Hey there! Remember me? Yeah, it’s been a while. I’ve had a few things in the works, including an explanation of how this post came to be—but if I wait until I can get the backstory (which goes back… oh, about 11 years, since I first suspected autism, FKA Asperberger’s, about two years into our relationship) I’ll never get this series of posts up. So I’m just going to jump right in. You’ll get the backstory later.
Notes before I start:
1. What used to be called “Asperger’s” has some clear differences from what was generally known as “autism.” But Asperger’s is name after a guy who had ties to the Nazis (specifically, eugenics), so… meh. Bad name. Then there was “High-Functioning Autism,” but that there are serious issues with labeling of functions (there are several issues, but I particularly hate the fact that “high functioning” infers that these people are more able to “pass” by neurotypical standards). Doctors who did the assessing also weren’t consistent in their labeling, so eventually, they just started calling it all the umbrella term “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” (Some of us hate that one because we don’t view things like autism or ADHD as “disorders” but neurotypes. some people DO say it’s a disorder and a disability because of how it impacts their lives. That’s more than valid.) So we’re just calling it autism.
2. Those of you who do the, “All women think their husbands have autism” schtick can fuck right off. Seriously. Go on. I have no patience for that. People who genuinely come to this conclusion do not come to it lightly. It’s usually a long, hard road that leads them there. Neurotypical people don’t consistently wonder if they have autism or ADHD, either. When NTs read about autistic or ADHD experiences, they don’t feel things resonating. They don’t grow up feeling like they were born on a different planet and suddenly feel this deep sense of having found an “answer.”
There was something else I wanted to say. But I have ADHD, so I’ve already forgotten. I’ll come back to it.
As I mentioned, I first suspected autism less than a couple years into our relationship. I’ll talk about why in another post, in another series. The notion didn’t go over very well, of course (thank you very much, shitty stereotypes and myths!), so it took about a decade for me to come back to it and for my husband to be ready to hear it. Very briefly: when he did hear it, he heard it. It resonated hard. He read David Finch’s memoir of being diagnosed with autism as an adult, The Journal of Best Practices, and he followed me around every night reading passages to me. (It’s a great book, and it’s especially great as a lovely ode to marriage. I highly recommend it.)
So many backstories to tell. But I’m sticking to my point here. Backstories later! I know from being one of them (and from talking to others) that when you suspect your partner is on the spectrum (or find out that they are), you turn to the internet and possibly start buying all the books you can find on Amazon. That’s fine if you know what to look for—educating yourself is key. But there’s a lot of really bad information out there for people who want to learn how to better relate to their autistic partners or how to better navigate this unique (but wonderful) pairing. If you’re here, maybe you’ve already been looking, and you’ve probably already seen the crap that essentially tells you to just give up and start grieving, right? DON’T READ THOSE POSTS. Don’t listen to that “advice.” It’s bullshit. People who haven’t yet done their own internal work have been spreading the word that you cannot have a satisfying relationship with someone who is on the spectrum—and that’s not to criticize those people, because if you haven’t faced down your own demons, then nothing about any relationship will be easy, especially the one you’re in. But if you’re able to do the work, own the baggage you brought with you into the relationship (we ALL bring baggage), and be responsible for knowing your own needs and desires while learning to be comfortable STATING THEM, then no, you and your relationship are not doomed. You will not have to “settle.”
There’s a lot to say, so I’m going to break this up into several posts. I promise I’ll actually stick to and finish this series! I’ve got some big things coming up, and this is just the start. This first round will be tips and strategies for partners of people who are on the spectrum, but I’m going to warn you up front: if you’re hoping for ways to “change them” or “make them do x, y, z,” you’re not going to get them here. I learned very quickly from my own experiences and from talking to others that the people who claim you can “never” get what you want and will “never” be fulfilled in a relationship with someone on the spectrum tend to be the people who think that their partner is the source of all their woes and who are not yet willing to look at what they bring to the table.
Does that sound daunting? It shouldn’t. These are things you should be doing in EVERY relationship, but there’s more room to keep carrying your broken bits around in a relationship with neurotypical people. Before my husband, I was in a nearly-seven-year relationship with someone who was emotionally abusive that became physically abusive a number of times, including when he threw me down on the floor of our apartment and choked me until I almost blacked out. He wasn’t autistic, so there you go. I was so used to the mind games, manipulation, lying, and having to second guess everything I saw and heard that I viewed everything through that lens because I was just so used to it. (And I hate to break it to y’all, but neurotypical culture is full of mind games.)
So without further adieu, I’ll leave you with the first bit of advice:
1. DON’T LISTEN TO ANY WEBSITE, BOOK, PERSON, BLOG, ETC. THAT TELLS YOU TO GO THROUGH A “GRIEVING PROCESS.”
I already sort of said this, but this is a big one. There are lots of successful, happy, fulfilled people out there who are in relationships with someone who is on the spectrum (likewise, with ADHD!). They just don’t tend to go around talking about it as much, unfortunately. (And that’s why I am talking about it.) It’s NOT TRUE that you can’t get what you “need” from someone on the spectrum. It’s NOT TRUE that you have to resign yourself to blah blah blah… god it’s kind of irritating to have to keep talking about this. They’re not robots, for fuck’s sake. I’m tired of the negative stereotypes and advice from people who are only generally only looking to have their misery confirmed. Do the goddamn work. We all need to do work, no matter how your brain is wired. People on the spectrum, and most neurodivergent people, are highly highly sensitive to the moods and attitudes of those around them. If you approach them with the attitude that you must grieve for staying in a relationship with them because you’ll always be lacking, they will feel this. I, myself, am highly aware of people’s patterns of behavior, words, tones, and all those tiny little tell-tale signs in facial expressions and gestures that are dead giveaways to how they feel. I notice things that most people miss, and I collect all the little pieces I catch until I figure out how they fit into the overall system. Some people swear I must be psychic, but I’m really not. I’m just far more observant than most people and more than I even want to be. I cannot tune things out. So I see things that people don’t want you to see. All the things you try to hide are pretty visible to some of us. So yes, your internal thoughts and behaviors and attitudes have an affect and will change how we respond to you.
There are some really good books, blogs, and articles that talk about practical techniques and things to do in order to COMMUNICATE BETTER and more clearly. I’ve found them to be really, really helpful. In learning to communicate, I’ve realized that allistics (non-autistic) people aren’t nearly as clear as they think they are (myself included).
I was eager to get these posts going, so I don’t have a list ready, but I will post a list of all the books, blogs, articles, podcasts, etc. that I’ve found that help you strengthen your relationship and work on yourself rather than roll over and give up while blaming your partner for everything that’s ever gone wrong in your life.
But very quickly, there are some really great posts on this blog that talk about autism from a wonderfully human and compassionate perspective. She also asks some good questions of the neurotypicals or allistics that find themselves struggling in these relationships. Start at the older posts and work your way up.
But in summary: approach your relationship with a genuine desire to work on it while accepting that you shoulder at least half of the responsibility for the state it’s in. If you can’t do that, then work on yourself until you can or figure out why you’re still in it. But do not go around blaming your partner and insisting that they’re the problem while declaring that “autistic people will never…”
That leads into the second one:
2. EDUCATE YOURSELF AND LEARN ALL YOU CAN
The more you learn, the more you understand, and the more you understand, the easier it is to not take things personally, to have compassion, and to understand where confusion and miscommunication happens. Keep in mind: autism (and ADHD) are highly hereditary, so if you have kids, it’s highly likely you’ll have children on the spectrum. (Our son was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago. He’s showing some of my husband’s autism traits, so we may have him evaluated later this year.) Learning about autism and not seeing it as a burden or a curse will be hugely beneficial to your kid’s well-being, sense of self, and confidence.