Know the signs.
Behavior is a tricky thing. We learn so much about other people and ourselves from body language and how we act in certain situations.
If someone you love acts differently than most people, you might wonder what the cause is. You may ask yourself if they are on the autism spectrum. If you know the signs, you'll be better equipped in knowing how to react and behave in certain situations. If you think you might have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), knowing what to look out for can help you get a diagnosis from a medical professional.
Not knowing what's going on with you or someone you love can be frustrating, aggravating, and can create a lot of tension and negativity.
In a piece on The Elephant Journal, writer Alex Myles says, "Romantic relationships can be complicated and frustrating for a lot of people, let alone those on the autism spectrum. Love, affection, and communication can be puzzling for everyone, but for those on the spectrum, it can feel impossible."
Here are eight signs you or someone you love is on the autism spectrum.
1. They resist touch.
When someone has ASD, they may not be as affectionate as you might like, and may act as if they're being tortured when you give them a spontaneous hug. It isn't that they can't show their love; it's that they must feel comfortable and in the right frame of mind to snuggle, hug or cuddle.
"The brains of people high in autistic traits aren't coding touch as socially relevant," says Martha Kaiser, associate director of the Child Neuroscience Laboratory at the Yale Child Study Center.
2. They lack social skills.
When people are on the autism spectrum, they have many challenges when it comes to social situations. They may avoid eye contact, talk about inappropriate topics, and have difficulty understanding the gestures, body language, and facial expressions of others. People with ASD may avoid group events as much as possible because they have trouble making small talk and not knowing when people are teasing.
Elizabeth Laugeson, PsyD said, in an American Psychological Association podcast, "I think difficulty with conversational skills, for example, makes it very, very difficult to develop meaningful and close relationships with people, whether they be friendships or romantic relationships. And difficulty picking up on social cues and understanding the perspectives of others, knowing how someone might actually react to something that we say or something we do. That sort of difficulty makes it really challenging for people with autism to develop these relationships."
3. They have unusual physical behaviors.
Some of the classic indicators of ASD are repetitive speech, physical tics, and looking anywhere else besides a person's eyes when speaking with them. People on the spectrum may exhibit unusual behavior due to difficulties they have responding to their environment.
Behaviors may include unusually tense or focused interests, stereotyped and repetitive body movements such as hand flapping and spinning, repetitive use of objects such as flipping lights on and off, insistence on sticking to routines, unusual sensory interests such as sniffing objects, and sensory sensitivities including avoidance of everyday sounds.
4. Their declarations of love come few and far between.
It isn't that they don't love you; they just don't understand why they need to repeat it over and over again. Besides, actions speak louder than words, and they're sure you'd know by the way they act toward you that they love you. They'd tell you if their feelings had changed, as they have no problem being brutally honest.
"Studies have shown that people with autism can have feelings that are stronger and deeper than those without autism," said John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in the Eye. "Yet those feelings may be invisible to outsiders because we don't show them. Because we don't show them or the expected response, people make the wrong assumption about our depth of feeling about other people."
5. They're extremely sensitive.
Most people on the autism spectrum are somewhat oversensitive. They have a tendency to take things people say literally and become hurt over jokes or even harmless comments. If you break their trust or are disloyal, they're done with you. They do have a sense of humor, it's just they have one that's unique to them. Someone with ASD can be easily offended, and can rapidly become upset and distressed about things that seem insignificant to others.
6. They consistently forget important dates.
For someone on the spectrum, they may not understand why there's so much importance placed on certain dates. If they want to celebrate or buy a gift, they can do it any time they want, not because a specific date tells them they're supposed to.
Myles says, "If birthdays, anniversaries or other important events are overlooked or forgotten, try not to take it personally."
7. A change of plans throws them a curve ball.
It may not seem like a big deal, but it can be very difficult for someone with ASD to cope with a sudden plan change. They have usually been thinking about the event for a while, and it's very confusing to them and can be another cause for anxiety. They like rigid routines and firm plans.
On the WrongPlanet forum, user Steel Maiden said, "If someone called me suddenly and asked me to change my whole day's plans, just like that, I would shout at them and refuse to leave the house. The change of plan would be far too traumatic."
8. They've been known to have a meltdown.
Meltdowns can be part of the package with someone with ASD, and how they handle them is different from person to person. They usually happen after a buildup of tension or frustration, and can come out of nowhere. They're almost always purely emotional.
Emma Dalmayne, an adult on the spectrum and a mother of autistic children, says, "When you have a meltdown, it's as if the world is ending. Everything is too much and you feel like an overwhelming darkness has engulfed your very being. Irrepressible anger that may seem completely irrational to an outsider can be inwardly devastating us internally."
The best thing to do when you love someone (or yourself) who's on the spectrum is to learn to accept them and to not try to change them. You may never fully understand how the ASD brain works, but just because it works differently than others doesn't mean it's not wonderful and brilliant. Like with any relationship, having patience with your partner is everything.