Autism and the Desire and the Difficulties of Romance

It can be hard, and maybe counterproductive, to admit to a desire that seems impossible to fulfill. Jerry Newport found out from watching “Rain Man” at the movie theatre and saying the answer to a hard math equation before Babbitt the rain man did, that he had Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism generally characterized by intelligence and a lack of social aptitude.

Even before the uncanny revelation at the movie theatre, Newport had known he was missing something; he just didn’t possess the social ease that other people did. Unable to interact in ways that others accepted and appreciated, Newport spent most of his childhood and early adult life plagued with loneliness and depression. He even tried to end his life twice.

After discovering he had Asperger’s syndrome, Newport dived into books and learned as much as he could about it, and then formed a group to meet other people who had a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. At the group meetings, he met Mary Meinel, whom he’d marry. Mary herself has Asperger’s syndrome with a reputed talent for composing music. Although an inspiring story about two soul mates that meet, each having a condition of ASD, the true story must also tell the difficulties that a relationship can pose for those with autism.

An important part of showing love and maintaining intimacy is the act of touching, but touch can be either a repugnant act or a gesture that autistic people just don’t think about doing. Mary would reach out and hug Jerry, who didn’t like “surprise” touching and would respond with an adamant “No!” Regardless of whether the partner is autistic or non-autistic, a response like that can be hurtful and feel rejecting. These intimate encounters can happen in a romantic relationship and both partners need to have a willingness to understand what underlies the reaction. Jerry wasn’t refusing or rejecting Mary; he had an altogether opposite response when it came to sexual intimacy.

A New York Times article called “Navigating Love and Autism,” shares some insight into the romance between two people that also have an autism spectrum disorder, Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith. Robison is extremely intelligent in chemistry, but when it comes to showing affection through touch, he needs lessons, or more precisely, reminders. Lindsmith, who understands his autism (and who is on the spectrum herself), will remind him by placing her hand on his shoulder that she’d like him to hold her hand or wrap an arm around her. They also have a different relationship to pressure that they are aware of and have communicated to each other. Whereas Robison does not like too much pressure, Lindsmith really likes the feeling of pressure, asking her mom to sit on her when a little girl.

Some men with autism might feel like they don’t even have a chance with women, but they might be discounting their qualities in the face of all their difficulties.

Gerald “Jerry” Newport is an author with Asperger syndrome whose life was the basis for the 2005 feature-length movie Mozart and the Whale.

To find out more about Jerry Newport visit his web site at: http://jerrynewport.com/


More on this subject in the next article.