Love, Intimate Relationships and Autism

This is a post from a few year back that remains highly relevant, so I thought I’d repost:

Teenagers and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome or with High Functioning Autism need some targeted and extra help understanding and negotiating romantic and sexual relationships. Moving from Social Skills or Social Thinking/Cognition curriculums to dating, sex, love, and adult relationships is no easy task when your primary difficulties are recognizing and understanding non verbal communication, emotional fluency and regulating sensory experiences.

This is a wonderfully written piece in the NYTimes.com called Navigating Love and Autism. Compelling in it’s depth, this article captures many of the challenges particular to couples struggling with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The first night they slept entwined on his futon, Jack Robison, 19, who had since childhood thought of himself as not like the other humans, regarded Kirsten Lindsmith with undisguised tenderness.

This is an honest account of their struggles and one that provides glimpses into what it must be like for a young man with ASD, who, despite feeling love and romance for his sweetheart, has to tell her (and I assume because of some sensory overload issues), after she smiled at him one morning, as she leans in for a kiss, seeking his lips, he turned away, I don’t really like kissing, he said.

It’s a touching piece and although having ASD adds a particular burden to relationship, I wanted to reach out and tell the young man that many of their struggles are common to the confusion we all feel at times in relationships. You want to put your arm around his shoulder and smilingly tell him you know just how he feels when he’s not sure what his girlfriend wants from him. Here’s an example:

One might start over Kirsten’s request that Jack hug her when she came home from school, or his perception that she was already angry at him when she came through the door.

The more we argue, the worse it gets, Jack said once, close to despair.

One night as Kirsten cooked dinner, he peered into the pan where she was sautéing vegetables to comment on the way she had cut the cauliflower.

It’s too big, he explained. It won’t cook through.

It’s better when it’s not all mushy, she insisted.

No, he said. You’re just doing it wrong.

Eventually, Kirsten, unable to contain her tears, fled to the living room.

What I want, she told him when they analyzed their clashes in less-fraught moments, is to be held and rocked and comforted.

About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
This entry was posted in Discussion Topics, Education Issues and Ideas, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health, Personal Stories, Social Issues and Ideas. Bookmark the permalink.

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