This Couple’s ‘All-Autism Wedding’ Proves Love and Relationships Are for Everyone
During the weekend of September 26 and 27, hundreds of people will gather in San Diego for the second annual Love & Autism: A Conference With Heart conference. The event centers on love and relationships as they pertain to people of all ages on the autism spectrum.
“My goal is to start the social movement to break down the misconceptions that people on the spectrum do not want and need relationships,” Dr. Jenny Palmiotto, a marriage and family therapist and the founder of Love & Autism, said in a press release for the event. “Autism is always there and love is always there; it’s nothing that an individual needs to overcome.”
But this year’s conference is special for another reason. On September 26, Anita Lesko and Abraham Nielsen, two adults on the autism spectrum, are getting married. And they’ve chosen the Love & Autism conference as their wedding venue.
The event, dubbed the “First All-Autism Wedding” by its organizers, will feature notable figures in the autism world, including bestselling author Dr. Temple Grandin and global autism ambassador Dr. Stephen Shore, according to the event’s CrowdRise page. Additionally, Lesko and Nielsen’s entire wedding party is comprised of adults who identify on the autism spectrum.
Lesko, 56, says she and Nielsen, whom she met at her Asperger’s support group in 2013, decided to marry at the conference because they wanted to give people with autism who aren’t often invited to anything the chance to attend or participate in a wedding. But they hope the event goes deeper than that.
“The big picture is to reach as many people as possible to start changing the world’s views of autistic people,” Lesko told The Mighty. “Abraham and I want to give hope to the millions of people with autism and their families that love, relationships and marriage are possible for those of us on the spectrum.”
Dr. Palmiotto, who’s planning Lesko and Nielsen’s wedding in addition to organizing this year’s conference, says the couple is already bringing people together. Over the past few months, many people on the autism spectrum have contacted her asking how they can participate in the big day.
“The message is so positive and this community wants to stand by our message,” Palmiotto told The Mighty.
“I’m hoping [this wedding] will do what most weddings do [and] provide a moment in time to celebrate what life is really about: love,” she added. “This wedding and the conference as a whole is not about becoming more ‘normal,’ whatever that word means — it’s about learning to love yourself and open yourself up to the beauty that loving others may bring.”
Lesko agrees, adding that for her, it all comes down to acceptance.
“Every human being wants to feel accepted and loved. That’s just basic human needs,” Lesko told The Mighty. “We want to be included in our classrooms, our communities, our neighborhoods and simply everyday life. We are capable of giving and getting love. Abraham and I want to help our autism community, and we want to help the rest of the world to understand and accept us.”