What is autism and what does it look like? The character Raymond in the film Rainman? Sheldon Cooper in the Big Bang Theory? Whilst these characters may represent autism in some ways, there are many others that are perhaps less obvious. Most autistic people I meet do not act in such stereotypical ways, I have friends, colleagues, clients and family members all on the autism spectrum, many of whom are only just beginning to identify as such, as awareness of what it means to be autistic increases.
Autism is often referred to as a hidden disability, and whilst I prefer to think of autism as a difference rather than a disability, the fact remains that it is largely unrecognised, particularly in adults. (I include the identification of asperger’s syndrome under the umbrella term of autism spectrum)
There are many reasons for this, one of which is often referred to as ‘masking.’ Masking can also be described as acting, and has often become habitual since childhood where certain traits or characteristics associated with autism have been dismissed, ridiculed or ignored. Alternative ways of behaving are adopted in order to be ‘accepted,’ but the reality for most is that this can be exhausting as the individual is essentially acting their way through daily life. This can lead to all sorts of problems including stress, depression and burnout if not addressed. The individual, and those around them may have no concept of this process if this has been their way of life for as long as they can remember, and the suggestion of autism has never been made.
We can see how this can create difficulty for individuals on the autism spectrum to verbalise their needs in close relationships, which may be made more difficult by low self esteem due to a lifetime of a lack of understanding and support, and difficulties with verbal communication. (See blog Autism in adults – verbal communication)
Verbal communication may be also challenging due to differences in how each partner shares and understands information. A neurotypical (non-autistic) person may feel more loved and appreciated if their partner picks up on the more subtle and implied meaning in communication. An autistic person may need responses and requests to be factual and clear…..We can see how misunderstandings can arise! Verbal communication is much more than just words, it is a mix of body language, voice tone and words. An autistic person may struggle to understand the more subtle nuances of body language and voice tone, and in some situations this can lead to a feeling of being criticised when that is not the intention of the speaker. Confusion and conflict may follow that leaves both partners completely bewildered.
For both autistic and neurotypical partners it may feel incredibly hard to connect with one another, leading to feelings of rejection and loneliness, and also with difficulties having their needs met within the relationship. Without awareness of what is causing the difficulties, frustration and resentment can build over time, leading both partners to desperation and exhaustion. There is lots more information about this on my Blog page.
Choosing the right counsellor when one or both clients are autistic (or have asperger’s syndrome) is incredibly important. I have written more about this in my blog The importance of autism awareness for counsellors and therapists
With the right support, both partners can make some changes that can vastly improve the relationship and get things back on track. I have supported many autistic clients and their partners to find the connection they are both looking for, and reduce misunderstandings in communication with the use of tailored techniques and strategies. If you think your relationship would benefit from this kind of support please get in touch.
Relationship counselling that is adapted to support those with autism/aspergers is available in Central London, near to Fleet Street. Further details of the venue can be found on the contact page.
Online counselling via the video call service Zoom is available if you do not live near to the counselling venue in London or if this service would be easier for you to access.
Fees and payment details can be found on the Relationships page.