Love on the Spectrum – the Debunking Session
LOTS, Love on the Spectrum is a series of blogposts dedicated to love, viewed from an autistic angle. The first post of the series is “Love on the Spectrum – the Intro Session” and if you haven’t read that, you should, because it will clear out a few things about this LOTS journey. Don’t worry, it’s not very long, so go ahead and take LOTS from the beginning.
“Whereever you go, whatever you do” – I will wait right here for you…. (tell me, you got that reference! Otherwise I just prooved myself to be ancient!)
But first a few clarifications of abbrevations used:
LOTS – Love on the Spectrum, the main title of the series you are about to dive into.
NT – Neurotypical, a person who is not considered to be neurodiverse, a “normal” person
ND – Neurodiverse, a person with e.g. autism, adhd or similar, where the mind works differently from what you’d expect.
What is Debunking Session?
This is the part where I line up some of the statements about autistics from NT’s, I usually come across as I scour the internet for info and brain fodder.
If you are an NT yourself, know that you might at some point feel like I’m calling you out. I promise you; I will try to debunk the following statements as kindly and as filled with love as I can – because, I am sure none of the statements are ill will, but rather growing from not knowing. And that’s what we are here for, right?
However, I am also known for my use of occasional snark, so if you consider yourself to be particularly sensitive to such, I will advise you to proceed with caution.
The method is quite simple: I take the misconception, transform it into a question (some people are luckily considerate enough to actually ASK, rather than just assume – and thank you for that) – and then I answer it as best I can from the spot on the Spectrum I’ve been dealt.
So let’s debunk some misconceptions….
How Can You Have a Healthy Relationship if You Are Socially Awkward?
– or: “Autistics are too socially handicapped to be in a relationship!”
Yes, I can be socially awkward. It takes me a long time to open up to people, unless it’s a work situation (and even then I somehow don’t follow social protocol).
But what you are forgetting is that a healthy relationship takes TWO.
So granted, I might not function well with someone who can’t be bothered with looking into the matters of autism (and thereby understand the basics of ME), nor will I function well with someone, who is unwilling to occasionally help me out in social situations.
But would someone extremely into the outdoorsy function well with someone who prefers to cuddle up under a blanket on the couch? Well, it may happen sometimes, but for the most part it’ll probably cause trouble.
Relationship takes TWO people making the effort. And I have unfortunately encountered a lot of social media accounts by NT partners, blaming their autistic partners (or even children!) for pretty much everything – and not for a second stopping to think about what THEY could improve themselves (which is usually the basic knowledge and understanding about autism, FYI). This does not mean that there are not crappy autistic partners or lovers outthere, because there ARE (but they’d probably be crappy partners, even if they weren’t dealt the autistic mind at birth).
Maybe it is because I’m autistic myself, but I really don’t see how we are hard to understand. All you gotta do, if you are puzzled about something, is ASK. While it can get tiresome answering the same questions over and over again, my impression is that most of us would gladly answer anyway, if it feeds a greater knowledge and understanding. You see, we kind of depend upon your understanding. So we will usually do what it takes to get you to understand (fuck, sometimes we’re bending backwards to make it happen) – but we can be in need of help to address and discuss it verbally.
Which is why, if you don’t know how to listen to all the ways we communicate, that partnering up with an autistic is probably not the best of calls. We DO communicate – sometimes even A LOT – but it’s just not always verbal words.
But of course, that manoeuvre takes a lot of empathy, so it’s not something everyone can do.
Waaiit a minute – speaking of empathy….
When Lacking Empathy, How Is It Possible for Autistics to Love Someone?
– or: “Autistic can’t love, because they can’t have empathy!”
This is probably the one that bothers me the most.
The notion that people with autism lack empathy is extremely persistent, yet if you spend just 10 minutes in some online support group on Facebook, you’d realise that this is simply not true.
Quite the contrary.
First of all, we have to look at the word empathy itself and acknowledge that the usual concept of empathy (~being able to feel for others, having feelings) is extremely simplified.
While we may have trouble in the cognitive empathy (recognising the visual cues of specific emotions, ability to know what people are thinking), our affective and compassionate empathy can be over the roof.
Affective empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling, to feel the pain of someone else’s loss, for instanse.
Compassionate empathy touches into a more active sort of empathy, where understanding the trouble someone’s in leads to a desire to help.
This means that the usual thought that autistics can’t feel anything is basically a myth – and a BIG one. It could not be further from the truth. We can have trouble identifying emotions and thoughts in others (and even ourselves) – that does in no way mean, we don’t feel them.
Quite often you will find autistics that are highly sensitive to e.g. tension in a room, but maybe not being able to identify exactly what that tension is. The exhaustion of that might cause us to shut down – or simply walk out of the room and avoid the tension.
Imagine this (one of my odd metaphors is coming up):
You are in one of those haunted houses they have at the fairs. If you are somewhat jumpy like me, your adrenaline is over the roof, because you KNOW something is up and you KNOW that there will be a scare soon – but you can’t predict it, you don’t know from where it comes or how. So you tend to go through the house with eyes half closed – or even not looking at all – and you might even rush through it to get out as fast as you can. And you will feel some exhaustion after too, because your entire system has been on high alert.
Have you ever fast forwarded or taken the sound off a horror movie, while hiding behind a pillow? Then I think you kind of get the feeling, many autistics feel, when we are walking through the mine field of unspoken emotions and thoughts. Trust me, we feel.
I usually describe my own way of loving as “a lot and without many limits”. My heart does not have walls. In a pot, there is only so many roots a tomato plant can grow. In the soil, it has no limits. I was talking a bit about this in No Smoking 10, how I crave to be close to someone, but – cognitively – I struggle to figure out how and when – which inevitably leads me to do nothing, because I don’t want to risk imposing or overstepping my mark.
My instinctive reaction if someone I love struggle – (or the occcasions I just get overwhelmed by how happy I am to have them in my life) is to touch them, by hugs, strokes, holding hands or arm around the shoulder – whatever – but I can get really insecure about the social protocols:
For instance: Is physical touch even acceptable in this particular situation in this specific relation?
We are not lacking empathy – not in a way you think, and certainly not in a way that makes it impossible ab initio to form relationships. But we do struggle with the cognitive areas and this is where we might need a little more than implied hints and subtleties.
If you want to read more detailed about autism and empathy, head over to the “Posts & Articles on Autism” – I’m collecting the articles and posts I love there.
Help me promote “Love on the Spectrum” by using these pinables – thank you so much ♥
Are Autistics Psychopaths?
– or: “Autistics are psychopaths!”
This is derived directly from the previous question and misconception: that autistics lack empathy.
We don’t – as I have already stated – and defining autistics in general to be psychopaths is highly offensive.
Psychopaths is something completely different; psychopathy is actually not processing feelings and emotions, it is having no regards or feel of guilt in terms of other people.
Autistics are NOT psychopaths, far from.
You can find a few autistics that ARE – but that goes for the NT population as well. Psychopathy is not a specific autistic thing. It can come in both ND- and NT-minded people.
In fact, given that autistics are a minority and I assume the same percentage rate between ND’s and NT’s as far as psychopathy goes, the chances of you bumping into an autistic psychopath is far less than meeting a psychopath that is NT. (Just saying)
There is an American woman (whom I will have the decency of NOT outing), who has this blog about ‘autistics being psychopaths’, because her husband apparantly is. She even goes as far as saying that “every autistic she has met has been psychopathic, lying and narcissistic”.
Apart from the fact that she must be having huge issues with drawing the wrong people in, let’s for a second dive into the narcissistic thing.
For one, narcissism, like empathy, have multiple meanings; from the psychiatric pathological definition over to the theory of narcissism as a way to discover one self in the late modern society.
But let’s take yours truly – every aspect I touch on this blog, I talk a lot about myself. It would be easy to assume from that, that I myself am a narcissist, right? And I get why it could come off as such, just like I get why some people call me arrogant.
But a narcissist thrives being the centre of attention – I actually don’t like it. Anyone giving me compliments will know that I get quite confused and emotional. Anyone who knows me will know that just the odds of remotely getting attention can make my heart rate go up. The 90 seconds (max) of welcome speech at my 40th birthday last year…fuck, I was shaking!
As I write this there is a work day at the Urban G – the first of the season, that I have looked so much forward to. However, someone in the board decided some journalists should come around to interview and take pictures – no fucking way, am I going to the Urban G today! I like when people tell me that they like what I have written (because if you got credit for doing the thing you love, wouldn’t you?) – but pleeaase don’t haul my ass into a crowd and loudly proclaim what a good worker I am (had a boss who did that once, I wanted to become invisible and everything on my body that could cringe fucking cringed – TWICE!)!
I talk about myself a lot, because of that cognitive empathy flaw – I don’t KNOW what you or anyone else really feels or thinks, so I can’t talk or write FOR you (because I don’t like making assumptions about others) and therefore I can only do my fight against stigma by offering MY perspective.
It is – as I often tell you – up to you to dissect and take what you can use and discard the rest. My posts are – at best – for inspiration and conversational ice-breaker. They MAY turn out to represent a majority of autistics, they may hold truths that most can stand behind – but I don’t KNOW that as I am writing. All I DO know is that WE NEED TO TALK about these things. So I start the conversation and can only hope you will continue it with the relevant people in YOUR life.
The arrogance – or claim that I am such – derives from a pretty closed off demeanor. Which is more about not knowing what to do in social situations, rather than me feeling superior. I did not come with the “Social Protocol Manual”, so everything that is easy for you, and that you don’t think twice about, I very have to analyse, weigh in, reconsider – and if I find no obvious solutions, I shut up. And yes, I may look arrogant. Apparantly that is how I can look when I ponder things over.
But I can assure you that it’s more than likely that I’m on the contrary feeling insecure, wary or even scared.
So – no! Autistics are not psychopaths.
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So, If You Are Autistic, Do You Even Like Sex?
– or: “Autistics don’t have a sex life!”
Why wouldn’t I?
If you are a mechanic, do you even like flowers? (Snark-alert! Sorry!)
No, I get where this stems from.
Some autistics struggle a lot with the touch of other people, and sex therefore being a pretty obvious thing, that causes trouble.
Some autistics are also asexual (as are some NT’s) and are more platonic in their relationships – if they want a relationship.
But there’s also a bunch of us that like to be touched, hugged, kissed – and have sex.
Remember, it’s a spectrum, it’s huge and saying something in general about autistics is pretty damn hard.
I have actually not read a lot of theory about this, so I can’t tell you if there are specific spots on the spectrum that increases odds for e.g. being sexual or asexual.
The usual stigma however would imply that “high functioning” can be sexual while “low functioning” (can you hear how demeaning that is?) are not. I will vow the repercussions and say: “It’s not that simple”. You see, when you talk about high and low functioning, you are talking about autism from a linear point of view.
And you can’t really do that. It’s a spectrum.
While many people mistakenly view the spectrum as a linear construction, it should rather be understood as a spectrum wheel.
Usually I try to exemplify this with the question:
On the spectrum, which of the colours are the most colourful?
Well, that depends on how you define colour, right?
Depth, vibrance, lightness?
But even then, if we agree on depth to be the deciding factor, we will still in multiple cases be faced with different colours that will not let themselves be distinguised by that scale.
Because – the spectrum is not a scale.
You cannot attach numbers on our backs depending on where we fit on a line. Which is also the MAJOR flaw with the upcoming diagnostic terms that call it “autism 1”, “autism 2” and “autism 3”. WhenEVER you attempt to linearise autism, you will fail and you will show that essentially you’ve learned nothing.
And this is not a fact, it is my personal opinion.
But we are digressing…
Let’s talk about sex… or intimacy, because I feel it’s really more about being intimate, than the sexual act itself. And as I said before, we respond to and feel differently about such matters and the best you can do, really – if you are endeavoring on an intimate relationship with someone autistic – is to ask, what this person prefers.
Like NT’s apparantly discuss which sexual positions they enjoy and which fantasies they have – this is the same, only taken down a notch:
Do you like to be touched?
Are you comfortable with being intimate?
Seems to me like those are questions that would be valid in ANY beginning of a relationship.
Personally, I thrive when receiving love (hugs, touches, intimacy) and being able to give it. In a way I guess you can say that my tactile sensory issues are more enhancing than they are hurting – love gestures (in any term) and intimacy to me are magical and the connection, the bond created to another human being in these situations likewise.
I don’t always know how to start (because as said, I don’t want to impose) so I’m depending on someone else taking the first step. I need to be shown or told what it is that is OKAY to do.
Is it okay for me to hug you? Then I need to see your arms open up and welcome me in.
Can I kiss you? Then show me by leaning in or reaching out for me and drawing me in.
Are we at the point where the clothes come off? Then you need to show me or tell me – because remember: I can’t read you! I can guess and speculate, but I am terrified of overstepping a mark, of breaking your trust or crossing your intimate and private boundaries. So if I am not doing what you want me to do, you are not being obvious enough.
Let me be perfectly clear – the past paragraph will be recognisable to many autistics, however you will also find many, that are not e.g. riddled with fear of crossing intimate boundaries but have a more natural approach, just as you will find many that do not experience any difficulty in making the first move.
And some who prefer not be intimate or touched at all.
So the answer to the question is:
Autism doesn’t rule out sex per definition.
Neither does it mean (in reflection of the little many of us like changes) that sex per definition is “boring” or stuck on routine.
Can You Even Care About Your Partner?
– or: “Autistic people only care about themselves!”
Why in the gods and devils of the universes names would I NOT care about my partner??
Listen, relationships takes effort in any case. Relationships with difficulties in reading social cues takes a little more. To someone autistic it can take a lot of hard work to be in a relationship, because the amount of “down” time (time to yourself recharging energy levels/spoon levels) is minimised.
So trust me, if I choose to be with someone, I DO care. I care more about her, than I care about myself most of the time. Her priorities and her needs go first.
I’m tired as fuck, but she wants to go for a walk or have a rub down – so be it! Very rarely do I say no.
My body might say it (because I’m fucking TIRED), but I’ll do it, if she wants me to.
I do not work myself that way for someone I don’t care about.
The trouble is that I actually care about a lot of people. And it bothers me immensely that I cannot give them all the attention I feel they deserve. I’d rip myself apart if I tried.
And I also rationally realise that I have to change that perspective, because sometimes I DO need to put myself first – and BE okay with it. But that is a different post for another day.
From the support groups I’m in, I can only say this:
I will have a better chance at winning the lottery, than finding an autistic person in a relationship with someone they don’t care about.
I compare it to learning: if I’m not interested, you can’t teach me! When I AM interested, I learn faster than the majority of the population.
If I don’t care for something or someone – I simply don’t bother! When I do care for something or someone, I dive in with no regards of the risk of sharks.
What About Children, Can You Even Be a Good Parent?
– or: “Autistics are bad parents!”
Yes, I can be a good parent. And yes, I have been a parent. A step-parent, but a parent nonetheless. I was the one who taught my ex-wife that she should not throw consequences at her daughters, she weren’t willing or able to follow through.
I admit, it was not the easiest thing I have done in my life. Mostly because of all the worries about doing things right? What if I did something, that might traumatise them? If they needed therapy as adults because of something I’ve done? Am I being understanding when helping with their homework? Is my support valid or too focused on achievements?
I was worried sick!
I believe that in most cases a good organisation and openness to the children can really go a long way. As autism is genetic, chances are that some of the children have autism themselves – and in that sense, having a parent that knows and understands can be pretty priceless.
Usually – I said usually – the things we need are a certain routine, predictability and a chance to recharge. These things can be planned and organised. When the child gets old enough, teach them that sometimes we (humans) can need to recharge – it’s nothing personal, it’s kind of just necessary like sleep and eating. You don’t even have to mention the word “autism”. Children get a lot more than you’d think, if you’d just explain it to them on their level.
You can’t plan your way out of life, but you can have back up plans on what to do, when shit hits the fan. You can read my post about safety cards for meltdowns and anxiety attacks, which is one version of a back up plan.
Let’s Sum Up the Suspects
Autistics do feel affective and compassionate empathy – often more than the average person. Which means we are NOT psychopaths and we are fully capable of being in relationships of any kind – if we want to. You can’t blame troubles in a relationship on autism, as a relationship takes two people to work.
Try turning the tables:
“the relationship is struggling because YOU are narrowminded!”
Yeah, doesn’t feel too great does it?
How do you think autistics feel? Try reading the sentence over and over again.
Actually taste it.
Imagine hearing those words every single fucking day of your life.
Imagine growing up like that.
You can’t play with the other kids because “YOU ARE NARROWMINDED”.
You can’t be expected to succeed at class because “YOU ARE NARROWMINDED”.
You are not a good relative because YOU ARE NARROWMINDED.
You don’t function well at the openminded college because YOU are narrowminded.
You can’t do the things that the rest of us can do, because you are narrowminded.
You want a relationship? A narrowminded person?….
The one GIVING you their heart should get a medal for being with some one like you. A medal of honor…or bravery.
Fuck that, you are a flaw in human kind, a genetic mistake.
The world would be better off without narrowminded people like YOU.
E•V•E•R•Y – S•I•N•G•L•E – F•U•C•K•I•N•G – D•A•Y
And you wonder why we get melt downs or develop depression and anxiety as huge comorbids? You wonder why we hesitate to open up?
And to the anti vaccine people – you can’t anti vaxx your way out of autism anymore than you can anti vaxx your way out of ignorance and narrowmindedness. Chew on that for a sec…
Okay, so my snark took over the love and kindness.
I’m sorry. Truly.
Because you, my dear reader, are probably not one of THOSE people. Maybe you are autistic yourself and then you are definitly not one of those people.
So I am sorry for the potential stepping on toes that should not have been stepped on.
Good news is that we are done with debunking the worst of myths concerning autistic people in relationships and whether or not love on the Spectrum is possible.
But April, Autism Awareness Month, is still fresh and new. Next up in LOTS, Love on the Spectrum, is the Butterflies Session, where we are turning our gaze to some of the thoughts, worries, quirks – and awesomeness – that can take place when someone autistic falls in love. I have a few quirky anecdotes on the matter too, so if you want to laugh AT me (or with me), hit that subscribe button and be notified as soon as it goes live.
Happy Autism Awareness Month