Love and autism
Everyone loves love, right? This also applies to people who are neurodivergent* but, for the longest time I thought I was either incapable of love or straight up doing it wrong. Then, at age 28, I found out I was Autistic with ADHD. Once I came to terms with my late diagnosis I was able to piece together why my relationships in the past had been difficult. We do know how to love and we love hard.
Autism is hugely stigmatised and extremely misunderstood. It is a difference in how the brain forms in the womb and affects each autistic person differently. If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person – they are not representative of us as a whole because it is a spectrum. Many of us have sensory difficulties and trouble socialising to the standards of neurotypicals**.
These social differences can make it difficult to date, which readers may have seen watching programmes such as “Love on the Spectrum.” Eye contact is difficult for many autistics with a high percentage struggling to make and hold eye contact, while others may accidentally stare and hold it for too long. Flirtation through eye contact and facial expression is a tricky thing to master as an autistic.
Autistic self-advocate Lauren Melissa speaks of her experiences – “Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability. As such, we hit developmental milestones in a neurodivergent way. In my case, I developed very rapidly in academics and other areas, but it took more time for me to understand the dynamics of more complex relationships, especially with allistics. I still don’t want the ‘typical’ romantic relationship, and I’m very happy with the specific kind of complex relationships that I seek: queerplatonic partnerships. My desire for these partnerships is not because I’m afraid of romance as a result of my Autism. That is an unfair and ableist way to look at the beautiful diversity of love and queerness.”
There are five love languages: quality time, physical touch, acts of service, gift-giving and words of affirmation. It is known in the autistic community that there are neurodivergent love languages. I’ve listed some below:
Body doubling / Parallel play
Individuals with ADHD in particular benefit from body doubling, where their partner’s presence helps them achieve their tasks. Parallel play is also an activity that is very much enjoyed by autistics, where two people do their own thing but in the vicinity of each other. An example of this could be one partner painting whilst the other reads a book in the same room. Their presence is calming, there is also no pressure to communicate neurotypically, which is called masking.
This is the autistic love language that means the most to me, personally. Masking is when an autistic person creates a persona in order to fit in. This mask imitates neurotypical people in order to assimilate and avoid bullying which so many of us experience, even in adulthood. It is a performance that requires eye contact, facial expressions, the intonation of speech and often, surface-level conversation with subtext thrown in. Many autistics prefer direct communication and are often labelled rude when in fact we are saying something neutral in an assertive fashion. Being loved for who I am, unmasked, brings me to tears because it is a rare experience in romantic relationships.
Although we communicate differently and have difficulties, we’re deserving of love and someone who accepts us completely, and shouldn’t settle for anything less. Love is universal and comes in many forms, both heteronormative and non, platonic and romantic.