and cues, and they cannot express their emotions verbally. Or their partner might talk about their interests and passion for hours and hours on a date.
- Partner’s honesty might hurt their feelings at times.
Relationship tips for people with Autism /Being with a person with Autism
1) Building mutual interest
You and your partner might perceive things, socially interact and interpret the world differently. However, you two would have something in here is the point to start the conversation. Talk about your interests, likes and dislikes, and viewpoints, thus finding common ground. It can give an excellent start to your relationship. These can be used as a part of dating activities later.
2) Don’t be in a rush
Your partner may feel confused if you move into a relationship quickly; take things easy. They may need time to process emotions. Thus, it’s always preferred to experience things step by step.
3) Read up on Autism
It is adequate to learn about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and find out how it affects your partner. Studying common traits and experiences will equip you to understand your partner. But remember, every person with Autism is different; try not to generalize things you read. After learning, it’s recommended to ask them open questions rather than assuming what the book or the internet says is 100 percent right and applicable to your partner.
4) Sensory needs
Understand, recognize and address their sensory needs. These sensory needs are not over-dramatic but have a biological basis. You both perceive the same thing; however, the brain interprets it differently. You can support them by consciously choosing a dating spot. A certain amount of light or too much crowd can trigger them.
5) Refrain from codependency
When a romantic relationship is formed between a person with Autism and a neurotypical person, one might feel like a parent. The nature of protecting your partner from facing embarrassment or being made fun of in public can make your romantic relationship transform into a parent-child relationship. Voice for your partner is not wrong, but not giving them space to speak for themselves, assuming they cannot. Thus, taking control of the situation might make your partner lose independence. It is essential to understand that they are adults and can handle their own battle; however, provide them with your support whenever needed. If you feel your partner is parenting you, let them know how they can support you to strike a balance in your relationship.
It is crucial to deal with things verbally as much as possible. Also, refrain from using metaphors or sarcastic statements, as your partner might not understand, confusing them. Do not feel offended if your partner is not making eye contact. As an autistic partner, you can ask for clarification or repeat statements you don’t understand or find confusing. Feel free to excuse yourself if you feel zone-out, distracted, or anxious between conversations.
7) Try to maintain consistency
Not liking changes in routine is not just being stubborn. It’s just that a set-off from routine can trigger anxiety or make them feel overwhelmed.
8) Is touch really magical?
Everyone desires and fantasizes about the physical aspect of romantic relationships; however, you should put forward a talk or discussion with your partner when it comes to touch. Kissing or holding hands might make people with Autism feel uncomfortable and that someone has overstepped their boundaries. They may react silently or have drawbacks.
Thus, love is an emotion everyone feels; it may be expressed or interpreted differently. Romantic relationships have their own challenges to deal with, and a desire to be together with few tips can make things work smoothly. If not anything, then communication is always the small but handy key to solving anything.
There are myths and misconceptions about people with Autism as incapable of feeling the emotion of LOVE!! They may face challenges in being in a relationship or feel anxious, overwhelmed or confused. At the same time, their partner might feel hurt due to their honesty or frustrated or tired of protecting them. Here are a few communication tips, reading up on Autism, maintaining consistency, refraining from codependency and sensory needs and taking things step by step.