Believe it or not but one of the most Googled autism related questions is ‘can someone with autism get married?’. To some this may seem strange and even outdated. However, it has created an interesting discussion which today’s article will be centred on: Not ‘can someone with autism get married?’ but ‘why do people question whether someone with autism can get married?’.
First things first though. If you are here looking for the answer to ‘Can someone with autism get married?’, then let me quickly say YES. People with autism can not only marry, but there are many autistic people who already are married. Like every relationship there are bound to be ups and downs and, just like people who are not autistic, some on the spectrum may have difficulty finding their ‘true love’. However, speaking from both an ethical and legal stand point, then yes, people with autism can get married.
But with that out of the way let’s get onto today’s more interesting topics. In particular, why do people think autists can’t get married? And what does being autistic actually affect when in a relationship? [Also be sure to stick around till the end of today’s article, for a very special Valentine’s Day themed interview, with Autistic & Unapologetic’s first guest!]
Can a Person with Autism Feel Love?
The reason some people still question whether a person with autism can feel love (and get married) is due to the misunderstanding that autistic people can’t feel emotions (a statement which annoys me no end – ironically proving it’s wrong).
This belief comes from many places, ranging from simple misunderstandings to TV Shows, movies and, dare I say it: ‘fake news’ (urgh). But perhaps the most likely explanation for the belief that people with autism can’t feel love/any other emotion, can be found in a report by autism expert, Simon Baron Cohen, published in 1995.
In ‘Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind’ Baron Cohen theorises (not states), that autistic people may have a form of ‘mindblindness’: something which stops us from being able to imagine ourselves in other people’s shoes.
For many this was a highly regarded theory for a long time (and for some it still is). However, recent accounts have shown that people with autism not only can feel other’s emotions, but some of us can even over-empathise (which explains why videos of ‘fails’ rarely make me laugh and instead just make sad – unless it’s a bulldog fail because, you know, bulldogs bumping into things will always be funny…provided they don’t get hurt).
This isn’t to say some people with autism don’t struggle to understand emotions, as sometimes we do! But unlike the mindblindness theory, this is not a direct result of autism and instead due to external factors such as:
- It’s hard to read faces when you aren’t looking at them, and people with autism often struggle to make eye contact.
- Many people on the spectrum are non-verbal, making the confirmation or expression of emotional understanding more difficult.
- Autistic people experience the world in different ways to others, therefore our viewpoint can be slightly skewed when comparing other’s responses to our own.
It should also be noted that, although there is little proof relating autism to being empathetic, 50% of people who are autistic also have alexithymia: a condition which makes it hard to understand emotions. However, this is not exclusive to people with autism as 10% of non-autistic people also have alexithymia.
What It’s Like Being in a Relationship With an Autistic Person
With this is mind, I thought it would be a good idea to end today’s article with a quick (and hopefully uplifting) discussion of what it’s like to actually be in a relationship with an autistic person (well this with this autistic person).
The interview which follows was carried out with my girlfriend and although I am in no way saying that our relationship in the benchmark, I thought it would serve as a solid example of what it can be like(I also thought it would be a great opportunity to see what my girlfriend really thinks of me, but mainly it was about the helping thing).
James: What did you think when you found out I was autistic, bearing in mind that I didn’t tell you I was autistic, as I was beaten to the punch by our blabbermouth friend?
Carolyn: ‘I didn’t really care – but then I didn’t understand what autism was either. I had already got to know you at that stage cause we had been dating for at least a few months, so I don’t think it would have made a difference even if I did know as much about it as I do now.
I was annoyed that you hadn’t told me though, that was what surprised me most. I wish you had wanted to tell me sooner, so you could have been the one to explain how it affected you personally, instead of hearing it off someone else… it shouldn’t have been something you wanted to keep from me.’
James: Would you say I have struggled to understand emotions and how has it affected you?
Carolyn: ‘YES! There have definitely been times with me when you have appeared to show no sympathy towards the situation, so then when I try to explain my point of view up you take it as a challenge and try to talk to me like my feelings are wrong. You do realise what you have done in the end but it’s usually when it’s a lot later in time. For example, we have watched TV shows weeks after and you have seen yourself in a character and this has then made you realise where you were mistaken and put things in a new perspective for you.
I can understand why people struggled with you when you were a child, because you can be so hard to break through to sometimes when you have your mind set on something. I do find it funny when it’s not me on the receiving end, as you sound so certain yet you’re so obviously wrong at the same time.’
James: A need for routine has always been a huge part of my autism, how has this affected you?
Carolyn: ‘There are good parts to your routine, but there are also bad. I like that you are always planning ahead as it encourages me to be proactive with my life too. But when things can’t be planned and you start obsessing over all the possibilities, I find that just as frustrating as you. I think it makes me more irritated, as I want to be supportive for you but can’t always find a solution when its external changes that can’t be controlled or predicted.
I have never been great when plans fall apart at the last minute, it freaks me out sometime too, but I have to take into consideration that it affects you more so. One thing is that I know you have said before that you are happy for me to be near you when things are out of control since I am a constant to you, so provide a sense of stability when this get chaotic for you.’
James: Do you believe you have had to make any adjustments in life to stay with me?
Carolyn: ‘I have to give you extra time to do things. I have learnt not to interrupt you in the mornings, and I have learnt that I have to shut you down sometimes when you get too excited about things when it’s not an appropriate time. I love what you have to say and I think it’s cute that you get so involved with small details, but there comes a point when I have to say “stop”, especially in public as sometimes you have no gauge as to what is socially appropriate or when is the best situation to be doing or talking about certain things.’
James: How does it feel to know that as I am autistic I will always be more awesome and interesting than you?
Carolyn: ‘Ha-ha! We both have very different thought processes and I think my way of thinking is a lot more boring/ straight-forward than yours. Autism is so interesting, and I think you being autistic made getting to know you such an engaging experience… you’re a fascinating guy.’
James: Part of being autistic means I am not great at reading the room. As such, I have embarrassed you in front of your family, my family, your friends, my friend, your old work colleagues, our hairdresser and pretty much everyone we ever bump into… why are you okay with this?
Carolyn: ‘I can usually see the funny side of it, so it’s never been an issue. I know you don’t do it with bad intent, you just don’t read social context. Besides you’ve never said anything to really embarrass me. It’s quite amusing, because you eventually realise what you have done and then the embarrassment turns back on you…Wait, what did you say to embarrass me in front of Jon (our hairdresser) …?!’
James: ‘MOVING ON….’
James: How do you feel about all my hobbies and obsessions?
Carolyn: ‘I don’t really like all the physical things as they clutter up the house a lot, but I like it that you have your collections. I have lots of friends who are all stressed about what is going on in their lives and they focus way too much on the issues and hurdles they are facing (as most people in their mid-20s do). But it’s nice to see you haven’t put the things you find fun to one side completely, you pay lots of attention to the things that make you happy it’s refreshing.
One of the first things I realised about you is that you love double monk strap shoes – it was bizarre, but I liked that. I like your film trivia, and I that you introduced me to such specific things and then I end up getting into them too – like your obsession with anime shows introduced me to Seven Deadly Sins, which I loved watching.’
James: What about the hobbies and obsessions that you don’t like?
Carolyn: ‘I like that you carry a ‘business man’ folder full of comics because they are so important to you, but I don’t like that you become frustrated if I try to tidy them away or even touch them. I wish you could obsess over cleaning up once in a while – why can’t that be your hobby? That would make life so much easier!
…oh and I really couldn’t care less about the YouTube channels you watch or Yu-Gi-Oh. They are two obsessions that I just can’t understand.’
James: Do you think it’s important for someone with an autistic partner to know a lot about autism?
Carolyn: ‘No, not at the beginning anyway, because you get to know them based on who they are. I didn’t find out till months later and I had already made a connection with you – not that it would have affected anything if you had told me earlier.
You do need to know some things about autism though, as it helps me to make sense of some of the different ways that you react sometimes, as well as giving some context to the stories I get told about you by your family and friends from your childhood etc. I read your blog, so I am currently learning more and I think that is helping me to be supportive as I am able to understand the full impact that it is having on your life.’
James: Do you think autism will play a large role in our future?
Carolyn: ‘Yes Definitely! You are always going to be autistic and it’s the quirks you have from being this way which make you the way you are.
We have obviously spoke about the high chance that we could have children with autism too and we will have to look further into getting support if that happens, as even though you write the blog and understand autism better than me, there are so many variations that you can’t know everything.
Then again, even if you weren’t autistic we could still have autistic children it’s a possibility for everyone.’
James: Final question! ‘Which is correct, Person with autism or autistic person?’ Keeping in mind that no matter what you answer, people on the internet will say that you are wrong and yell at you.
Carolyn: ‘Ermm…person who is autistic [insert smug look]’.
Carry on the Conversation
That’s all I have to say for today. Now it’s 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 @AutismRevised and via my email: AutisticandUnapologetic@gmail.com.
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Thank you for reading and I will see you next Saturday for more thoughts from across the spectrum.