Some people start wondering this for themselves and others first hear the possibility from their friends or family. For some it’s a relief and for others there is so much baggage with the term “autism” that the thought that it might be the reason for their struggles is anathema. Either way, we’re glad you’re here!
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There are a variety of online quizzes and tests that supposedly identify whether or not you are autistic. If those come up positive for you–definitely get an evaluation! But even if you come up as not autistic on the online quizzes, don’t let that be the final decision if you have heard from friends or family that you might be autistic or if you’ve been wondering yourself or if you can relate to autistics you’ve encountered. It is our experience with family and friends that many people do not find these questionnaires to make much sense. In these questionnaires, many of the key features of autism are described from a neurotypical-centric perspective. It’s like measuring someone’s faithfulness to a particular religion based on a secular view of that religion. Does that make any sense?
It can be helpful to read about a variety of personal experiences with autism to understand the enormous variety. Just like giftedness, strokes, or any other neurologic condition, autism takes different forms in different people. Some people have liked Wrong Planet. Our favorite is Neuroclastic.
Before you get any further in your exploration, we’d like to explain a major schism in the autism world. There is the medical/disease/pathology/disorder paradigm and the difference/diversity paradigm. On the pathology side are organizations like Autism Speaks, which has spent many years and dollars hunting for “a cure.” While we sympathize with the parents who are simply trying to help their children, Autism Speaks as an organization has marginalized the voices of autistic people themselves and embraced a behaviorist view of how to “help” while ignoring modern knowledge of trauma and child development. On the neurodiversity side are organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
We definitely do not like the implications for adults living on the spectrum of the people who want to cure their autism. And we cannot support a merely behavioral approach to how to held autistic people thrive. For autistic adults who are living independently, curing autism sounds as nonsensical and offensive as curing sexual orientation–it’s part of who they are. Indeed, many autistic adults see their brain wiring as a competitive advantage. And if you’re up for a more academic discussion, Neurocosmopolitanism describes the issues so clearly that it’s hard to unsee the problems with the disease/pathology model.
At the same time, for the majority of adults with autism, there are significant challenges in the basics of life including the ability to earn an income, manage activities of daily living, or maintain relationships. Some autistics say that’s because employment, chores, and standard marriage and parenting expectations are a neurotypical construct that should not apply to them. But for other autistics, Tim included, this is a source of intense frustration that they have talents that they can never fully develop because of their struggles and are trapped in a purgatory of both wanting and not wanting everything that goes into having a relationship.
In order to make the most of our family’s neurodiversity, we have realized we need to accept that just as empaths and the highly gifted usually see their condition as both a blessing and a curse, autism can cause both joys and problems. And for autistics who are unable to care for themselves at even a most basic level, the potential that can accompany autism is often overshadowed by the limitations.
Raising children has heightened our awareness of this tension between ability and disability. We lack the words to clearly explain the nuances of how this works but hopefully an example will suffice. We firmly believe that our son Charlie’s abilities and passion as a ballet dancer are intrinsically related to his autistic brain wiring. But Charlie is also having to work much harder to achieve his dream of being a professional ballet dancer than a neurotypical kid. We do not believe his various conditions should limit him from his own goals…but they certainly could without the intense support we are providing every step of the way. What irony that his wiring both drives him to dance professionally and holds him back from it. Pretending that the genetic lottery provided nothing but a competitive advantage would be to ignore the significant suffering that his wiring has caused him despite being in a loving and accepting family.
Our belief is that in a neurodiverse family, if both adult partners choose to stay in the relationship or if they choose to engage in behaviors that produce children, then it is imperative to meet somewhere in the middle. Simply accepting autistic preferences while ignoring the neurotypical’s requests is unfair. But expecting the autistic partner to act entirely neurotypical isn’t right either. We see many battles online where neurotypical partners see autistic partners as monsters. And in retaliation, autistic partners insist on their mental superiority and the ridiculous nature of neurotypical expectations.
You will not see that here.
Is it hard for Robin being married to someone who is autistic? Absolutely! Is it hard for Tim being married to someone who is neurotypical? Absolutely! This is a tension that we live with every single day. We’re not going to pretend that either of us is entirely happy with the situation–but we also find contentment and companionship in our union so we make an effort to make it work.
Plus, we have kids. Once there are children involved, it is no longer possible for one partner to just “opt out” entirely; we’re stuck co-parenting together or separately and the details get messy. So we have to figure out a middle ground that will work for both of us long term. That said, in order to meet the basic needs of developing children, the relationship and household will necessarily have to lean more towards the preferences of the more neurotypical partner.
It appears to be common that children add an almost unbearable strain to a neurodiverse relationship. We know very few neurodiverse relationships that have been able to hold up under the weight. We believe that this is partly due to the sheer amount of work involved in caring for children and partly because of the complete lack of resources for autistic parents. We are hopeful that the suggestions on this website will both streamline your work and provide tailored resources for autistic parents.