Credit: Leszek Glasner/Shutterstock
By: Heather Craig LPC-Intern
Autism Spectrum Disorder & Relationships
Individuals on the autism spectrum have difficulty with social ques, subtleties, and emotional reciprocity. Examples of social ques might be when to begin and end conversation, what topics are appropriate for the setting, as well as facial expressions and body language. Subtleties might be sarcasm, hints (like winking or other gestures), and even tone of voice. Emotional reciprocity is the ability to respond emotionally in an appropriate way. Maybe when someone is crying or angry. Do these inabilities mean those on the spectrum are not in or interested in relationships? Many times not. Those on the spectrum can share the same needs as neurotypical peers as it relates to attraction and the desire for connection with another human being. Although it may present differently and have a different expression.
Individuals with a diagnosis who are interested in relationships may need to pursue skills as it relates to social interactions, specifically as it relates to opposite sex or romantic endeavors. Emotional intelligence is paramount to relationships, especially romantic relationships. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and communicate emotions within the self and others. This skill is a challenge for those on the spectrum and can create difficulty in relationships specifically with neurotypical individuals who many times more naturally pick up and express emotions.
Neurodiverse relationships, where one person is on the spectrum and another is not, can be particularly challenging. Behaviors such as interrupting, laughing at an inappropriate time, and pulling away from physical touch can appear to be inconsiderate, willful, and malicious to a neurotypical (someone not on the spectrum) individual. When in reality those on the spectrum are usually not willfully malicious and insensitive. Typically the person may have not picked up on a social que, missed a subtlety, or simply did not have the skill of emotional reciprocity to respond in an appropriate way. This can affect romantic relationships, as well as friends, and family.
If you are in a relationship with someone on the spectrum and find yourself hurt or offended by behaviors at times. Take a deep breath!
- Be patient
- Have empathy, sometimes you say and do things to hurt others
- Remind yourself the behavior was likely not intentional
- Communicate how you are feeling and why
- Educate your friend/family member on what your needs are and how they can meet them (they may want to, but not be sure how)
If you are on the spectrum and are in relationship with someone and find the person is frequently offended or angry with your behavior. Take a deep breath!
- Be patient
- Have empathy, you too are hurt at times by other people’s behavior
- Remind yourself while you may not have intentionally hurt the other person they are hurt
- Listen intently while the other person explains why they are hurt even if it doesn’t make sense to you
- Act on what the person asks to you do to meet their needs even if it is uncomfortable for you
Relationships are challenging. Nerodiverse relationships are especially challenging, but not impossible. If needed seek help! A great resource is a book by Eva A. Mendes, “Marriage and Lasting Relationships Asperger’s Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder): Successful Strategies for Couples or Counselors.” Another option may be to seek help from a therapist or doctor to address your specific needs.