When I was diagnosed, several NT friends said that I should look for a relationship within the autistic community. I had some concerns about this, because I’ve never believed that disability is enough to have in common with someone. After all, if you break your leg and meet someone else with a broken leg, the chance you’re going to end up best friends is slim.
I tried to be upfront about the issues I have. With another autistic person I expected to be straightforward about these, to state them as facts, and have them accepted as such. I hoped they would return the favour.
Unfortunately I was wrong. I’ve tried it a couple of times; each one left me in meltdown, unable to eat, unable to function and scared out of my wits. I will give the guys involved the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t intend to frighten me. But they wouldn’t pull back when I got anxious, wouldn’t give me the space I needed, and every time I said ‘Please could you not…’ the answer came back ‘My autism my autism my autism‘. There was no space, right from the start, for any need I might have.
So I thought I would describe here some of the things that went wrong, both for discussion and in hope that some ASD guys might see an explanation for why their approaches to women may not have been well-received in the past.
I know that as an autistic, you probably have significant likes and dislikes around food. But if you don’t tell me about them, then I cannot be expected to know. To be told at the first, second, third, and fourth time I cook for you that there is something on the plate you dislike, or cannot eat, said while scraping the unwanted food into the bin with a disgusted expression, is likely to make me anxious and unwilling to cook for you again. There’s also an element of ‘remember this in future, woman‘ which is hard to shake off. I may also forget that you don’t like caraway; the starting weeks of a relationship are a high-anxiety time and I may not be able to process the fine details. At the start of a friendship, let alone a relationship, being criticised every time I try to create something I hope you’ll enjoy makes me wonder what you’ll be like when you’re not on your best behaviour.
If you say you are going to be somewhere on a certain day at a certain time, and I need to depend on you being there, please actually make the effort to be there. If you say you will leave on a certain date, then please make the maximum effort to do so. Telling me that something is your plan or routine, and then changing your mind, followed by getting annoyed with me when I become anxious, is only likely to make things worse. Once again, I am autistic, and as a fellow autistic, I do expect you to be able to grasp the necessity of routine. I find it interesting how your autism was the reason you couldn’t stick to a routine but my distress at the change in plan is dismissed, or ignored, leaving me with a growing understanding that your autism will trump mine every single time.
Do not make plans for how I am going to behave. Just because you are hoping I will have sex with you and you have set a timeframe for that activity, does not make me responsible either for fulfilling your expectation or being sympathetic towards your disappointment. Telling me that you had everything planned and I’m not performing to expectation is likely to make me feel that I am a puppet and not a human being.
In common with a lot of autistic people, I have problems with physical contact. I don’t want to be touched by someone until I know them really well, and feel comfortable with them. Even less do I want to be touched by an unfamiliar person, especially when there’s no one else around. If I’ve just met you, I don’t want to hug you. I probably won’t want to hug you at the end of the first date, the second date, the third date or maybe even the tenth date. I don’t want you to grab, touch, or stroke me, unless you’ve asked if its okay. Why, when I barely know you, and you know I’m autistic, do you walk up behind me and stroke me? I’ve told you I have problems with physical contact, and yet in your eyes I seem to be some sort of possession now, your desire to touch me overruling my wish not to be touched every single time.
Apart from the physical reaction to being touched like this, which can bring me close to meltdown if you keep doing it, the other problem is it tells me you don’t respect my wishes, that you don’t actually believe I’m autistic, or at best, your autism is far more important than mine, and always will be. And that leads to the most important question; if you won’t respect my wishes in public, when I ask not to be touched, and if you won’t respect them in private either, how many other requests of mine would you ignore? I really don’t want to find out the answer to that the hard way. I have told you no, and you’ve ignored me. It’s a very scary pattern.
Once I’ve said no, and asked you to leave, please go. Don’t find reasons to hang around, don’t turn up at my workplace, don’t keep driving by my house, don’t develop a sudden need to sit in my favourite cafe (where you never went before). Don’t send me long explanatory emails that tell me how nothing was really your fault and that say everything except apologise for groping me, for ignoring my boundaries and ignoring my autism.
Perhaps if you’d just allowed me a say in how things proceeded, if you had given me the time I needed, things would have turned out very differently. You agreed that we needed to say things clearly, in words, so that there would be no misunderstandings. It’s a pity that you didn’t actually listen to anything I said.