Scholars and poets of the very earliest works have love stories. Comedies, tragedies, graphic novels and every known scripture have their love stories. Teenagers with glitter fingernails and cross-bone hoodies have their love stories. Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), at every age, will write love stories of their own.
As the parent of a child, as well as the spouse of an adult, on the autism spectrum, things are different in this house. As children are being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, it is not uncommon for adult parents to look at each other and their own relationship struggles in a new way. Perhaps some features, if not full diagnostic criteria for an ASD or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) are being met in oneself or one’s spouse. This is how it occurred in my home.
Beacon of Awareness
At this time of burgeoning awareness, adults on the autism spectrum are having “A-ha!” moments in living rooms across the country. Differences these independent adults have been aware of their entire lives are finally explained. Like our children on the autism spectrum, an adult on the spectrum may have pockets of talent, pure genius even, and can follow a script.
Dating, while unscripted, seems to have culturally-specific rules that both adults with an ASD and neurotypicals are able to follow, with varying degrees of success. Challenges arise when dating turns to marriage and the partners discover that the expectations one has of a spouse are wildly different from that of a boyfriend or girlfriend. With impaired communication skills present in at least one partner, this couple is not well equipped to traverse the road ahead where unmet needs and unspoken expectations collide with sensory processing issues and divergent social agendas.
The Month of Love
In the month of February, love (and the hope of love) springs eternal for each of us. Thankfully, adults in these relationships are beginning to write about their struggles, and hard-won victories, to the benefit of all who tread this path along with me.
- Asperger Syndrome and Long-Term Relationships by Ashley Stanford is an excellent informative guide presented in realistic, but positive perspective drawing on the author’s own experience, as well as that of others in these relationships. I, and other spouses/professionals I have spoken with, consider this the premier book on the topic.
- For a first-person narrative, I recommend The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband, newly published in 2012. While his may not resemble you or your spouse’s special characteristics, there is value to the reader in the solution-oriented way he tackles everyday marital issues. Since it is anecdotal in nature, this may in fact be a better book for the spouse with ASD to read and enjoy since it is unapologetic, creative, and even a little romantic.
All of us, having been slung by Cupid’s arrow at some time or another, have relationships that would benefit from the same advisement these pages contain: don your own oxygen first, state your expectations clearly and often, answer directly and honestly, and don’t be afraid to adopt a different view of success.