The autism spectrum is a frequently-misunderstood neurodevelopmental condition. The stigma surrounding autism and autistic individuals stems from misconceptions and a lack of awareness. While autism is often diagnosed in childhood since it does affect development, adult autism diagnoses are not uncommon.
This diagnosis can be confusing and upsetting, but it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your partner or their ability to love. People with autism can be loving partners and friends, just like neurotypical people, and if you’re in a relationship with someone who has autism, there are many things you can do to support them.
What Is Autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how individuals perceive and interact with the world. It is characterized by difficulties in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
Because autism is a lifelong condition, your partner will have been living with it and dealing with it their entire lives. A diagnosis changes nothing about who they are, their emotions, or their capabilities. The diagnosis simply explains some things about how their brain works.
As an adult, an autism diagnosis may be a relief, explaining challenges and certain behavioral patterns that your partner has been dealing with their entire life. Your partner will likely have learned dozens of compensatory or masking behaviors and will likely have had a sense for years that something is “off” about them. An autism diagnosis can help them understand themselves and feel more comfortable advocating for their sensory and emotional needs.
How To Be A Supportive Partner For Your Partner With Autism
Supporting your partner with autism requires clear communication, empathy, and understanding. There are a lot of myths about autism and how it affects relationships. In many ways, supporting a partner with autism is just like supporting any partner. You need to communicate well, and you need to be emotionally available for each other.
Another key element of supporting a partner with autism is creating a supportive and accepting environment at home. Encourage a routine that provides predictability and stability. Offer understanding when your partner may require time alone or engage in repetitive behaviors (often called “stimming”) that help them cope with stress.
Listen To and Believe Your Partner
An adult autism diagnosis can require a considerable amount of time for your partner to process. Your partner may want to talk about things out loud to reach a point of closure for them and understanding for you. Simply listening to your partner as they process their diagnosis can be a vital source of support.
It’s also important to believe your partner. When they talk about how they experience the world or how they’re feeling, believe them. Don’t second-guess their emotions or experiences, and don’t catastrophize or ignore their diagnosis. If you have difficulty accepting their diagnosis, speak to a therapist to help process your feelings.
Build Communication Skills
While autism is a spectrum and every autistic person’s suite of traits is unique, one common thread is a desire for clear communication. Clear communication is helpful for any relationship, but one very common autistic trait is challenges with vague communication. No partner, whether neurotypical or autistic, can read your mind – so don’t expect them to. Communicate clearly about how you’re feeling, and be understanding if your partner wants more information or clarification.
It’s likely that your partner has long been researching autism. There is a huge autism community online, and very rarely do adult autism diagnoses come out of the blue. It’s likely that your partner sought a diagnosis after speaking with other autistic people and researching the condition.
Ask your partner what resources they’ve found and like, and read them yourself. Look for resources created by people with autism– groups like the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, or ASAN, are great places to start.
Support Their Unmasking
This is one of the most important ways you can support your partner with autism. “Masking” is the term for how autistic people learn to hide their autistic traits to appear “normal” or blend in. This is frequently emotionally exhausting.
By creating a safe space for your partner with autism to drop the facade and be themselves, you are showing them how much you can be trusted and how much you truly love them. You don’t have to do anything special– if your partner starts rocking or stimming in front of you, it’s a sign that they feel safe and supported within the relationship.
Seek Professional Support
An autism diagnosis provides your partner and you with a lot of new information. Therapy or counseling can help you through any challenges or emotional difficulties related to their autism diagnosis. A mental health professional can provide strategies for managing anxiety, improving communication skills, and enhancing overall well-being.
If you are working through the challenges and changes of an autism diagnosis with your partner, please do not hesitate to reach out to us today at Love Heal Grow.