Voices of Autism: Tips from a Married Couple

Alex and Eliza, a married couple with autism, answered questions about how autism impacted their relationship in the latest issue of the STAR newsletter.

The UVA’s Supporting Transformative Autism Research (STAR) team continues Voices of Autism, a series that features interviews with individuals with autism and their families. In this quarter’s newsletter, the STAR team featured a conversation with Alex (he/him) and Eliza (she/her), a married couple with autism, answering questions about how autism impacted their relationship in the past and how it continues to impact it now.

The two met in graduate school and have been together for more than eight years. The following is a summary of their interview.

Be Open and Honest

Eliza: In terms of people who are in relationships, be open about what you need. It's not bad to say, “I need time alone. We need to talk about something. I’m just gonna sit in the bathtub for half an hour. I need to touch this thing for ten minutes until I feel better.” Even if it sounds silly in your own head. If it helps, don’t be ashamed of it.

Alex: I was gonna say, borrowing what Eliza said, the wisest of all poets, John Lennon, said, “whatever gets you through the night, it’s all right.”

Embrace Your Sense of Humor

Eliza: Initially when we were in the very early stages of our relationship, we had a joke that only one of us could be competent at a time. In our house, we call Styrofoam the “forbidden texture” because we both hate it, it gives us bad sensory feedback.

When we had to unpack a lot of furniture, we had to get rid of that as soon as possible. But we’re at the point now where we can kind of joke around about it.

Alex: And that’s the thing that I do wish the autism community would be more forthright about. People with autism, in my experience, have just such astounding senses of humor. I wish that was something the community would be more proud of. Not merely as something that people with autism can do, it’s something that a lot of them are.

Humor comes kind of effortlessly because people with autism have just such a unique view of things, and objects, and their relationship to one another- it provides this other view of looking at the world that is funny.

Eliza: Yeah, and joy.

Alex: There is joy in autism, that I didn’t expect to find. I really had to kind of overcome a lot of my own issues and a lot of cultural and political issues to really arrive at, and I’m very glad that I did.

Eliza: So, in terms of finding situations funny. Probably for an outside observer, they wouldn't be, but for us it’s funny.

Build on Each Other's Strengths and Support Their Weaknesses

Alex: I have such a hard time understanding how people view me. And it’s even more striking that people view me as positive for the most part. I’ll ask Eliza afterward, “How did I do? Did people think poorly of me?”

I never met anybody who had such an intuitive social sense. I would say that for Eliza— I can’t speak for her, but what I can say is that I think she's better at understanding social cues, but it’s much more difficult for [her] to perform them.

Eliza: Yes, and with Alex, it’s the reverse.

Alex: It’s the reverse, I don’t understand them but I can do them.

Eliza: After Alex gave a wedding speech, he comes back to the table and goes, “Did I do okay? Did people like it?” We were all like, “Yes. They are doing all the things [clapping, cheering, laughing] to show that they did!”

One of the things we’ve done now is to really make sure we’re communicating our tones well because I can be incredibly brusk. I can say things that sound really mean without realizing it. I’ve been trying to soften my speech or make it clearer with more inflection that I’m joking.

Alex: So, it was finding that out from talking to other people with autism that led me to understand my limitations and my strengths. Just because you live in your own head doesn’t mean you understand it.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Alex: A big thing I think is to not be afraid to seek external help.

Eliza: I would’ve liked to have known sooner that I had autism instead of having to kind of figure it out for myself. That would probably help me with better coping skills that would have helped me in certain instances.

Alex: I can’t reiterate that state support was very important to me. When I called the disability services at the university I attended, when I was facing having my funding cut off. I just said, “Is there anything that the state or you can do for me because I just found out I have autism?" They said, "Absolutely!"

They got me in touch with everybody I needed. On one hand the resources are good. But the affirmation, the recognition, is really important, and understanding that there are resources for you. There are things you can do and they’re not silly. They don’t make you less of a person. They genuinely help and there are other people out there who don’t think poorly of you because you have autism or think that you’re strange or weird or less of a person. They are there and willing to help.