Sunday, November 9, 2008

Aspies, Autists and Relationships, Part II: How the Other Half Loves

My good friend Sam, an NT who happens to be especially sensitive, kind, intelligent and mature, used to date an Aspie. (To protect his privacy, we'll call him Adrian.) I was lucky to be able to interview her about her NT-Aspie relationship (though not as lucky as Adrian was!); her answers here are verbatim.

1. Could you please describe the relationship briefly, especially where his Aspie-ness was pertinent?

Adrian and I dated for a few months. It was a typical college relationship; nothing too serious. I knew he was different from anyone else I had dated, though, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. He listened to what I said very intently, but unless he could relate based on past experiences, he couldn’t empathize.

I remember one instance specifically, where I was quite upset over something. I was unable to donate blood because the Red Cross had said my veins were too small. It was my first attempt, and it had been a lifelong goal of mine to give my blood so that others could benefit from it. It was really one of my first attempts at saving a life. When they told me I couldn’t donate, I was crushed. I remember crying while he sat next to me. He was trying to understand why I was so upset, but he just couldn’t empathize. I was perhaps more upset about that than the actual event; but this was before I knew he was an Aspie.

2. Was he diagnosed before or after you began dating?

He was diagnosed during the course of our relationship, maybe a month after we started dating.

3. How did his diagnosis affect how you saw him, and how did it otherwise affect your relationship?

It didn’t change how I saw him, except to say that I understood him a little bit better. I could attempt to understand things about him that had previously escaped me.

4. Did he behave in ways that caused conflict with any of your friends?

Honestly, we didn’t really spend that much time with my friends. Perhaps that was part of his Aspie-ness, but we spent most of our time just with one another. Whether it was walking the nature trail, watching a movie, or just sitting and talking, we didn’t spend much time with others.

5. What do you think you taught him about relationships, especially relationships with NTs?

I think he definitely saw how frustrated I could get. He tried to understand where I was coming from, and he definitely worked to not offend me by some comment he made offhand.

6. What do you think he has taught you about relationships with Aspies?

He taught me about patience, and about being explicit. When I wanted him to “get” something, I had to be very clear with what I wanted. I had to say things very obviously, because he didn’t pick up on my nonverbal communication. At first, this was quite frustrating and taxing for me, but I’ve carried this on to my relationships with other NTs, and it’s been beneficial there as well.

7. What do you think Aspies should keep in mind about relationships, especially with NTs?

While the differences between NTs and Aspies shouldn’t keep us apart, they’re certainly important. I, for one, use a lot of nonverbal communication. If an Aspie suspects that they aren’t getting something because of a lack of verbal communication, or something like that, they should be sure to bring it up. I often don’t even realize when I do, or do not, communicate effectively. Above all, though, be patient. Talk about the things that are going well and the things that aren’t.

8. What do you think NTs should keep in mind about relationships with Aspies? In particular, what do you think are Aspies' likely relationship strengths and challenges? What misconceptions do you think NTs might have about Aspies that could hinder relationships?

NTs should know that if an Aspie says he or she will do something, this will most likely happen without any problem. NTs can really appreciate this; an attention to detail can be so refreshing! However, Aspies may want NTs to return that. If an Aspie remembers the day you started dating, they may wish the NT did as well. Try to be accommodating. Remember that interacting with others for too long can be draining, and that sometimes Aspies need time alone to recover from a lot of social interaction. Perhaps instead of inviting an Aspie out to a big party for Halloween, the NT could suggest spending the night watching a favorite scary movie. It’s important to know that if the Aspie turns down an invitation (like the Halloween party example), it probably isn’t because they don’t want to spend time with the NT, but because they don’t want to be overstimulated. Once again, if there is effective and open communication, most issues can be worked through!


StatMama said...

These issues can also be present in AS/AS relationships. Numbers 1 and 8 hit home! My husband definitely cannot empathize with a situation he has not personally experienced, even if it seems somewhat similar to an experience he's had. However, he can be extremely empathetic where he has experienced the same thing.

And on number 8, I certainly spend a good bit of time frustrated with the lack of attention to detail that many people have (by comparison to me, which perhaps isn't a fair comparison at all). I don't think anything unnerves me more than someone saying they'll do something and not following through.

Good post, great interview!

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Very helpful info. Jeff, you asked some great questions and Sam gave detailed, personalized answers. Thank you to both of you for this insight.