Tips For Women In Relationships With Partners On The Autism Spectrum
Marci Wheeler, MSW
It is a challenge for most couples to find a balance between their needs and expectations, and their partners needs and expectations. In a relationship where one individual is on the autism spectrum, there are likely many more opportunities for misunderstandings and frustration. Finding a path to a respectful, loving and fulfilling long lasting relationship is every committed couples desire.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.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.
Mommys Birthday Doesnt Matter
We can look at birthdays to explore the dynamics common to interactions between partners in an ASD/NT couple. When he does not acknowledge her birthday, and she asserts that his behavior has upset her, he may respond that he did not mean to upset her therefore, she shouldnt be upset. Or he might tell her that because birthdays come once year and everyone has them, they are no big deal and she should stop making such a big deal about them. Or he could tell her they celebrated her birthday last year. Or that birthdays are for children. In other words, he may hold her to the same idea regarding birthdays he holds himself. He may criticize her to the degree that her feelings about birthdays differ from his. He will miss her distress.
As a result, she doesnt have the opportunity to celebrate her birthday, something which is generally understood as a common social convention in our culture. She also feels rejected by her husband over the belief her birthday is worth noting in the first place. She asks herself why such a little thing as a birthday seems so important to her. She wonders whether she is being juvenile, as he suggested. She sees he doesnt care one way or another about celebrating his own birthday, after all.
Different Degrees Of Independence
First, its important to understand that a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder does not mean that your child or family member will not be able to date, make friends, attend college, get married, become a parent, or have a satisfying career. People with ASD do these things and more every day.
What an ASD diagnosis does mean is that your child or family member will progress differently than people without ASD.
At Therapeutic Pathways, our team of therapists and behavior technicians work to help those diagnosed with ASD reach their full potential. This means reaching different stages of independence over time.
Again, its not possible to provide a concrete answer of how long it will take your child or family member to develop certain independent living skills. Our staff meets each client where they are and works closely with them to develop skills to keep your child safe and happy.
Some of the autism independent living skills that we encourage and develop at Therapeutic Pathways include:
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Communicating With Your Partner
Your autistic partner may have difficulties interpreting non-verbal communication, such as your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. They may not be able to tell from your behaviour alone that you need support or reassurance. This may be hurtful as it can come across as indifference. Try to be open with your partner, telling them what you are thinking, feeling and what you need from them. Your partner may beanxious, have certainroutinesthey need to follow or have difficulties withorganisation and prioritising. It can help to talk to your partner about any relationship problems you are having and explain your feelings in a calm, reasoned way. Your partner may prefer to discuss things in writing as it will give them more time toprocess what you are saying. This could be done using clear language in an email or text.
Learn And Use Communication Strategies
Optimum communication is important in all relationships. Social communication, by definition in the DSM-5 , is a deficit for a person with ASD. 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. The person with ASD will usually want to meet their partners needs once s/he understands how to meet those needs. 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.
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Luke Describes How He And His Girlfriend Work At Their Relationship
Difficult, especially at the moment. I have been I have been going out with a girl for a year and three months now, and whenever we have an argument or something it is always to do with that because even though there are good points, like you can focus, you know you focus on things a lot better, things that you enjoy, like more than a normal person would, like a normal person, like somebody else would have a few things they like and they do a little bit of this and little bit of that. But way I could spend a full, you know, like fourteen hours taking a photo and then spend another six hours or so taking a photo and then eight hours getting it right on photoshop. So I think that is a plus side, like you can look at any people, you know any of like the greats in history, like Beethoven, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and you can see there is obviously plus sides to it.
If you have any sort of fallings out it tends to be because you can be quite focused on something?
And not see her point of view may be. I mean do you manage to sort that out between you?
They Have Unusual Eating Behaviors
Unusual eating behavior is a common occurrence in most people who develop autism. Autistic kids have extreme sensitivities and preferences when it comes to food choices. This can be frustrating to deal with. Yet it is a problem that if you are aware of, can save a lot of heartache. However remember that in this age of diets, we all have at some point developed unusual eating habits.
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Carry On The Conversation
Thats all I have to say for today. Now its time to hear from you. If you are autistic or if you know someone who is, have you got any stories which prove the mindblindness theory wrong? I would love to hear them in the comments below.
Also, if anyone has any further questions to ask Carolyn then send them my way and I will see if I can corner her into another interview.
As always, I can be found on Twitter and via my email: .
If you like what you have seen on the site today, then show your support by liking the and signing up to the Autistic & Unapologetic newsletter .
Thank you for reading and I will see you next Saturday for more thoughts from across the spectrum.
Other Services At Open Doors Therapy
At our autism therapy clinic located in Palo Alto, we offer other services for those with high functioning autism, Aspbergers, and undiagnosed autism characteristics. Due to the COVID- pandemic we are using online therapy. I offer services including individual counseling for teens and parents, adult counseling, and group therapy. If youre interested I also offer a wide range of social skills groups including neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, autistic adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, autistic teens transitioning to college , teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Contact me today for your consultation.
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Theres No Shame In Couples Counseling
Many counselors and therapists have had clients who are in autism or Aspergers marriage, and they can help you. If you feel like youre unable to get your point across, and the person with Aspergers feels the same way, a therapist can be a solution. Aspergers isnt something one can cure, as it is a different wiring of the brain. However, you can find ways to communicate with your spouse better, and your spouse can find ways to communicate or control certain aspects of their disorder.
They Are Visual Learners
There are many ways to learn, and being autistic makes you no different. In this age of information overload, visual support helps autistic kids move more efficiently through the day. Before we judge our loved ones with autism as slow, remember that even we regular learners sometimes need some visual aid to help us process and digest information better.
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Recognize And Address Sensory Needs
Sensory issues very often affect individuals on the autism spectrum. As mentioned before, one or more of the senses may be affected. Senses may be overly sensitive and/or under sensitive . Some people with ASD are hypersensitive to various lighting. For example, they see the blinking and/or hear the buzzing of fluorescent lighting. For some, headaches are triggered. A person on the autism spectrum may be overly sensitive to various smells and/or sounds in the environment. 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. They may seem unaware of what is in plain sight and/or process words as noise. These situations can seem very curious. Three other less known sensory systems are also often affected for many on the autism spectrum. There are the vestibular system , the proprioceptive system and the interoceptive system . Interoception is often referred to as the eighth sense.
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.
Theyre Not Mad At Your Or Disinterested
With Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism, many people who have it can sound robotic, and sometimes, they may retreat into their own shell when they arent feeling social or feel too stimulated.
Because of this, outsiders may think the person doesnt like them or isnt interested. However, a person with Asperger syndrome may have problems with tones and body language, and theyre people who you may need to take at their word.
Perhaps the most famous example is the lack of eye contact. A person with Asperger syndrome does not like to look people in the eye. Its not because they dislike or dont trust you. Its just how they are.
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They Are Not Broken Autism Is Nobodys Fault
It is human nature to want to fix things that we think to be broken. When dealing with an autistic loved one, it is all too easy to go into fix it mode. However, this mindset can be very damaging. When trying to create a nurturing relationship, remember that your loved one didnt choose autism. It is no more their fault than it is yours. It is important that you continue to show love, empathy and a genuine desire to understand the struggles they face.
If Youve Met One Person With Aspergers Youve Met One Person With Aspergers
This quote of Stephen Shore, Ed.D., an author and professor with AS, says it all. While many of the issues and challenges that some couples in an AS marriage face can seem similar, it is important to remember that every individual with AS is different, and each marriage unique.
Not all of these strategies will be equally effective for or apply to everyone. Each couple has to brainstorm and trouble-shoot their marriage based on what works for their unique situation and needs. As in any marriage, the key practices for anyone seeking a happy and loving relationship are awareness, understanding, compassion, connection, respect, passion, and trust.
Eva Mendes, M.A. leads Spouse, Couples, and Womens Support Groups at AANE. She is a psychotherapist seeing individuals and couples for counseling. She may be reached at 617-669-3040 or. Her website is:
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Understanding Autism And Emotions
One of the most Googled questions neurotypicals ask about dating on the autism spectrum is can autistic people fall in love? To be honest, this question always catches me off guard. Of course they can! Theyre human! Its a common misconception that autistic people cannot feel or express emotions. In fact, they are some of the most empathetic people I know. Some autistic people hyper-empathize to the point that they feel very intense emotions. The difference is that they may not show these emotions on their face or they may have trouble expressing them.
Sometimes, the lack of emotions displayed by an autistic partner can really anger their neurotypical partner, because they misinterpret that as not caring. Then, a cycle begins because a person with autism will often withdraw to avoid conflict and the trauma triggers it brings up. When an autistic person is faced with conflict and an upset or hostile partner, they often withdraw or leave the scene because they feel unsafe.
Effect Of Autism On Income
However autism can be a poverty trap for adults and young people with autism, many of whom are engaged in unskilled jobs for which they are overqualified, or they are on welfare benefits. Many parents of autistic children also face financial difficulties as they must often pay for essential support and therapeutic services. Furthermore, people who might qualify for financial assistance in one country are not eligible in another, because some nations do not recognize autism as a disability.
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It Has Been Totally Positive: The Couples Brought Together By An Autism Diagnosis
When one partner in a relationship learns they are autistic, it can explain years of frustration and confusion. And, for many, the knowledge makes their bond stronger than ever
When their children were young, Karen and David took them to a noisy restaurant. Their two-year-old daughter was being loud and excitable, as toddlers tend to be, and David suddenly got up and walked out. There were many incidents like that during their first 12 years of marriage, which would often leave David feeling frustrated, and Karen sad, lonely and confused.
Then, when their son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder the term now widely used for all autism diagnoses, including Asperger syndrome it became clear that David had the condition, too. Eventually, he had a formal diagnosis. Their marriage is much happier. I am now much better equipped to understand why I may find neurotypical relationships so confusing, says David, and it has been the foundation of improving my relationship with Karen.
Karen says she often used to feel exasperated by Davids mood swings and what she saw as his tendency to blow small problems out of proportion. I couldnt understand it because he was the most loving, generous person much of the time.
Thanks to the diagnosis, after 12 years of not understanding each other, I started to see that he couldnt help his behaviour. He wasnt a bad person.
Accepting The As Diagnosis
While re-evaluating the relationship in light of the new diagnosis, and striving to achieve acceptance, it is helpful for both partners to continue to seek information about AS, see a clinician experienced with adult AS, and/or join support groups focused on AS marriages or relationships. A detailed understanding of ASboth the challenging and also the positive traitsis important. Individuals with AS can have some highly desirable traits such as loyalty, honesty, intelligence, strong values, flexibility with gender roles, the ability to work hard, generosity, innocence, humor and good looks. Enumerating all the positive and challenging traits of both partners can give the couple a more balanced picture of their marriage.
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The Myth Of The 80% Divorce Rate
Researchers in Baltimore investigated the supposed 80 percent divorce rate for parents of a child with autism spectrum disorder . Unlike other studies, this one was particularly large using data from almost 78,000 parents, 913 of whom had a child with autism and included families from across the United States. The bigger the study, the less likely the results are due to chance or something unique about the pool of people studied. The researchers, from Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University, found no evidence of an 80 percent divorce rate.9
In fact, parents of children with autism split up as often as parents of children who don’t have autism, according to their research. In this study, about two-thirds of the children lived with their two biological or adoptive parents. That was true whether the children had autism or not. The severity of a child’s autism symptoms had no effect on the likelihood that parents would go their separate ways.9
“While there are indeed stressors in parenting a child with autism, it doesn’t necessarily result in the family breaking up more often than would occur in another family,” Dr. Freedman has said. Still, he added, it’s important for health care professionals to provide these families with support and training to handle the stresses they do face.10
Regardless, it’s clear that raising a child with autism can affect a couple, in ways large and small.