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Autism/Adult High Functioning Austic Boyfriend with Neurotypical Me


QUESTION: Hi Melanie.
I don't know where else to ask this question - I can't seem to find an Autistic Boyfriend questions site on the Internet... I hope you can help me.
I broke up with my Autistic/Aspergers/Awesomely Eccentric boyfriend of 4 years about 4 months ago. We are 38 and 42 yrs old. Last year he moved in to an Apartment with me to avoid my breaking up with him (I thought that if he wasn't ready to do that, he wasn't serious about the relationship)  He was not able to convey his feelings about this to me  and instead just eventually shut down.  After we broke up and I moved out, he was able to understand and explain to me (via text) his need to be on his own to deal with his own issues and depression, and his need to force himself to survive on his own.  He says he still loves me, and I know that I still love him.  I also know that the only way for us to continue on any level is to go into couples therapy - we can’t verbally communicate with each other without becoming frustrated.  We NEED a mediator.
I need to find a way to convey to him how beneficial couples therapy would be.  He had a bad experience with therapy in his youth, and doesn't trust it.  He has been prescribed wellbutrin and adderal for ADHT - but hasn't seen a psychiatrist in years. (his family is full of Dr.s, his sister is his Dr. and prescribes it to him)  He definitely benefits from this, i don't think it is a mistake.(I of course think he should see a psychiatrist in general to rule out if he should change his meds).
How can I explain to him that therapy is a way that we could progress? Or, at least to TRY to progress?  He is very stubborn.  I don't want to ultimatum him, but I don't know how not to.  We are technically not together right now, and in separate places.  I’d love it if you could give me some advice, any advice!  I guess I am also wanting your insight as to whether or not you think I am just holding on to a dead relationship that has no future.  
Thank you so much,

ANSWER: Dear Anna,

I appreciate the difficulty in which you find yourself even as I enjoy the way you describe him. Let me first recommend against ultimatums and pressure.  I suspect it will do little toward your desired outcome, and may actually harm your relationship.

Firstly, please consider the following:  Autistics do not usually benefit from counseling, primarily because autistics do not process information the same way neurotypicals do, and almost all counselors are neurotypical.  The research available for professional education (about autism) has been poor, and even mostly derived from neurotypical interpretations of autistic thought and behavior according to neurotypical ways of thinking.  We do not have the same capacities for specific ways of interpreting things.  

Although it may not be generally possible to fully understand each other's ways of processing information, it IS possible AND desirable AND fulfilling to learn to accept and enjoy each other even in our differences.  I speak from experience - my neurotypical husband and I have been married for over 26 years, and he still claims I fascinate him.  I probably understand him for the most part (since autistics have historically been required to study neurotypicals and attempt to mimic them in order to function at all in society), but he does not understand me at all.  He does love and enjoy me though.

From my very autistic perspective it sounds to me as though you do not understand the very difficult place he may be in, as essentially an alien in a strange world.  It IS very difficult to explain to neurotypicals the way we perceive things, and is only possible when a neurotypical who is motivated to do so (as those who love us) is willing to take us as we are without re-interpreting us as if we were neurotypical.  Most of us are extremely straightforward and honest, since deception, innuendo and manipulation are very high level social skills.  Most of us are not correctly interpreted by most neurotypicals (especially those who are certain that they understand us better than we do ourselves) and become very frustrated at having what we say "twisted" or somehow assumed to mean other than what it does.

Because time generally has a different nature to autistics than it seems to have to neurotypicals, and because our feelings tend to run very very very deeply (despite the usual stereotype about us), it is likely your boyfriend loves you more deeply and permanently than any other you will ever have.  But his needs are different than most men, and requires someone willing to be his advocate as well as his beloved.  Patience and understanding require a great deal of work, but they both are worth the effort as far as relationships between autistics and neurotypicals are concerned.

I suggest you not try to push him to think as a neurotypical, but learn to enjoy him as he is.  The more you learn about the way he thinks the better he will communicate with you and the more delight you will both have in each other.

It's not a matter of "explaining to him" that any particular intervention "will help", but rather forging your own way with each other to learn about the other's way of perceiving life.  I wholeheartedly believe that if you are willing to put in the effort your relationship is NOT a dead one without a future, but is indeed a very alive one with potential beyond your imagining.

Please let me know what you think of this advice.  I hold you both in the highest regard,

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Melanie,
To begin with, I really need you to know how much I appreciate your insights.  It’s really good to have your point of view and you have really helped me in understanding his insistence in not seeking therapy.   I think that the key issue (which you hit on) is whether or not I am able or willing, because of my love for him, to support him in his endeavors to become the man he wants to be.  
When we first met he was unemployed.  I insisted that he get a job (he is a software engineer) and he got one.  He has been overwhelmed with his job since he got it (2 years ago).  It’s a start up company and It seems like he is just struggling to get by each work day as it comes and can’t plan at all for the future.  He is basically either working or sleeping to recover from working…. I am not saying this was the only problem, but it’s definitely a main issue.  SO, although we had issues in the past where he might not want to get up and go to the market with me, or to a daytime event, etc.  he now doesn’t really do anything.  And this is clearly adding to his depression.
The reason I bring this up is to explain why I am hesitant to support his endeavors any more.  He doesn’t seem to be making any progress (although I understand what you mean when you say that we may see time in a different way), and I am basically alone a lot of the time and struggling with my own issues because of this.  Part of me has been hanging on hoping he would “figure it out on his own” and come back to me and be ready to move forward.
He (knowing him, this is understandable) doesn’t want to tell me a time when he could commit because he doesn’t want to lie.  He is not reassuring and tells me I should decide if I want to see him – that his feelings have not changed, and that I need to figure out on my own how I would like to deal with it.
He doesn’t want to talk or discuss things with me now because he thinks that we can’t get anywhere.  Like you suggested, he accuses me of switching around what he is saying  and rewording it into some other statement.  Meanwhile, I am just trying to understand him and asking whether or not this is what he means, etc.  Or trying to remember  exactly what was just said that he is referring to… Or, just trying to figure out what is happening when he doesn’t tell me anything at all (shutdown).  And if I do this, he accuses me of making assumptions based on nothing at all.  Meanwhile, as a neurotypical Communications and Theater Major Female; I have based a lot of my life doing this.  These issues are why I am feeling so hopeless and wanting a mediator.  Do you recommend any ways I might communicate with him more effectively?   I don't know how to talk with him constructively!!
 I am sorry I am giving you so much information, I just really appreciate what you said and am trying to explain more of what the hell is happening.  He wants to see me tomorrow and I told him I wasn't sure.  I don't think I can hang out with him casually anymore, which is what he wants.  When I have in the past few months, I seem to regress and start yo-yoing  back and forth between my love for him and reality. I told him that I didn’t know if I could see him because all I am going to want to do is talk about a future between us and he doesn’t seem to want to do this – so what is the point…  
I really am lost and don’t know what to do.  I do love the man and appreciate so many of his qualities.  I just don’t know if I am strong enough myself to continue.
Thank your again, sorry about the long post.

Dear Anna,

Has he seen this?  Perhaps the first thing you could do is consider showing him what you have written and even what I have said in reply and ask if he could try to tell you what he thinks in response.  

I suggest you read some of my other answers just to learn about autism in general. Meanwhile, let me offer some comments ... about ASD (autism spectrum disorders), about a few of the things you said, and about potential ideas for you.

First, Most autistics mean EXACTLY what they say, without ANY hidden meanings or innuendos.  We may not always use the best words to convey the meaning, but will generally add sentences as needed to clarify the meaning", but we can be abstract too.  What it really is is consistent, genuinely open and up-front communication.

Second, Most autistics are frustrated by what seems to be inconsistency and hidden agenda or expectations in neurotypical behavior AND in the way neurotypicals seem to expect the same from us.  We can't do it.

Working for neurotypical employers is unusually difficult for autistics, in part because of the first two points and in part because social skills play such a large role in employment.  That he has kept his job for two years is an unusual thing for even high functioning autistics, because even the autistic with exemplary skills (especially if s/he is better at his/her job than coworkers) will often run into jealous and manipulative co-workers or superiors, and can be easily set-up to fail by others who use their inborn social skills (which autistics don't have). For this reason we generally have to work harder than neurotypicals to do the same job, and receive less for it.  Assuming this is true of your boyfriend, that he has been employed for two years so far likely means he is working extra hard, probably to please you.

The world is extremely insecure for autistics.  Even the most talented are set up to fail by the way society functions, and this is getting worse by the year.  For this reason, it is extra hard to predict anything.  What we see is people pulling back from us for no reason we can see, and being disappointed even when we think we have done all we can to do for them what they have requested of us.

You said,

     The reason I bring this up is to explain why I am hesitant
     to support his endeavors any more.  He doesn't seem to
     be making any progress...

PLEASE don't pull away from him, especially since the endeavor you mentioned was not HIS, but was in fact YOURS.  Though you may see your "insistence" that he get a job as a way to help him succeed, for him it is likely a way to please you.  The very fact that he is still working is progress.  Please understand this.

     Part of me has been hanging on hoping he would “figure it
     out on his own” and come back to me and be ready to
     move forward.

This is an exceedingly difficult thing to ask of an autistic.  Most of us would give up on it as impossible to do, and sink into deeper depression because we "failed again"

     I insisted that he get a job (he is a software engineer)
     and he got one.  He has been overwhelmed with his job
     since he got it (2 years ago)... 

Autistics do not have the inborn social interpreter which allows neurotypicals to instantly understand even split-second cues from others (glints in the eye, subtle posture or facial changes, slight pitch variations in the voice, etc).  No matter how well we may have succeeded in mimicking neurotypical behavior and understanding the basics in social interplay, These things cannot be memorized and responded to in a socially acceptable time interval.  This is what makes us appear clutzy or unrefined socially.  In addition, many of us have challenges in sensory or perceptual areas that (even if it means we are able to see, feel, hear, understand, etc things that neurotypicals cannot) create a greater amount of stress or chaos in our environments that a neurotypical has.  Combined with the inconsistency and unpredictability of others, or extra noise or visual clutter, unexpected demands from superiors, etc. It is more likely that we will be overwhelmed than not. Add to that sudden changes in venue, and it becomes more than many are able to deal with.  Life is overwhelming, especially as an autistic ages and society becomes less and less willing to accept social error...

Autistics cannot function properly when we are overwhelmed.  You may have heard about autistic meltdowns or "stimming".  Basically stimming is a way to "flood" our nervous system and allow it to recover from overwhelming situations, and meltdowns occur when we are unable to succeed any other way.

     It seems like he is just struggling to get by each work day
     as it comes and can't plan at all for the future.  He is 
     basically either working or sleeping to recover from working.

He probably is.

I understand how you feel re: the status of your relationship.  I also understand your boyfriend has needs as a man (such as to be able to support a wife) which I do not, and cannot pretend to explain.  My advice is to get his feedback on the interchange between you and me, and perhaps even ask him to write to me if you need someone to help "interpret" for a time.  He can mark it private if he needs to do so, but of course if he does no one else can benefit from the communication.

This is a start, at least.  I hope it helps.


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Melanie R Jones, ASD, PT MTC


I am an adult with autism, and have an educational and professional background which helps fill in where needed. Answering questions about autism is extremely easy for me, because I have lived it daily for my entire life. Although individuals with autism are all unique, we have many things in common, especially in the interactions we have with neurotypicals (or those often referred to as "normal"). When something confuses you about an autistic's behavior or needs, I can help. I am not a doctor, however, so I cannot diagnose.


I am autistic and have four children who have special needs related to ASD. I have worked with autism from just about all directions, as a child, peer, parent, employee, patient and therapist. There is much misinformation about the autism spectrum, partly because it has been described comparatively recently in the medical literature and partly because most of the information published has been provided by those "outside looking in". As a physical therapist I have had training and experience in behavioral management and rehabilitation which blends well with the neurological, psychological and medical education I pursued in college.

BA Biology/Psychology Wells College 1981 BS Physical Therapy Upstate Medical Center CHRP 1983 Manual Therapy Certification 1989 Independent Studies

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