In a relationship where one individual is on the autism spectrum, there are likely many more opportunities for misunderstandings and frustration. In recent years, it has been helpful that there is more information and resources focused on neuro-diverse relationships. More is available for couples and individuals, including more for women, in relationships with men on the autism spectrum.
How to date someone on the spectrum
This article is a brief summary highlighting information gathered from my experience as well as many women who have shared their stories with me over the years. A listing of resources is available at the end of this article to assist you in locating other information related to this subject.
Autism is a neurobiological disorder that affects perception, communication, social skills, learning and behavior. Information processed by the senses can easily overstimulate an individual on the autism spectrum. Communication is frequently processed and interpreted differently for someone on the autism spectrum. Verbal communication is often processed more slowly and words interpreted literally. Persons on the autism spectrum often have trouble staying on topic and maintaining a conversation. Social skills are also affected. Social cues are often missed or misread. Individuals on the autism spectrum are not sure how to connect with others.
Each person presents differently with his or her challenges.
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Many on the autism spectrum suffer from anxiety as well. Your partner likely has executive function deficits. Executive function tasks include planning, organizing, prioritizing, time management, emotional regulation and impulse control. Inertia, both starting and stopping tasks, can be a challenge for people on the autism spectrum. Non-spectrum partners are often relied upon to perform many executive function tasks within the relationship.
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There is now a variety of books, written about relationships when one partner is on the autism spectrum. There are books written by professionals, as well as those written by women married to men on the autism spectrum.
There are also some written by couples together. Some of these books are listed at the end of this article. Reading stories from others can be very validating of your feelings and experiences. Keep in mind that each relationship is unique. Some of the books are quite negative. Your partner on the autism spectrum will have his own autistic characteristics as well as a unique profile of experiences, personality and possibly other co-occurring diagnoses that are a part of what makes him unique.
Getting to acceptance may be hard for one or both of you. As you seek to learn more about ASD and how it effects your partner and your relationship, you will likely be grieving the loss of prior expectations. These resources are available but may be hard to find. It can also be helpful to make a list, of the positive and desirable qualities, which attracted you to your partner.
It is important to keep these in mind, especially when going through a challenging time in the relationship.
It will also be helpful to keep a list of your positive qualities. It can be hard to remember these positive traits about yourself when you are in the middle of very difficult and confusing times. Remembering the positive characteristics of both you and your partner will enhance your self-esteem and help motivate you as you work through your relationship challenges. Over the years, I have appreciated the determination I have seen from both the ASD and non-spectrum partners in pursuing solutions to build a stronger and loving bond.
Sensory issues very often affect individuals on the autism spectrum. As mentioned before, one or more of the senses may be affected. Some people with ASD are hypersensitive to various lighting. For some, headaches are triggered. Light touch may feel like pins yet actual pinpricks may not be felt at all.
In some situations, a person on the autism spectrum may appear not to process sensory information from one or more of the familiar five senses of sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. These situations can seem very curious.
Three other less known sensory systems are also often affected for many on the autism spectrum. Interoception is often referred to as the eighth sense. There is some evidence that individuals on the autism spectrum can have both an impaired and an enhanced time perceiving their own bodily functions.
This is called atypical interoception or interceptive dysfunction Shah et. Some women report that they need to remind their partner to eat or drink something especially when they are deeply engaged in an activity that takes all their focus. Sensory issues can impact just about all aspects of life from the selection of clothes, foods, bedding and furnishings that are comfortable for both partners to what environments and activities may be enjoyable for both partners.
Deing, carpentry and engineering are skills that persons on the autism, including your partner, may possess as a result of excellent visual processing skills. Some common strategies used to effectively limit environmental sensory overload include tinted glasses, earplugs and hats or specific clothing choices.
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At home, sleeping in total darkness and using a weighted blanket can be helpful for some. At home, hopefully, it is easier to adjust lighting and control or mask sounds and smells in the environment. Sometimes working with an occupational therapist who is trained in sensory integration can be beneficial.
Sensory issues can also affect intimacy. If there are sensory issues in the bedroom, they can be addressed with better understanding, patience and developing strategies to accommodate the needs of both partners. You and your partner can discuss various sensory differences and consider specific adjustments that will be successful.
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A self-aware adult on the autism spectrum can usually recognize early warning s and develop strategies to exit and calm down. Both partners who are aware of this can work together, so that both are accommodated. Many couples develop als to communicate if the ASD partner is becoming overstimulated and needs a break. A break can take various forms that can be discussed in advance. If need be, this might mean taking two cars to an event so the ASD partner can exit the event and the non-ASD partner does not have to leave.
Optimum communication is important in all relationships. Non-verbal communication, such as interpreting facial expressions, gestures and vocal intonation is often extremely difficult. Verbal communication can be difficult for people with autism to initiate. These difficulties are due to a difference in neurology and not a lack of motivation.
It is helpful to your partner if your communication is clear, calm and predictable. Explicitly communicating your social, emotional, mental, physical, including sexual needs, is important. Together, partners should discuss information about behavioral expectations. Think in terms of explanation instead of correction. Tell your partner your expectations and have him tell you his expectations. Often you will need to provide very explicit and concrete instructions that your partner can follow.
For example, if you need your partner to help with a chore such as doing laundry, give step-by-step directions on what, when and how the clothes need to be washed. If your partner cannot figure out what to wash, perhaps having a system of preparing laundry baskets is needed. For example, circular baskets can be used for dirty laundry and square baskets for clean laundry. You may need to give your partner with autism explicit information and practice on how to give hugs. This may seem as though your partner does not want to be affectionate with you, but remember not to judge his actions and needs through your non-spectrum lens.
Any areas of need are important to address in detail. Communicating very literally and concretely will be important for many aspects of life.
Consider scheduling a time each day to both sit and communicate. Sitting side by side might work best for communication. People with ASD almost universally say it is difficult to process verbal information while maintaining eye contact. This time together can go a long way to making life more satisfying and keeping your bond as a couple strong. Again, consider using visual information notes,a white board, even examples from books or other visual media to convey or supplement verbal messages.