You are taught at school about all different kinds of love: love to family, friends, pets and your partner. Sometimes that alone can be daunting and at times you can feel the pressure to find a partner if you are surrounded by your peers or the media on Valentines and Christmas. Add that with Autism Spectrum Disorder and you have a whole different experience altogether.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects the way a person can communicate and relate to people around them. There have been studies on what ratio ASD affects both men and women and that ratio ranges from 2:1 and 16:1. Girls and women with ASD have shown signs of being able to mask their symptoms and generally acting more social by imitating those around them and having an active imagination.
It affects me in that I generally don’t like small talk or ‘meaningless’ conversation unless I feel I have gained something or have learned something from the interaction. When I have a conversation with someone I tend to go head-first into a subject matter and let it snowball from there. It affects me with other aspects of socialising too, for example recognising how a person is talking or feeling, my ability to pick up on social cues and when or how to react to these things. If it’s really clear on how you are feeling, I will understand that and act accordingly, but if you are hiding something or mean one thing but feel another it will go way over my head.
ASD lets me view the world in a totally different light to most and I’ve come to like that; it has given me a personality and the confidence to be my own person. As a kid I was diagnosed pretty early on and with the love and support from my parents and friends, I have broken through so many social boundaries that most people can do without realising but when it comes to relationships, I’ve had a lot to learn.
At the start of having relationships I was okay at understanding when people did and didn’t want to receive physical attention but people would be freaked out by how loyal or expressive I could be and it would be too much for them. I would never know this as they never really told me until I hit a nerve or an argument started. Then I learned pretty quickly how much people can handle. With me receiving affection, I was really good at saying yes or no and never had any issues because I can be blunt, and communicate my feelings very openly.
When I first started dating, both parties never knew how to communicate with each other so you can imagine how quickly that all began to crumble. I was pretty shy and I had no real idea as to what was a healthy relationship until something hit me in the face and I’d have to call it off; nine times out of 10 a friend or my mum would tell me why the situation was toxic. I see a lot of grey in people, never black or white, and by this I mean I see a mix of good and bad in people: it’s never one or the other. Also, in past relationships people weren’t very patient with me as I never really knew how to tell people ‘I’m not liking this situation’ or I would bottle it up; again that has all improved now.
These are just a couple of examples to how living with ASD has had some impact in my life so far but it’s not all doom and gloom! Let me share with you how my current relationship is so much better with these news life skills I have gained from my previous relationships.
My partner of two years has been ever so patient with me during our relationship. He lets me dress how I like and picks me up if my brain decides it wants to have a meltdown (autistic meltdowns are pretty horrific, they are like panic attacks) and tells me everything in black and white so I know where I stand whilst openly telling me how much he loves me. He likes it when I’m the same back and encourages me to talk and improve my social skills. Same with my current friends too, they are awesome.
On a final note, I wanted to share my story as I hardly ever talk about my disability because I want people to know me for me, not for the label a doctor has given me. So all I ask is that if you come across someone who is a bit shy or acting ‘strange’, a simple hello or smile of acknowledgement could make someone with ASD’s day. Also if you would like more information, the National Autistic Society has some great stuff for people with ASD and for those who want to learn more about it.
– Daniela Turner