What I've Learned About Communication Skills in Relationships as an Autistic Person
Typically, our first thought when we hear the word is toward the romantic variety, but the truth, for the autistic among us, is that they often haunt us in every corner of our lives. Whether it be classroom or coworkers, neighbors, friends (what are those?), family, and yes, even significant others.
That is if we’re lucky enough to find someone who wants to give our quirks and idiosyncrasies a serious shot at love. Or even like.
I went to bed a while ago, but couldn’t sleep, so I came to my desk a little after midnight, to see what things I had been procrastinating on the longest. “Relationships” popped to the top of the list, so I opened the Word doc I had begun, and found that it contained one word.
I hadn’t even come up with a concept. It was just an idea. And a vague one at that. How should I attack this piece? There are dozens of ways I could go. I stared at the page a moment longer, went to get a bottle of water, drank it in one long gulp, peed, then went back to the computer and, fully uninspired, hit shuffle on my writing playlist and closed my eyes.
Two seconds later, the eyes popped open. The magic of the playlist worked immediately, mostly based on a song about relationships by Canadian artist Zedd. The lyrics got my brain churning.
Relationships are hard for a lot of us on the spectrum because we’re very literal, black-or-white kind of thinkers. And relationships aren’t a black-or-white kind of thing. In fact, there’s a lot of grey in there. So much grey.
Relationships are fluid. They rise and fall like the tide. They can become stagnant. They churn with strong emotions like Niagara Falls and sometimes they seem to wind on endlessly like the Colorado or Mississippi rivers with no end in sight.
Because I was out of high school more than a decade before they started diagnosing school-age kids as autistic, I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 46. That means I went more than 45 years as a Neurodivergent being forced and shoved into a neurotypical world because my only explanation as to why I was so weird and a little odd was that I didn’t have one to offer.
I couldn’t tell my boss, or the one or two friends I might have at the time, or family, or a significant other, that my brain was on a slightly different frequency and that finding a common “language” between the two of us would really help us both out. I couldn’t tell them because I had no clue.
Even shortly after I was diagnosed, I don’t think I could have told anyone the best way to communicate with me. It took about eight more years of failed relationships of all types, successful ones of all types, and taking my literal, black-or-white brain and crunching all the data so I could come up with some answers.
And then I started slowly removing some of the rigidity from my life and re-shaping it like clay on a potter’s wheel, so I could turn it into what was needed at the moment. That’s how I learned about relationships.
Trial. Error. Success. Analyzing what I could find.
What I just took 524 words to get to is this. No matter what type of relationship, it boils down to these three things:
Communication. Honesty. Trust.
Those can be three very heavy words for many of us on the spectrum, and for our loved ones as well. Communication is the key to the whole thing because you could easily fold honesty and trust into the communication aspect, and you should.
In the spirit of full disclosure, for the past five or six weeks, I’ve been slowly embarking on a romantic relationship with an amazing woman I’ll call “L.” L raised an adult daughter with Asperger’s, the same diagnosis I have, so we already have a working understanding of the Neurodivergent brain.
From the beginning, we discussed the need for strong communication and never leaving a conversation without everything being answered. We also talked about the need for a special language or code between the two of us, so we could communicate in a way we understood, even if those around us may be confused. We had one mostly developed in a couple of weeks.
Keep in mind that these are principles not just in romantic relationships, but in other kinds as well.
Complete honesty and complete trust need to be there from near the beginning as well, and once in place cannot waver. One has to trust in the other and vice versa.
Getty image by George Marks.