When autism isn’t accepted in relationships

Whilst some people are relieved to get a diagnosis of autism as an adult, others may be very resistant to the idea, and in these cases their partners are often left with few choices. Relationship counselling is about both partners making changes, but if one partner refuses to acknowledge that there are fundamental differences in how the couple communicate and understand the world around them, then they are less likely to see any reason to do anything differently. This leaves the other partner with all the responsibility for making changes which is likely to lead to further resentment and frustration, particularly if they are unable to get their needs met within the relationship.

Considering the idea of autism may be very difficult for someone who has reached adulthood without any awareness of this previously. Some words we associate with autism such as ‘disorder’ and ‘syndrome’ may also be incredibly confusing for someone who may well be very successful in certain areas, including their careers and particular interests. I have written more about this here; I think I might be autistic- Should I get a diagnosis? Consideration needs to be given to how the suggestion of autism is made if the idea comes from someone else, see Autism in adults – verbal communication. Some autistic individuals may have some difficulty with the thought process that people think in different ways, and may not fully understand that not everyone thinks the same way they do. Imagine having your whole identity questioned? And how particularly hard this might be for someone who may have difficulties with change as many autistic people do.

Sometimes all that is needed is some support with coming to terms with the idea of neurodiversity, but occasionally this is not enough, and there may be other factors to consider such as co-existing ‘extras’ for example ADHD/ADD and PDA that can often be found alongside unrecognised autism in adults. This can make finding the right support for both partners quite difficult, and if the partner with autism or any of the co-existing extras cannot or will not engage in relationship counselling, the only option may be for each partner to access support for themselves individually.

Of course, it may be the non-autistic partner that has difficulty accepting autism as an explanation for their partner’s different ways of behaving and communicating. They may be so frustrated with the situation that they think this is just an excuse, or struggle to accept that because their partner can do some things some of the time, that the reason they cannot do these things all the time is because they are autistic.

In this situation, I would recommend the non-autistic partner finds some support for themselves, ideally with someone who will not judge their partner, to try and minimise the feelings of resentment, and also learns as much as they can about autism in adults. Or alternatively that they see a qualified relationship counsellor who specialises in autism. The autistic partner will also need support, and if this cannot be together with their partner then it is vital that they see a counsellor with a good understanding of autism, and the impact on relationships. See blog The importance of autism awareness for counsellors and therapists.