Autism. A term that was only coined in the early 20th century, but one whose meaning has provoked centuries of thought and debate among philosophers, scientists, writers, and laymen alike. The spectrum of autism itself has been a growing subject of interest since it was first described by Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943. Before this time, many different terms had been used to describe autistic behavior, such as feeble-minded, schizophrenic, and psychosis.
In this article, we will be looking at autism and intimacy. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that has no known cure. The signs of the condition usually become apparent in infancy or early childhood. It encompasses a number of conditions that affect behavior, social engagement, and verbal and nonverbal communication. According to the National Autistic Society, 1 in every 100 people is diagnosed with autism, which makes it more common than both Multiple Sclerosis and Breast Cancer. There are various factors that can lead to someone being on the autism spectrum, some of them environmental but many of them genetic.
When we think of the people on the autism spectrum, we usually envisage them as being severely affected by their condition. Many of us can identify with difficulty in social situations and adopting appropriate behavior in public that is not dictated by our “inner-self” or nonverbal cues such as body language or tone of voice. This inability to be able to separate our “inner” and our “outer” self can lead to us censoring what we say or how we act, which in turn hinders the development of true intimacy. If you’ve ever watched a movie with an autistic character portrayed by an able-bodied actor (or actress), you’ll have noticed that many of these characters seemed distant and aloof.
With this in mind, it can be difficult for us to imagine what intimacy might look like through the eyes of an autistic person, but the truth is that there are many who wish to have more intimate relationships with people they love or admire. Some people are only ever able to get intimate with a lover when they initiated intimacy with them and then they put themself under tremendous pressure in relationships to hide their true feelings and personality as they felt they were too “weird” or embarrassing.
It is now well established that those on the autism spectrum can go on to lead fulfilling lives with supportive friends, family, and relationships. However, this does not mean their experiences of intimacy will be the same as ours. Many people on the spectrum describe their own relationships as being like a waterbed; some days, it’s flat and boring, and other days there are exciting waves that lift them up and carry them along.
So what can those of us who are on the autism spectrum learn from those who live with the condition? We all know how hard it is to express our feelings to another person, and many of us have found that we cannot express ourselves in a way that others can understand. Perhaps we can learn something from the way those not on the autism spectrum communicate with each other; through eye contact, facial expressions, and touch. One aspect of communication that is key to establishing intimacy between two people is making and maintaining eye contact. This way, we can tell whether or not the other person is listening to us, interested in what we’re saying and whether they are feeling shy, scared, or happy.
For those on the autism spectrum who find it difficult to maintain eye contact, there are some simple things that they can do to overcome this. One of these is practicing eye contact with friends, family, or mentors who they trust and feel safe around. If you find it hard to hold eye contact with someone, then looking at their eyebrows instead of their eyes can help you to relax during your conversation.
Facial expressions are also key to the development of intimacy. This includes smiling to communicate happiness rather than embarrassment, looking at the other person when they are speaking instead of staring at their feet, and looking surprised or sad to let them know you are feeling shocked or upset.
People on the autism spectrum can also find it hard to understand how others feel about them. One way around this is to make your feelings known through touch; holding hands, hugging, and giving someone a kiss on the cheek all show that you care about another person and would like to be close to them.
All of us want to be happy, and we might find it hard to believe that those with autism can be happy, but they can! They can also form meaningful friendships and relationships (even romantic ones), and they can learn how to express their feelings in ways that others can understand.
I am still drawn to the idea that kink might be the way for me to fully experience neurodivergent sexuality…
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