Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Autism and Love (or Like or Want?)

Love
Love (Photo credit: praram)
My wife and I were discussing the fact that many of the adults with autism spectrum disorders I've met are, forgive me, but obsessed with finding love. It seems "love" is an overriding concern to them. This interest in love didn't seem like the interest in dating I've heard among other groups. No, this is a quest for "love" as if there isn't a (few) steps between meeting and love.

Two of the self-described "Aspies" I've met were asking me to help because they were accused of stalking on college campuses. They both told me they were trying to let girls know they wanted to date because they were in love.

Someone needed to explain meeting people, dating, and what "love" is — and what it is not. It turns out, they really didn't know what was "acceptable" and what was "unacceptable" when trying to meet someone and/or ask that person on a date.

Polite rejections were not understood. These young men thought, "Call me sometime" and "Sure, we'll get together sometime" were literal invitations to date. They couldn't understand people lie to be polite.

I appreciate the challenges of college social settings, but many more of the autistic adults I meet are not in college. Some attended college, some did not. The challenges seem similar, regardless of age. The questions about relationships are similar, too.

Some of the autistics/Aspies I've met make me extremely uncomfortable with their questions about love and sex. It is as if the two are the same thing — or at least that love always comes with lots of sex.

My wife said that maybe the autistics don't think about sex more than other people, but that they don't filter their thoughts. She also suggested they don't quite understand the differences between love and other emotions because they haven't had the same social experiences as their peers.

Parents and caregivers must talk to autistic teens and adults about relationships, love, and sex.

It's horrible to hear an autistic college-aged woman say she had sex with a young man because he said that was what people in love do. I've met way, way too many young women with ASDs who have been manipulated sexually. Yes, sexual abuse is a problem in general, but autistics seem extremely vulnerable because they might want to do what is "normal."

Autistics have asked how I know I "love" my wife. What makes something "love" versus like or physical desire?

Love requires knowing the person. You don't "love" that stranger across a room. You probably don't "love" that young man or woman in your chemistry lecture hall. Love means you understand the person, know the person better than you might know anyone else in your life.

Love takes time, I tell autistic teens. It also takes work, once you are together.

Love is not about sex. It is about intellectual, philosophical, and emotional connections. My wife and I share a need for order and planning. We like to be in control of our lives and the spaces around us. We hate the unexpected. We share so many traits, we really do finish each other's thoughts.

When my wife had surgery earlier this year, it was the longest few hours I could imagine. I paced; I walked around the hospital several times. I would have done anything to switch places with her, since I've had so many medical adventures that they're almost routine. I hated that she had to be in the operating room.

Autistics have asked if what I hated was the thought of being without my wife. Would I be lost without her?

Not in the literal sense, no. I can shop, care for the cats, get to work, pay bills, and everything else. I've dealt with a lot by myself — including the horrible loss of J.C. Kitty while my wife was in another state. Things are better with my wife, but I can live and survive without her. Dependency isn't love.

But, I don't want to be without her. And I want to make her life better than it would be without me.

She is why I want to be a better person. She is why I want to earn a bit more, so I can give her the things she deserves. I know she doesn't need "things" from me, but I want her to be able to buy the books, craft supplies, and other things she might enjoy. I want her to be happy.

Love, at least to me, is that sense that we each make the other person a little better, a little more secure. Whatever my wife wants to do, I will do all I can to help her achieve. I know she's done a lot so I can have some level of success. She's sacrificed a lot for me; I'd do anything for her.

Our love isn't about passion or sex. It's about being better people together.

I'm not sure how to teach about love, relationships, and sex. I have no idea if my thoughts on the topics are the "right" views for other people or not. I only know that when parents and students ask for my help, it is usually because a autistic person has confused social norms for being liked, and being liked for being loved.

My wife was a classmate, and then an acquaintance. We dated. We talked a lot. Love was not instant — and I'm sure for us it isn't what the autistics asking me questions imagine.

My wife is my best friend. That's what matters to me.

Focus on making friends. When you chase love, you're probably going to scare other people away.
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