Autistic Adults Do Have Relationships
Recently, I saw yet another social media post where some uninformed person said that autistic people can’t date, can’t marry, don’t have feelings, etc., etc., etc. This annoys me to no end, so I’m saying it again.
We. Have. Feelings.
We. Have. Relationships.
We are human, not robots. Just because we express our feelings a bit differently than NTs does not mean we don’t have them. Autistic adults can and do have full emotional lives. We love and we love fiercely.
We Have Friendships
A lot of writing about autism and the emotional lives of autistic people focuses on our social struggles. And make no mistake, those struggles are real. But when we find people who get us, or who accept us exactly as we are and love us for it, we’re fierce friends. All it takes is finding our people. Many of us gravitate to geek culture because in that context, it’s not considered weird to know everything about Star Trek or the full backstory of a favorite character. We also find friends in maker culture, where others appreciate our attention to detail, our love of perfecting a process, and our innovations, whether that’s in baking, leatherworking, or other crafts.
Shared special interests provide a bonding ground for us to form connections with other people, and once we’ve found our people, we do most of the things NTs consider “normal” in a friendship: we hang out and play games, we go out for drinks, we cook and eat together, etc. When our friends are having problems, we care very much and we want to help. Autistic people are often the first to offer concrete solutions to problems, which can be very helpful if our friends are too overwhelmed to think clearly but need to take action.
We Have Romantic Relationships
Many adults find out they’re autistic after their children have been diagnosed. Obviously, these people were autistic their whole lives, but they managed to date and marry and have kids. How could that be possible if we were incapable of feelings and relationships?
Contrary to widely believed propaganda, autistic people are capable of affection. Not only do we like the routine of having the same person/people around regularly, we really appreciate people who accept us and make our lives easier. We need love and validation as much as any other human, and we can give that as well.
Autistic people can be great relational partners. We usually like to talk things through calmly rather than fight, we tend to understand the need for space between partners. While we may struggle with emotional regulation sometimes, that’s a skill we can learn, as is clear communication of our needs, both sensory and emotional. What we need in a partner is someone who is accepting of us and our trouble spots, who will help us avoid getting overloaded so we can maintain our functioning level as much as possible, and who is willing to help us when we need it. And while that does require a special kind of person, it’s no different from what it takes to be a partner to someone with a history of trauma or with a chronic illness.
Yes, That Includes Sex
As I mentioned, many adults learn of their autism because of their child’s diagnosis. I trust I don’t have to tell you where children come from.
Many outside the autistic community – especially “autism warrior parents” – get really grossed out at the idea of autistic adults having sex lives. I believe this is because they miss one important point: autism does not automatically preclude consent.
Intellectual or cognitive impairment may remove the ability to consent to sex, but those disabilities are not synonymous with autism. Autism is a difference in neurology that sometimes occurs with intellectual or cognitive disability. Most of us do not have the minds of children. Even if we need help with daily activities or if we are non-verbal, that does not mean that we are eternal toddlers. Any autistic adult who is not intellectually impaired, even if non-speaking, can consent to all adult activities, from drinking to tattoos to sex.
And, even though it shouldn’t need saying, we can NOT consent to all those things as well, and our denial should be taken just as seriously as anyone else’s.
It’s a common misconception that all autistic people hate being touched and therefore we can’t enjoy sex or physical affection. Some of us are very touch-averse and don’t engage in physical relationships, that’s true. But most of us are only averse to touch we don’t want or from people we’re not comfortable with. It may take us some time to warm up to people and we may have preferences about touch (firm vs. soft, textures, etc.), but plenty of autistic adults are huggers and hand-holders. And a great many of us enjoy sex in or outside of a romantic relationship.
We Can Be Parents
Autistic parents are not the exception. Almost any autistic child will have at least one parent somewhere on the spectrum, whether they know it or not.
Autistic parents have their struggles, of course. We don’t magically develop executive functioning skills as soon as we have a child, nor do our sensory sensitivities vanish just because we have little ones to look after. Many autistic parents doubt themselves and feel guilty about not keeping on top of things like permission slips, or laundry, or doctor’s appointments, or housework.
But we love our children fiercely. We are the original Mama and Papa Bears. We will fight for our children to our last breath. Autistic or NT, we will stand up for them and we will do all we can to help them be themselves without shame or fear – because we had enough of that growing up and we want better for them. That’s something all kids need, but autistic children especially.
Yes, autistic parents have to work hard. But parenting is hard, nobody would deny that.
To say that autistics are incapable of feeling or emotion only serves to further dehumanize us in a world that already treats us like anything from aliens to monsters. We are fully-formed human beings with all the same feelings as anyone else. When we love you, we’ll remember how you take your coffee or order your favorite thing without asking. We’ll show you we care by making things for you, including you in our special interests, making room for you in our lives to show how important you are to us. We love with all the intensity that comes with autistic emotions and our relationships are all the more exceptional for the work we put into finding and maintaining them.
Let’s hear from the married or happily coupled autistic people – did you have to convince people that you were capable of feeling, dating, or having a romantic relationship? Autistic parents, did other folks tell you that you shouldn’t have children, or were they happy for you? Do you have a good support system to help you where you struggle? And the autistic extroverts (yes, I see you!) – have people thought you were incapable of having friendships? It’s harder for us introverts, but I have a handful of ride or die friends and I’ve made friends more easily since I joined the autistic community than I ever thought possible. And if any autistic readers would like to comment about their sexual relationships and dispel some myths, please do!