Romance is a common holiday theme, and autistic people (just like NTs) are very aware of the constant barrage of romantic imagery at this time of year: from mistletoe kisses to Christmas rom-com films, commercials of cozy holiday couples to articles about “The Perfect Gift for Him/Her.” And, of course, there is little to no disability representation in the mainstream romance industry.
Many autistic people are in romantic relationships or want to be in relationships. Some seek Platonic partnerships. Some prefer to stay single. But one thing that often commingles all people with autism is that we are perceived as incapable of having successful relationships, unless we somehow “overcome our autism.” (Note: That’s ableism.)
An unfortunate reality is that those of us on the autism spectrum often internalize the messaging that we aren’t capable of fostering long-term partnerships. There are so many stereotypes written into ASD traits lists, as well as pervasive negative representation. So here are a few gentle reminders about autistic people and love:
1) Autistic people are sexual. We can be romantically and/or sexually attracted to all genders regardless of our gender identity. We can want or not want sex. Not only that, but we can get butterflies. Likewise, we can get nervous, just like any NT, about a first kiss. We can like someone one day, and not the next. Basically, there is no such thing as a singular autistic person sexual identity.
2) An autistic person in love is not immature. I’ve seen people giggle at autistic people who are trying to date. I’ve heard the patronizing, “Isn’t that cute! He/She/They have a crush!” Autistic people are often infantilized. As such, our relational turmoil and joy can be seen as less real than that of NTs. Autistic love is multi-faceted, complex, and should never be condescended.
3) Autistic people deserve to be loved fully, not loved in spite of our autism. Being loved despite my autism is like dating someone who despises my ethnic or sexual identity. My friends told me to end relationships with past partners that talked me down over my race and queerness. And the same goes for my autistic identity.