The most kind man drifted into my life during my mid 30’s. He was like no other. Tall, muscular, kind eyes, quiet and clean cut. He was a man of few words, a great smile, a soft voice, great sense of humor, and incredibly intelligent. Self-taught delta blues guitarist, mechanically inclined, blue-collar, history buff and he was a very honest man of many talents. Being mysteriously drawn to his soft quiet strengths, I see people, all humans with spectacular gifts. My new friend guided me to view life through the lens of Autism in Adults.
A Cherished Friendship
We fell into a friendship that slowly evolved over many years. He was a safe man for me (not the player or aggressive domineering type). I was accustomed to being treated like I was a wild animal only to be captured and caged by men. Then on display like an elk head on a mantle. This divorced woman was tired of men who wanted to hunt me and kill my liberated spirit. This man appeared to be quite the opposite.
Coming and going independently, owning my body, prioritizing and raising my daughters, focusing on my career and having this very stable friendship with a safe and kindred spirit, kept me intrigued and grounded. We could discuss common interests. He captured my ADHD with laser focus hanging on his every well-thought-out word. He complimented me with his acts of service and quality time love language which spoke to me subtly for years.
When we bridged our relationship from friendship into romance, the slow evolution was comfortable and exciting. There was a consistent, habitual way in his communication. We communicated every night with cute texts and exchanges of work and daily activities. He offered no judgment about my honesty and emotional swings of life and motherhood. The perspective he gave me was from a place of logic that I truly needed to hear. Our connection was totally safe, gentle and passionate.
Subtle New Discoveries
The challenges I was experiencing were my need for some level of the societal expected “dating” behaviors. Friends referred to him as my “imaginary boyfriend.” We never went anywhere besides his place or mine, bike rides, walks or for hikes outdoors. Neither of us were fans of winter so we spent less time together during this season of the year. I was usually busy with work and basketball anyway.
He was a single man, unattached, with no kids, but he liked my kids. I could tell the noise and chaos could be difficult for him sometimes as I frequently found him slipping out the back door for a quiet break. Loudness or any yelling was cause for a complete shutdown. He was never aggressive. He just went into hibernation and was sometimes non-responsive.
It’s difficult to say when or what specifically prompted me to seek answers through therapy. I was content in our stable and complex relationship. I also wanted to explore how to actually move forward and what that might look like for me. When discussing the specifics with my therapist, she asked if my boyfriend had Aspergers. I was confused because I had never heard about Aspergers and I didn’t know. My therapist said she couldn’t diagnose him however, there were many similarities between him and his behaviors within our relationship.
I left her office puzzled and did some research…and I was dumbfounded. I had experienced working with behaviorally and emotionally special needs kids for years. How did I miss these subtle signs? I asked one of my friends, “How could I be with him for all these years and not know he might have Aspergers?” I’ll never forget her response. She said, “Because you don’t put people in categories, you just see everyone as individuals.”
Common Indications of Autism
I began to spend time consuming everything and anything I could find. I read, viewed films and sure enough, the research showed me the following as common signs of Autism:
•Avoiding eye contact
•Reliance on routines/rules
•Being upset by minor changes
•Sensory reactions to sounds, tastes, sights, touch and smells
•Difficulty understanding others’ emotions
Rather than seeing him as someone with a developmental disorder, I always felt there were qualities that were intriguing. He had the ability to focus for as long as it took to learn, perfect, build or create something. He had a very successful career. As an introvert, he could entertain himself and wasn’t a stranger to being alone. He was far more predictable. His temperament and routines were like clockwork. This man was always honest and never offensive in his communication. He had a special appreciation for animals and nature.
Real Characters On the TV and Movie Screens
Learning more about Adult Autism, from movies and literature, it appears that so many have contributed their talents and special abilities. Temple Grandin is well known for her teaching and work at CSU and was featured in a Ted Talk. She was the first in a long list of Autistic Adults who shared her incredible mind with the world.
Many movies and literature feature Autistic adult characters. The Big Short, Adam and The Accountant were a few of my favorites. TV sitcoms are now featuring more Autistic characters such as The Good Doctor, and A-Typical. I love the way these programs are creating more awareness around autism and a realistic view of those who are autistic with their talented personalities.
There is not a look to Autism. Just regular people doing life, each unique in their own way. To become more aware, it’s important to avoid saying things like, “He doesn’t look autistic” or “At least she is mildly Autistic” or statements of that nature. These are smart and highly sensitive individuals.
Autism has no cure and most autistic adults feel they are completely fine. It’s others that make Autism difficult to understand sometimes. They prefer to not be called “a person with Autism” for this reason. It’s not a disease. Autistic people among us are performing successful careers, happily married or partnered, honest, dependable and exceptionally talented.
My experience with my Autistic friend showed me the true meaning of honest, loyal friendship. There are so many abilities to be celebrated and contributions that broaden us all. I know I am thankful that I learned so much about life from my Autistic friend.