Romance and autistic spectrum

Amy Harmon, who wrote in September about Justin Canha, an autistic high school student, has returned with another long, incisive, moving piece about young autistic adults striving to forge romantic relationships with one another:

From the beginning, their physical relationship was governed by the peculiar ways their respective brains processed sensory messages. Like many people with autism, each had uncomfortable sensitivities to types of touch or texture, and they came in different combinations.

Jack recoiled when Kirsten tried to give him a back massage, pushing deeply with her palms.

“Pet me,” he said, showing her, his fingers grazing her skin. But Kirsten, who had always hated the feeling of light touch, shrank from his caress.

“Only deep pressure,” she showed him, hugging herself.

He tried to kiss her, but it was hard for her to enjoy it, so obvious was his aversion. To him, kissing felt like what it was, he told her: mashing your face against someone else’s. Neither did he like the sweaty feeling of hand-holding, a sensation that seemed to dominate all others whenever they tried it.

“I’m sorry,” he said helplessly.

Navigating Love and Autism (Thanks, Scott!)


  1. Knowing how touch could be unpleasant, I once asked an autistic, online friend about how she dealt with romance.  She said being caressed was fine and kissed on her abdomen was very pleasurable but sex was  emotionally overwhelming for her.   I hadn’t expected that.  I guess I still don’t understand autism.

  2. Neurotypical people are not capable to understand the “autistic” brain. Neurotypicals are not able to separate their emotions from what they observe. They just cant think in an organised and rational way. The neurotypical brain is an evolutionary dead end.

    1. Er, evolutionary advantages require being able to be passed on. Especially given that the story is about an autistic couple in a sexless romantic relationship, I don’t think it will ‘dead end’ the sort of brain type that’s been serving humans fine for hundreds of thousands of years. I don’t have anything against people being in sexless relationships, just it rather precludes passing on one’s genes to another generation — a prerequisite of evolution.

      That’s assuming you weren’t being sarcastic, and I just missed it.

  3. Aspergers is great fun, cant wear jeans, being hugged hurts, clothes are near impossible to find because stores are slaves to hipster fashion which is now drainpipes it seems and no one carries normal pants. Cant go to most restaurants because you cant filter out the screaming and yelling and screeching kids (Which I hate with a massive passion anymore). Talking to most people is at best barely tolerable and at worst just as bad as restaurants. But that’s just me ranting ceaslessly, and I’ll shut the hell up. 

    1. I agree about restaurants or noisy places, can’t filter out loud kids and other stuff. I can tune it out, but that involves tuning out everything, including any people I may be with who try to talk to me (to be on-topic, this can be a problem in romantic relationships!)

      Not sure what you’re on about regarding jeans, though. I’m genuinely interested, as another person with Asperger’s-like symptoms. Do you have an aversion to denim, or is it just that they’re too tight?

      Regarding drainpipe fits… yes if you shop in H&M, Urban Outfitters, etc. you will not be able to find looser-fitting stuff. But even stores like The Gap have loose fits. It’s actually a lot harder to find closer-fitting pants (and other clothes) than to find loose stuff! For the record, I wear my clothes in as slim of a fit as I can manage and even though I’m kind of stocky and a bit overweight, this is very difficult to achieve with clothes that can be regularly found in the US!

      1. We’ve actually shopped everywhere, even at gap and JC Penny, everyone is swapping to hip hugger and tight pants for some retarded reason. I’ve ended up having to shop at Casual XL because they still have loose cargo pants. As for jeans its the fact that they are too tight, unmoving (to me at least) and the texture is irritating. As for noise in restaurants I usually take care of with a giant hammer measure, either earplugs (Really good ones from the GM plants.. UAW is good for one thing at least. (and no I dont work there, mum is a supplier for them.)) Or just by wearing headphones and listening to good music, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Infected Mushroom, easy to listen stuff.

      2. “I agree about restaurants or noisy places, can’t filter out loud kids and other stuff. I can tune it out, but that involves tuning out everything, including any people I may be with who try to talk to me (to be on-topic, this can be a problem in romantic relationships!)”

        Why i find family gatherings (i have a large set of near relatives) troublesome now that i am an adult, as i can’t just slip into some imaginary world or wander down the hallway the way i did as a kid. Then again i wonder if most of my oversensitivity ended up in hearing, as i can hear a old school CRT running from across the room, or even some electrical appliances just from the buzzing of the transformer.

    1. Agreed. As someone who’s been in the same relationship for a decade now, it sounds like these two are having the sort of conversations and negotiations that could help make their relationship work for the long term. Good for them! 

  4. I’m someone with Aspergers, and man, I wish I could find someone willing to deal with this. Romance is a pretty trying thing. I’ve tried going to some meetups to try and meet similar people, but most of those are for people way on the other side of the spectrum.
    Still… I guess it’s heartening to see people similar to me can find love.

    1. My relationships, including my current one, have always suffered because of this. My very caring and accommodating girlfriend (who is neurotypical, though I will say I don’t like that term) finds it nearly impossible to truly understand, and to deal with me sometimes. But it can definitely work. Keep your chin up :)

      Try online dating – OK Cupid is full of intelligent people and I met my girlfriend there. It’s non-threatening and allows you to ease into a relationship with someone, which is necessary and allows them to get used to your “quirks” as they’ll probably consider them.

  5. Neurotypical’s preference in the backrub arena is also highly varied.  Large number of folks tell me the significant other pushes too hard, too soft or too fleetingly. 

    1. Yeah, I don’t particularly like my back being rubbed, but my OtherHalf loves it when I rub his back. Fortunately we understand each other! (We’re not autistic.)

  6. It was a really interesting read, and sweet.  But, I thought the arguments that were described and the nitpicky so-called “aspie arguments” were things that neurotypical people also argue about. At least, my neurotypical husband and I also have these so-called “aspie arguments” frequently.

  7. ‘Sperglord here. I tend to be a lot more flexible than these two (not if I had my way mind you…) but a lot of bells were rung reading that.  The sad thing is that I KNOW I’m difficult and over-logical about stuff, and work very hard to concede and consider, but it’s always the little things that get me. Although I carefully explain the need for a partner to take advantage of my very literal nature and tell me things, after the inevitable breakup it’s always “I always wished you’d” or “you just never”.

    III could follow instructions if you’d bother to give them, but YYYOOOUUU people never follow instructions about giving instructions.

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