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  • Writer's pictureMim Kempson

Neurotypical norms that don't work for autistic people in relationships

There are MANY norms about neurotypical relationships that just don’t resonate for people with autism.

I work with many autistic individuals and couples where one or both partners are neurodivergent. These are some of the things I’ve both researched and noticed in my private practice as a neuro-affirming Relationship Therapist that I personally believe are not helpful (in ANY relationship).

Hidden requests

Vague communication hinders connection in all relationships in general! But it’s especially the case for people with autism. If you don’t communicate your needs clearly, if you don’t ask direct questions or make direct requests, they’re not going to “read between the lines”. Examples:

Instead of “those chocolates look really delicious,” say

“May I have one of your chocolates?”

Instead of “I’ve really enjoyed meeting you,” say

“Would you like to meet up again?”

Broken promises

To many people with autism, words (written and verbal) are like binding contracts. When people change their minds or retract a favour they originally offered, it can feel as distressing as a major lie or betrayal. Positive, neuro-affirming relationships involve thoroughly explaining the reasons for such changes, ideally in advance of making them.

Social niceties

Dating and anything involving chit chat can be hard for autistic people. It’s not a matter of being “bad” at it. It’s because dominant conventions about how people “should” be on a date rarely provide space for people with autism to actually be themselves. Engaging in small talk, asking meaningless questions, pretending to pay interest in topics they couldn’t care less about often involves masking.

If you’re interested in individual or couples therapy, you're welcome to book a 15-minute call to see if we’d make a good fit for therapy.

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