Before we started dating, my boyfriend told me that he had high-functioning autism. He wanted to make sure I understood before getting into a relationship. I replied: “it’s okay” because it was. It still is.
Although dating someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) sometimes has its challenges, it has also made me realize many things about the world that I wasn’t aware of until I met him.
Nonetheless, I want to preface this by saying that autism affects every person differently. It’s a spectrum. The things that might affect a person significantly might not be an issue for someone else. These are just things that people with autism tend to be aware of that most people usually aren’t. I know I wasn’t.
1. The noise
I never realized just how loud the world can be. Why do we feel the need to set the music so loud that we can’t even hear our own voices?
People with ASD often have an increased sensitivity to loud noises, my partner included. We like to call it his ‘superpower’ because he has a much better hearing than most people. However, it also means that very loud noises can really affect him.
Being with him has made me very aware of the noise around us. For example, I always check the noise levels of a restaurant before deciding to have dinner there. I have become very aware of the noise levels that parties and dinners can reach, and I go outside to take a break with him when he needs it. These things don’t take a lot of effort from me but are incredibly helpful for him to be able to cope in certain situations.
2. People’s tendency to use physical touch
I am a very affectionate person. I love hugs. My mother is Hispanic and their culture is incredibly affectionate. They even kiss strangers on the cheek!
It’s for this reason that I had never thought of how uncomfortable this unsolicited touching can be for certain people including those in the ADS spectrum, or even people that have been through trauma such as sexual abuse.
Make no mistake: my boyfriend is extremely affectionate towards me. However, he does dislike when strangers hug him. Knowing him has made me more aware of physical touch with people I don’t know.
3. Honesty is unpopular (but it is everything to me)
A common ASD trait is honesty. In theory, this is a very positive thing. However, I have come to realize that people dislike honesty much more than one would expect.
I realized that most of the time when we ask for someone’s opinion what we actually want is for someone to praise us. However, this is sometimes hard for my boyfriend to understand. He is the most honest person I know. When he gives his opinion he says exactly what he thinks, and people are often shocked at how blunt he can be.
However, he is the first guy I have met to promise me 100% honesty in every aspect of our relationship; and mean it. We have an extremely healthy relationship because none of us are afraid to say exactly what we feel, and talk through our disagreements.
3. The complexity of social interactions
The most known ASD trait is difficulty in social interactions, particularly in the non-verbal aspect. My boyfriend, however, has mastered the art of having social skills. But it drains his energy..
Before meeting him I had never thought about all the things that go into a ‘normal’ conversation. I wouldn´t have noticed either how difficult they are for him if he had not told me. He knows how to do all of them, but they just don’t come naturally to him. He makes this list on his mind of things to do to make people comfortable, such as looking at them in the eyes and asking questions. He even rehearses and memorizes ‘scripts’ of possible conversation topics.
When we get home from a long social event, everyone had loved him, but he is exhausted. I never realized how tiring people could be.
4. How judgmental people can be
No one outside of his family knows my boyfriend’s diagnosis. Some people are aware of some of his ‘quirks’ but he has never told the official diagnosis to anyone.
Why? Because of fear. He has told me that he feels lucky enough to be able to ‘pass’ and he takes advantage of it. He doesn’t want people in his professional or personal environment to suddenly look at him differently or to think that he is capable of less because of the diagnosis.
I was incredibly sad when I heard that because I think we should all learn to accept each other. However, I respect his decision and always will.
5. He isn’t disabled; he is just different
Of course, ASD affects many people in many different ways and some of the people on what is usually called the ‘low functioning’ end, do have severe challenges to overcome.
However, the fact that my partner has ASD doesn’t make him less off. He is fantastic; the smartest person I know, and incredibly caring.
I have never told anyone his diagnosis because he asked me not to do so (and this article has been written with his consent), but I can imagine the look that people would have given me if I had said it. As if his condition makes him somehow less than, or turns me into an amazing person who was willing to deal with his issues. If anything, I am the one who does not deserve him.
I don’t ‘deal with him’; I love him, and he loves me. We have an incredible equal relationship; as hard as that might be for some people to believe.
His ASD is just another piece of a puzzle that makes him who he is. He has high functioning autism, the same way that he has brown hair or he dislikes cheese. His diagnosis is a part of him but it does not define him.
I will always be thankful to him for giving me new eyes with which to look at the world. I hope that someday he doesn’t have to carry the weight of this secret.