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Loving & Understanding your Partner with Autism

02 Apr 2015


Many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder - diagnosed and undiagnosed - have partners and children. Some manage marriage, relationships and family life very well, others may have great difficulties.

While a young adult with classic autism may appear content with a solitary “monastic” lifestyle, research suggests that individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder often have the same desire for intimacy and companionship as the rest of the population.


However, given that difficulties in social interaction are a key feature of having an ASD, finding a partner and making a relationship work are often more difficult for a person with ASD. 

Common areas which may make relationships of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder include:

Few Friendships or Relationships

Forming close relationships can be challenging for adults on the autism spectrum. Idiosyncratic behaviors and language limitations can severely affect these individuals' ability to form friendships. Additionally, limited perspective-taking abilities and difficulty listening to others can present a challenge in relationships.

Similarly, romantic relationships can be incredibly difficult for individuals with autism. In addition to the challenges that come with regular friendships, there are many non-verbal cues associated with romantic interactions.

Love and Affection

People with an autism spectrum disorder have difficulties understanding and expressing emotions, and an emotion that is particularly confusing to people with ASD is love. Typical children and adults enjoy frequent expressions of affection, know how to express affection to communicate reciprocal feelings of adoration and love, and know when to repair someone’s feelings by expressions of affection. A child or an adult with ASD may not seek the same depth and frequency of expressions of love through acts of affection, or realize that an expression of affection is expected in a particular situation and would be enjoyed by the other person. He or she can be bewildered as to why other people appear to be “obsessed” with expressing love for each other. Someone with an ASD also may be conspicuously immature in his or her expressions of affection, and sometimes may perceive these expressions of affection as aversive experiences. For example, a hug may be perceived as an uncomfortable squeeze that restricts movement. 

Understanding The Relationship Continuum

There is a relationship continuum from being an acquaintance to being a partner. People with Autism Spectrum Disorder can have difficulties at each stage on the continuum. To progress along the relationship continuum from a friend to a boyfriend or girlfriend, an adolescent or a young adult with ASD needs to understand the art of flirting and romance in order to accurately read the signals of mutual attraction and understand the dating game. These abilities are not intuitive for people with ASD, hence making it tough for them to take further steps in the relationship.

Lack of Empathy and Shared Perspective

Understanding where other people are coming from can be challenging for all adults, but for those with autism, it can be extremely difficult. Many individuals with autism struggle to understand the perspectives of others, and this can lead to a lack of empathy. It also makes it difficult for autistic adults to share another person's interest in a topic.

Adults with autism may notice that it is difficult to sympathize with other people and that they do not understand what others want, feel, or think. Additionally, this perspective challenge can also present a problem when it comes to humor, and autistic adults may misunderstand jokes. The lack of empathy and perspective-sharing can lead to many social problems.

Verbal Communication Problems

According to research, up to 40% of people diagnosed with autism may never learn to speak. Adults who are completely non-verbal may be on the autism spectrum, but verbal communication can still present a challenge for those who can speak at an age-appropriate level.

Autistic adults may find it challenging to make their needs known to others or to start and maintain a conversation. They may find that the words they want to say simply disappear when they begin talking. Processing thoughts into spoken language may be very challenging.

Preoccupation with Certain Items or Topics

One hallmark of adult autism is limited interests. Many autistic adults are extremely knowledgeable about certain topics, such as aviation, engineering, word origins, history, and many other areas. This hyper-focus on a particular area of interest can be extremely enjoyable for the individual, but it can present major challenges as well.

If you are very interested in a particular topic and discuss this topic at length with other people, this can be an indication of autism. The intense interest, coupled with perspective-taking challenges, can result in social difficulties if other people are not interested in the topic.

Repetitive and Stereotyped Behaviors

For some autistic individuals, repeating the same words, phrases, or behaviors can provide great comfort. The outcome of these routines in predictable and is under the control of the individual. However, these repetitive behaviors do not serve a practical, social, or communication function.

Need for Routine

For autistic individuals of any age, there are a lot of unknowns in the world. Many social and communication skills others take for granted are mysterious to those on the spectrum. One way to provide comfort and predictability is to rely on routines.

In autistic adults, this need for routine can take many forms:

-Dislike of travel

-Refusal to try new foods or restaurants

-Following the same schedule every day

-Feeling great discomfort when you need to deviate from your routine

-Difficulty changing plans

-Following the same route to get from one place to another

Sexual Codes of Conduct

Research into the sexual understanding of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder is in its infancy. Studies suggest that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are as interested in sex as anyone else, but many struggle with the wide range of complex skills required to successfully have intimate relationships. 

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder can sometimes appear to have an ‘inappropriate’, ‘immature’ or ‘delayed’ understanding of sexual codes of conduct. The may not understand the boundaries of appropriate sexual behavior and expression. This can sometimes result in sexually inappropriate behavior. For example, an adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder might not understand the social rule that it is not considered socially appropriate to display sexualized behaviors in a public place.

Even people who are high achieving and academically or vocationally successful can have trouble negotiating the ‘hidden rules’ of courtship. 

Though somewhere all the difficulties faced by people with Autism Spectrum Disorder does impact the partner as well, some common issues for partners of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder include:

-feeling overly responsible for their partner

-failure to have their own needs met by the relationship

-lack of emotional support from family members and friends who do not fully understand or appreciate the extra strains placed on a relationship by Autism Spectrum Disorder

-a sense of isolation, because the challenges of their relationship are unique and not easily understood by others

-frustrations, since problems in the relationship do not seem to improve despite great efforts

-doubting the integrity of the relationship, or frequently wondering about whether or not to end the relationship

-difficulties in accepting that their partner will not ‘recover’ from Autism Spectrum Disorder

-after accepting that their partner’s Autism Spectrum Disorder cannot be ‘cured’, partners can often experience emotions such as guilt, despair and disappointment.


Despite the difficulties one may go through because of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, there still exists hope! People with ASD also have assets which makes them special and more desirable than most others. Assets of a person with ASD in terms of a romantic relationship may be loyalty, punctuality, reliability, commitment, and honesty. Cherish Your Loved one and Accept their differences!!!


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Tags: #Autism #Love #relationships