Is it okay to be neurotypical?

What matters in relationships for people on the autism spectrum

The group of autistics is diverse. This is why autistic people are no longer diagnosed with either early childhood autism, Asperger's syndrome or atypical autism. Rather, there is more and more going nowadays to summarize the different forms of autism under the diagnosis of the so-called autism spectrum disorder. The term spectrum refers to the diversity of the group.

Just as the limitations of autistic people are very different and represent a spectrum, their ideas of partnerships and their relationship models are also very different. We talked to six people on the autism spectrum about love and relationships: With people who have no relationship experiences at all or only very negative ones - but also with those who have been in a happy relationship for several years. The conversations show how differently autistic people look at the topic of partnership.

Sara: "At the moment I cannot imagine ever finding someone with whom I can and would like to have a relationship"

Sara, whose real name is different but wants to remain anonymous, is 22 and a student. She is single and has never been in a relationship. In an interview with ze.tt, she reports why she cannot imagine a partnership in the future either. The conversation with Sara takes place via chat.

ze.tt: Sara, you've never had a relationship. How is this related to your autism?

Sara: I have no idea how to get to know anyone in the first place. I don't know how to communicate. And I don't like the idea of ​​a partnership when I look at the couples around me. I couldn't have a relationship like that.

What do you dislike about the relationships around you?

For example, how much time these couples spend together. So really a lot. And that they are constantly crouching and cuddling together and going everywhere together. That they never leave themselves alone, only occasionally want to spend time without the other, and even want to sleep together, in one room. In a relationship like that, I would miss a lot of privacy and distance.

Do you think you will ever want to be in a relationship? And would it make a difference to you whether your partner is also autistic or not?

I don't even know if I am even able to have a relationship. Whether to a neurotypical person or someone with an autism spectrum disorder. Since I am emotionally blind, I don't even know how love should feel.

I think it would be very important with a neurotypical partner that they understand me and compromise. As well as me. But I think it would be the same with another person on the autism spectrum. Perhaps there would be a greater understanding, but there would still have to be a lot of compromises to be made.

At the moment I cannot imagine ever finding someone with whom I can and would like to have a relationship. But I can't see into the future.

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Marie: "My partner should listen to me when I feel bad and not downplay my problems, but take them seriously"

Marie, 19, was in a toxic relationship with a neurotypical man for about five months. Shortly before breaking up with her ex-boyfriend, she was diagnosed with autism. She tells us why she would be very careful about another relationship with a non-autistic man. The conversation with Marie takes place via chat.

ze.tt: Marie, did the breakup with your ex-boyfriend have anything to do with the diagnosis?

Marie: I assume. My boyfriend at the time told me that he thought this procedure was unnecessary and that I would just queue up. I should just pull myself together more and then everything would be fine.

What reaction would you have expected from him?

That he would have supported me, gave me the support I needed. Such a diagnosis is exhausting and I was often pretty exhausted. I would have liked him to have had at least a little understanding for me.

What other conflict situations were there?

One situation that happened a lot was that he insisted that we meet with his friends. I felt uncomfortable and actually didn't want to at all. I explained to him that I would rather spend time with him alone. Every time there was a discussion because he couldn't understand that I didn't like this public situation with his friends.

He also kept taking me to events. Actually it was said that we would only stay a short time and it would not be so crowded. Most of the time it was very loud and very crowded. I panicked in these situations. I still do that today. I start to cry, shiver, cover my ears and stop where I am. I can't move. At such moments he grabbed my upper arm and told me not to behave in such a conspicuous way, not to act like that.

There were also situations in which we were alone, in which I couldn't be touched and he just played it over and said I shouldn't get in line, that's part of a relationship.

Can you imagine another relationship with a neurotypical man in the future? Or do you say after these experiences: never again?

I don't think it's impossible to relate to a neurotypical person again. However, I am biased and would be very careful based on my experience.

Would you prefer partnering with an autistic man?

Yes I would. I think it would be easier to understand the other in their difficulties. There is then a completely different basic basis, even if you are of course still different.

What do you wish for future relationships?

Understanding, openness and freedom. My partner should listen to me when I feel bad and not downplay my problems, but take them seriously. He should take me for who I am and accept my difficulties.

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Julian: "When we talked on the phone earlier and it got late, I didn't really understand that yawning into the phone means: I would like to lie down"

Julian, 25, recently had a suspected diagnosis of falling on the autism spectrum. Since he was diagnosed, more and more things from his past can be explained for him. He is now very sure that he is autistic. His girlfriend, who is neurotypical herself and studied psychology as a minor, gave him the idea of ​​being tested in this direction. In an interview, Julian explains what can lead to conflicts in the relationship between neurotypical and autistic people, and how he and his girlfriend deal with them. The conversation with Julian takes place over the phone.

ze.tt: Julian, how exactly did your girlfriend get the idea that you could be on the autism spectrum?

Julian: This was due to the fact that we had points of friction relatively regularly, which was repeatedly expressed in lengthy discussions. When we talked about it the next day, it usually turned out that it was actually just a misunderstanding. That the problem was not that we had completely different opinions on any particular position, but rather that I had communicated something that my girlfriend thought was different, or vice versa.

My friend also told me that I seemed to lack the ability to communicate things more sensitively. My disposition is more like having a fairly clear pronunciation or a direct way of articulating things that is very relevant.

I have never really felt why one can feel personally attacked by criticism that is focused on one's own actions. And that leads to a way for me to deal more openly with criticism, which in the past has led to friction not only with my girlfriend but also with various other people.

How do you deal with such friction? Did you develop strategies there?

Since we have only recently started researching the subject of autism, we are not yet ready to develop concrete strategies. But I would say: The knowledge that communication works a little differently on both sides means that we enter our dialogues with this knowledge and can then adjust them a little better.

When we talked on the phone earlier and it got late, I didn't really understand that yawning into the phone means: I would like to lie down. If I now have the suspicion that something like this is in the room, then I just ask. Since I've had the suspected diagnosis, it's easier for me to ask because I'm no longer latently convinced that I'm stupid or something. That makes it easier to deal with.

From your experience: What should a neurotypical person bring with them who wants to develop a relationship with an autistic person? What is important there?

I think it is important to show the partner's understanding of his / her condition. As in any other relationship, it is important to try to be benevolent towards your partner. I think if you really do that, you can get along with a lot of things that might not seem so easy at first glance.

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Martina: “My partner wants to hug everyone and be hugged all the time. I, on the other hand, would be fine if I didn't hug anyone anymore "

Martina, whose name is actually different, 22, has been engaged to another autistic person for four years. In an interview, she explains why she and her fiancé still have different needs for physical contact and how they deal with it in the relationship. The conversation takes place over the phone.

ze.tt: Martina, how does your relationship differ from relationships between neurotypical people?

Martina: I really notice the differences in communication. When we have feelings, they are expressed literally. Neither of us makes the requirement, which is mirrored to me from other, neurotypical relationships, that you should see how your partner is feeling. Neither of us has these expectations. That makes it a lot more relaxed.

Is it beneficial for the relationship if both partners are autistic?

It is an advantage for a relationship if you can understand what difficulties the other is having. If I were to imagine having a relationship with a neurotypical person, I would be concerned that he * she would make demands on me that I cannot meet due to my limitations. For example, it could happen that the partner would just expect me to be able to read his / her feelings.

But it can also be a disadvantage in a relationship when both partners need help. My fiancé and I depend a lot on outside help in our everyday life, which leads to the fact that we sometimes have the worry that we cannot meet the needs of the other person, that we cannot be there for each other enough because we ourselves are at that moment are dependent on support.

Have you ever had the experience of being with a neurotypical person?

No. For this I had several neurotypical friendships. I have to say that I found it very exhausting, as I was often unable to meet the communicative and emotional needs of my neurotypical friends.

What were those needs that you couldn't meet?

You have to see that I'm feeling bad right now, or: You have to understand why I am so hurt now. Then also the need for physical contact: You have to hug me now because I feel bad.

In fact, this is something that is relatively difficult in my relationship with an autistic partner. My partner has a much higher need for physical contact than I do. Although he is autistic, he prefers to hug everyone and be hugged all the time. I, on the other hand, would be fine if I didn't hug anyone anymore.

How do you deal with this different need for physical contact?

I mentioned from the start that I had problems with physical contact. This was clear to my fiancé from the beginning of the relationship, and accordingly it is also a topic that he does not view negatively.
It was very important for me to communicate to him that body contact is not always body contact. For many autistics, and for me too, light touches can be very uncomfortable because they cause a lot more stimuli on the skin than stronger touches. A very firm hug, for example, can be very pleasant for me because it can also alleviate sensory overstimulation.

How would you respond to the prejudice “people on the autism spectrum are unable to relate”?

I would say that people on the autism spectrum may even be more relational than neurotypical people because they are able to communicate feelings on a factual level, which can make a relationship much easier.

For example, if I say to my fiancé: But you've gained weight, then he doesn't assume that she says I'm fat and she doesn't like me. But then there is the assumption: this is a fact that is communicated. If necessary, he will ask me: What do you mean by that? And then I would answer that: Your body weight has increased. Is it possible that your health is not so good at the moment? Or: do we have to pay a little more attention to your diet? And my partner wouldn't take that as an attack.

There are simply other ways of communicating: We do not interpret what is said and ask how it is meant. And that before we get upset.

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Lisa & Bob: "Just because you're different doesn't mean you're incapable."

Lisa and Bob, 29 and 27, both have Asperger's Syndrome and have been in a committed relationship for a year. Bob got Lisa through her YouTube channel Girl from Planet Aspie met and didn't even know before that he himself was on the autism spectrum. It was through Lisa that he got the idea to be diagnosed. In an interview, the two tell to what extent getting to know each other on the Internet can be barrier-free for autistic people in contrast to getting to know each other in real life, and what distinguishes their relationship compared to relationships between neurotypical people. The conversation with Lisa and Bob takes place via chat.

ze.tt: Lisa and Bob, you met on the internet. Was it barrier-free for you to get to know each other online?

Lisa: Yes. In any case, because facial expressions and gestures are not disruptive factors online and autistic people can develop a better sensitivity for the situation. Incidentally, this applies not only to partnerships, but also to friendships in general.

Bob: In addition, light, sounds, smells and other people are added as additional stimuli at meetings in a restaurant or café. If there were too much stimuli at home, we would simply put on our headphones or go to a quieter room. You can't do that when you're on the move. At least it is then quickly assessed as impolite.

Is it easier for autistic people to have a relationship when the partner is also autistic?

Lisa: I wouldn't say it's easier. I would say: the relationship works differently. Other things are important to us that make a good relationship for us. Our communication and our closeness to one another is different from that between neurotypical people.

Bob: Since one has similar experiences with the psyche - for example with overstimulation - the relationship, I think, is already linked to more understanding for the other person.

How does your relationship compare to relationships between neurotypical people?

Bob: Relationships between autistics are much more regulated, even if the rules are not explicitly stated - if only through the repetitive behavioral patterns or routines. In addition, our sleep rhythm is completely different.We are often more active and fitter at night than during the day because it is quieter and darker at night. During the day, all the stimuli such as noise or light affect us.

Lisa: Yes. Total. We enjoy the night because there are no leaf blowers, lawn mowers or noisy people to bother us.

Bob: In addition, retreats are super, super important to us. We still plan to have one Panic Room to set up where we can withdraw. Lisa currently uses the bedroom and I use the office. And then we put on our headphones and the world around us becomes calmer.

What would you say to the prejudice that “people on the autism spectrum are unable to relate”?

Lisa: Well, that's just as refutable as the prejudice that autistics have no feelings. We manage our relationships differently, but that doesn't mean we're incompetent. Just as we just express feelings differently than neurotypical people.

Bob: Exactly: Just because you're different doesn't mean you're incapable. Some of the behaviors of autistic people - from a purely external point of view - are likely to quickly appear to be wrong or incorrect. I advise other autistic people who are looking for partners to be who they are to the outside world. That goes down best. What may appear to be a mistake at first glance can turn out to be quality on closer contact.