Everyday Struggles That Autistic Females Face When Dating Or In A Relationship

Many of us female autistics that we do face similar situations as the neurotypicals face yet some can be more deeper and darker. Here are some more topics based on the everyday struggles as of now and after this, I shall give you some tips and advice when dating an autistic female or just autistics in general.

Camouflaging/Masking

 

 

Again, this term has interchanged so much so to give you a better understanding of this term let me define this for you as you may have heard it has been used in the autistic community groups that you are with or with autistic people in general. In writing this to you all, I have also made a few topics of discussion for this term on my channel which you can find it here if you are interested to know more: Autism and Masking (Overview) [2018] 

 

So, what is the term meaning of masking? Masking is a term where autistics tend to hide or suppress certain behaviours to each neurotypical to deem as ‘normal” This isn’t only happening with autistic females autistic males do this too. Masking also has long-term effects on our mental health as well. But women with autism tend to mask to a far greater degree than other groups, in order to fit into a world that feels alien in many ways. Misunderstanding social rules, facing criticism for being oneself, becoming overwhelmed and exhausted in social situations, and dealing with sensory overload can all lead to consistent masking behaviours in women with autism. When you have autism, you may feel as if you are constantly adapting to a situation that doesn’t inherently work for you—often, because it doesn’t make any room for your needs and wants. You may learn that you’re not just “shy”; you’re too shy. You’re not just “direct”; you’re too direct. You’re not just enthusiastic; you’re too enthusiastic. Too tantrummy. Too blunt. Too sensitive. And so the list grows and continues.

Can any of these be relatable and so much more of the pet peeves or common statements that we hear most of the time/or almost every day?

KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER:

  • ·         Camouflaging or “masking” behaviors that are deemed inappropriate or strange can lead to low self-esteem in women with autism.
  • ·         Because of criticism received early in life, many women with autism judge themselves as being both “too much” and “not enough.”
  • ·         Identifying the roots of low self-esteem and recognizing one’s strengths can help women with autism move beyond masking to self-acceptance.

 

Although anyone with ASD might feel pressure to mask to adapt to societal expectations, gain acceptance, or cope with social stigma and/or stereotyping from others around them, it’s more likely used by autistic folks who:

  • Require minimal support as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5)
  • Are aware of the presence of social stigma or societal expectations
  • Have had experiences with bullying or social rejection
  • Identify as female
  • Have a specific goal in mind, such as obtaining a job or a romantic relationship

Often, masking behaviors involve hiding specific symptoms of autism, including:

  • camouflaging sensitivities to sound or other sensory difficulties
  • reducing self-regulating behaviors such as stimming
  • covering up expressive and receptive language challenges.

Here is what author, Hannah Belcher has shared and discussed about masking in autistic people, based on research and her own personal experience.

 

To ‘mask’ or to ‘camouflage’ means to hide or disguise parts of oneself in order to better fit in with those around you.

 

 It is an unconscious strategy all humans develop whilst growing up in order to connect with those around us.  However, for us autistic folk the strategy is often much more ingrained and harmful to our wellbeing and health. Because our social norms are different to others around us, we often experience greater pressure to hide our true selves and to fit into that non-autistic culture. More often than not, we have to spend our entire lives hiding our traits and trying to fit in, even though the odds of appearing ‘non-autistic’ are against us. Masking may involve suppressing certain behaviours we find soothing but that others think are ‘weird’, such as stimming or intense interests. It can also mean mimicking the behaviour of those around us, such as copying non-verbal behaviors and developing complex social scripts to get by in social situations. With this comes a great need to be like others, and to avoid the prejudice and judgment that comes with being ‘different’. Over time we may become more aware of our own masking, but it often begins as an unconscious response to social trauma before we even grasp our differences. I was 23 when I received my autism diagnosis, and it was only through learning more about masking that I realized how my diagnosis had been hidden for so long. It wasn’t that my autistic traits weren’t there, they’d just been in disguise for so long. The strategy of masking shows just how clever and resourceful our young minds are at finding ways of coping. At some points in our lives, like during job interviews, it may have even been useful.

 

Effects of masking

 

  • However, just because a coping strategy was once useful, it doesn’t mean it always will be. Studies are now beginning to find how detrimental to our mental health masking can be (Bradley et al., 2021; Hull et al., 2019). Autistic people who mask more show more signs of anxiety and depression, and the strategy may even been linked to an increase in suicidal behaviours (Cassidy et al. 2018).
  • There are several reasons why this could be. Firstly, masking uses up vital resources that we can’t use in other areas of our lives. To put it simply, it is exhausting. I still find myself regularly battling autistic ‘burnt out’ and periods of mental health crisis from the strain of trying to adapt myself to live in a world that just isn’t adjusted to my way of thinking.
  • Also, it stops us from developing our true identities. The pressure to fit in means we rarely have time or energy to do the things we want to do or to behave like our true selves. In my late 20s, I realised how little I knew about myself. As I went into a deeper and deeper mental health crisis I came to the realisation that I had no idea who I was, or even what I liked. Everything I knew was in some way connected to how I thought I should be.
  • Ironically, a study I recently conducted with colleagues found that masking didn’t change the judgments that non-autistic peers made towards autistic people’s social behaviours. Even when an autistic person is masking, non-autistic people will still rate them more harshly than non-autistic peers if they don’t know they are autistic. This unconscious bias is evident throughout society for anyone deemed to behave or think atypically by neurotypical standards.

 

Awareness and understanding

  • The best solution to reducing the need for autistic people to mask is to spread awareness to non-autistic people of different neurodiverse behaviours and thinking patterns. When non-autistic people know someone is autistic, they seem to judge them less harshly. However, this strategy is not an easy one and will take years of effort before it is fully ingrained in our society.
  • Our only other option for the time being is to focus on protecting ourselves and improving our own mental health and well-being. This doesn’t mean stopping masking altogether, it just means becoming more aware of how we use the strategy to cope, and what effect it has on us.
  • Self-awareness is the first key, from that follows self-compassion and kindness to rid ourselves of all the stigma we have internalised. The worse we feel about ourselves the more we mask, and the more we mask the worse we feel. By learning how to change the negative thoughts and feelings we have of ourselves from masking, we may even find the need to be maskless.

 

 

  Do you remember in the Australian Netflix reality series ‘Love on the Spectrum,’ participants found the following aspects of dating and relationships challenging?

Here are some of the struggles that were discussed on the show:

  • Struggling with social skills
  • Worrying about neurotypical people not wanting to date them or be in a relationship with them
  • Spacing out in conversations
  • Finding a date too formal
  • Feeling as if they go too far with questions that they ask their date or partner
  • Not feeling ready for a relationship
  • Wanting to be friends with someone rather than a romantic partner
  • Things going wrong or “triggering [their] flight reflex”
  • Never having had a partner before
  • Fearing that others are not interested in them
  • Never being in love before
  • Feeling jealous of a sibling, another relative, or a friend having a partner
  • A person still living with their parents is embarrassed about marrying someone
  • Not yet knowing what intimate love is
  • One person in the relationship might be clingy toward the other
  • Fear of rejection
  • Experiencing panic attacks during dates
  • People who date liking each other rather than loving each other
  • Not making eye contact during a date
  • Preferring not to discuss previous dates
  • Finding dating and relationships confusing

    Can any of you relate to any of these reasons?

Autism & Emotions: What You Need to Know

 

 

Autistic people’s difficulty with expressing emotions can make relationships difficult for them to navigate. Although people with autism have the same feelings as everyone else, their feelings can be more intense than those neurotypical people express. Since people with autism find it hard to show or express their emotions in the ways that are socially expected of them, they are often misinterpreted as apathetic. Because autistic people might have trouble understanding social rules, and the way others deliver words or body language, they can sometimes express their feelings inappropriately. These include attraction and romantic feelings. People on the spectrum need clear explanations of what is appropriate and what is not. For example, a person with autism might keep inviting someone on a date when they have already refused a few times. This might be because the other person has made an excuse such as, “I’m busy this weekend,” instead of saying, “No thank you.” The person with autism is confused because they assume that the person might still want to go on a date with them, albeit at another time. It is advised that if the autistic person asks the other person on a date and the other person says, “No,” the autistic person doesn’t ask them out on a date again. If the other person makes an excuse twice, the autistic person doesn’t ask them out again.    

Emotional Dysregulation in Relationships

 

 

Some Autistic people who are in relationships may experience emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation is described as “an emotional response that is poorly regulated and does not fall within the traditionally accepted range of emotional reaction.” An example of how emotional dysregulation affects a relationship is when a partner behaves in an impulsive manner by making quick decisions, such as suddenly spending some time away from the other person when angry rather than confronting the issue. Another example of how emotional dysregulation can affect relationships is when the couple has frequent misunderstandings that are difficult to recover from. For instance, if they have a disagreement at the beginning of a meal, they worry about the rest of the meal being stressful and unpleasant.

Can People with “High-Functioning Autism” Have Romantic Relationships?

 

 

High-functioning autism (HFA) is an informal term to describe an autistic person who can speak, read, write, and perform basic life skills such as eating and dressing. People with HFA can also live independently no matter what other people may think or say about these types of people. Some people do not like the term, “high-functioning autism,” for the following reasons:

  • Intelligence is not a good estimate of functional levels in people diagnosed with autism.
  • It is no longer an official diagnostic term in diagnostic manuals.
  • The term is inaccurate because it comes with assumptions of an individual’s abilities that may not match their capabilities.
  • Because a person has typical or expected intellectual abilities, this does not mean that they have good functional skills for their age.
  • The term is also outdated.Want to find out more about this topic about High Functioning Autism, you can watch my videos here: High Functioning and Low Functioning Autism/What is the Difference.

While it is possible for people with HFA to have romantic relationships, they can be interpreted as introverts. People with HFA who are interpreted this way can find too much interaction with the outside world overwhelming. People who are dating, whether they have autism or not, are encouraged to be patient with the person who has HFA. The person with HFA may find it difficult to decide which restaurant to go to with their date. Both people who are dating must ensure they are both always on the same page. They should also discuss how slow or fast they want their relationship to go. Research has shown that clinical experience has identified that most people with HFA would like a romantic relationship. There is, however, remarkably little research examining this aspect of autism spectrum disorders or strategies to facilitate successful relationships. Since people with HFA have practiced relationship skills with relatives and friends for many years, they can apply these abilities to achieve a successful romantic relationship.

How Does Autism Affect Intimacy in Sexual Relationships?

Intimacy is defined as the sharing of emotional, cognitive, and physical aspects of oneself with those of another individual. People with autism often have problems with rigidity and the need for repetition, which may limit the spontaneity and playfulness of sexual contact. Sensitivity to physical contact may also cause anxiety for those who have autism. The inability to read the thoughts, feelings or expressed sensations of one’s partner can lead to miscommunication, painful experiences whether they are physical or emotional, and/or shame and guilt. Individuals with autism have the same human needs for intimacy and relationships as anyone else. The self-identification of these needs may, however, develop later for people with autism as opposed to their neurotypical peers. People with autism may also express these needs differently based on their sexual knowledge, beliefs, and values. The understanding of implicit dating rules and the hierarchy of sexual intimacies may become potential barriers for individuals with disabilities, particularly those who have autism. Individuals with autism have found attending focus groups beneficial for their understanding of intimacy in sexual relationships.

There are several options for people with autism to have intimate relationships. These include individuals who live alone, those who live with one other person or several more, and those who are already in a relationship or married. Here a few more to gain a better understanding and knowledge along with awareness of people with autism and they are as follows:

Communication As we know many Autistic people can experience several types of communication differences to their peers or neurotypicals in general. They may have difficulties understanding what other people are thinking or the meaning behind their words. Autistic people may not read nonspeaking cues well. This includes facial expressions and vocal intonations. Verbally expressing themselves may be difficult, too. For example, an autistic person may say something unintentionally hurtful and have trouble understanding why someone would react negatively. But for communication issues, this can go two ways. In fact, one 2018 study from the website of The National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6055325/ has stated that autistic people reported difficulty understanding what their loved ones were thinking — but close friends and family also reported difficulty understanding what their autistic loved one was thinking. Taken together, these issues can make communication hard. It may mean both people feel shut out of understanding what the other is thinking or doing. This can slow or stop the development of close relationships. If not addressed, it can make important relationship aspects, like empathy and trust, difficult to build and maintain.

Interests

Autistic people often develop focused interests or some form of obsession based on the interests that they are interested in. They may turn to this interest as a way to cope with challenges or issues at home, work, or school. For their partner, they may consider this as avoidance behavior, and it can be difficult for them to navigate. It can also be difficult for a partner or friends and family to understand their loved one’s focused interest.

Affection

Autistic adults may have difficulty understanding and reciprocating signs of affection. These expressions of love may be confusing and overwhelming to them if they do not naturally think to initiate them. Some autistic people are also asexual or aromantic or some other gender identity that they see themselves as and they will usually seek partners with similar preferences. Touch avoidance commonly occurs in ASD. Autistic people can have sensitivities to touch, which can make something like hugs or kisses unappealing to them. Unwanted affection may make them uncomfortable, or even angry. However, autistic people can also be on the other end of the affection continuum. They may show great intensity with affection. Some potential partners may feel overwhelmed by this, especially if they don’t understand it. As a happy medium, a couple can work together to find expressions of affection that fulfill each partner’s wants and needs. On most dating apps that are being used today, some autistic people choose to include that they’re asexual or aromantic in their bios to inform potential partners of their preferences.

 

Sexual activity

The spectrum of interest in sexual activity varies broadly for autistic people, just like it does among the general population. Some autistic adults have sensory issues that make the physical aspects of sex uncomfortable. Others may not experience the emotional connections that make sex a cornerstone of many romantic relationships. Therefore, they may struggle to gauge their partner’s interests and needs. Other people on the spectrum experience higher-than-average levels of sexual desire and activity. Research on “high-functioning” autistic people found that autistic males spent more time masturbating and fantasizing as than males without autism. This has been shared more by the National Library of Autism of the website link to this article is:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5789215/ Although the sample was relatively small, the study also showed greater interest from the site of PubMed Central which the link to the atricle is https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5789215  in voyeurism, masochism, and sadism among the autistic participants. The National Library of Medicine article link https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4131130/ and many other articles that were gathered and sourced have found that autistic people have less sexual knowledge than the general population and that they are more likely to learn about sex from non-social sources, like pornography. Autistic people of all genders are also at increased sexual victimization, including sexual coercion.

 

Social life

 

Personal relationships of all kinds may be challenging for autistic people. Small talk may be unappealing to them, and conversations may cause a lot of anxiety. This can make it hard to make friends and start a romantic relationship. Many autistic people enjoy solitude over socializing. However, this can prevent them from establishing and practicing social and communication skills.

 

Advice for non-autistic partners

 

It can be a challenge for autistic people to cope with their non-autistic partner’s expectations and demands and vice versa. It can be just as challenging for a non-autistic person to cope with their neurodiverse partner’s expectations and demands, too. Here are a few pieces of advice for non-autistic partners to consider and think about as there is plenty more to consider by reading my older book Life of an Aspie: Looking into everyday life with Aspergers Syndrome.

  • Learn about ASD: ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition. That means it fundamentally affects the way a person perceives, engages with, and responds to the people and world around them. Understanding how ASD impacts a person’s thoughts and behaviors can help you better navigate your daily life.
  • Delegate tasks: Autistic people may have a hard time with executive functions like planning and organizing. This leaves these important tasks up to the non-autistic partner. But it’s possible for the autistic partner to take on certain charges in other areas of the home, such as homework with kids or walking and caring for pets.
  • Seek support: Whether you’re newly in a relationship with a neurodiverse person or you’ve been married for several years, it’s a good idea to seek knowledgeable professionals and individuals in similar situations. This can include working with a therapist who has experience in neurodiverse couples or turning to online support groups.
  • Find outside fulfilment: It’s possible to find personal fulfillment outside your relationship with your partner. In fact, it can be healthy. Consider ways to connect with friends and your community. Look into classes for things that interest you, or practice some self-care.
  • Remember the positives: You likely fell in love with your partner for very specific reasons. And despite the challenges, remembering the things you love about your partner and about the two of you together can help boost your self-esteem and reengage your dedication to the relationship.

The Takeaway from this is are a reminder for us all

  • ·         It’s definitely possible for autistic people to have healthy, fulfilling relationships. These can be personal friendships as well as romantic partnerships. ·
  •     As with any relationship, neurodiverse couples will likely face issues. Communication is a big area of concern that often requires work and patience. ·
  • Other issues may arise with elements of intimacy, socializing, and parenting. ASD creates a set of unique challenges for people in relationships. But with effort and attention, they can be overcome and be successful with the right people, attitude, and thoughts to progress forward with their lives.

 

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