What's Love Like for People with Autism?

Despite widely held beliefs to the contrary, people with autism spectrum disorder possess empathy, fall in love, and can maintain happy relationships. However, it's important to bear in mind the challenges they must often face.
What's Love Like for People with Autism?

Last update: 19 July, 2022

You might be surprised to learn that one of the most common questions on Google about autism spectrum disorder is whether autistic people are capable of having a partner or getting married. As a matter of fact, the subject of love and autism continues to be immersed in myths, biased ideas, and amazing ignorance. Indeed, even today, there are many who continue to think that these men and women don’t even understand, let alone feel, love and affection.

This is a mistake. As families of autistic people are well aware, they both appreciate and need daily affection. Furthermore, both adolescents and adults with this condition can fall in love and experience passion and desire. However, sufferers themselves do tend to point out that they often feel like everything is ‘too much’ for them. That’s because they become overwhelmed with emotions and don’t really know what to do as everything seems rather chaotic.

Not all people with autism are the same. Indeed, this neurobiological developmental disorder manifests itself in many ways and each individual exhibits certain characteristics and needs. It depends on the point at which the sufferer is located on the autistic spectrum.

There are more serious cases in which there are serious limitations in speech and language. For example, Asperger’s syndrome and even high-functioning autism. That said, beyond their limitations, stereotypes, and sensory alterations, each and every sufferer feels the need to be loved and cared for. This need simply tends to vary more between one person and the other than in people without the disorder. Perhaps, this is where more support and strategies are required. This would mean that sufferers would be able to establish happier and more satisfying relationships.

Boy thinking about love in people with autism

Love in people with autism

Love in people with autism responds to a need. It’s the same need as any other human being experiences. It basically involves the feeling of being a part of someone else’s life, with whom they can share their life and experiences. Someone they love, admire, and desire. Indeed, why shouldn’t a person with an autistic disorder experience something like this?

If some of the population don’t understand, it’s basically due to misinformation or to the fact of truth being given to now obsolete information. One of the best known authors in the study of autism and neurodevelopmental disorders is, without a doubt, Simon Baron-Cohen. This psychologist is known for his works related to the theory of mind and the autistic male brain.

It was during the 1990s that many of his books became popular, such as Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. As a result of this work, a large part of the population wrongly assumed that all people with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) were unable to empathize, connect with their environments, and capture and understand social signals.

Added to this is the world of cinema and tv where the word autistic always seems to mean the same: people (sometimes geniuses) who are disconnected from reality. However, in reality, behind the word autism lies a great variability and multiple levels of the disorder. They’re not all geniuses, but nor do they all show a lack of empathy or mental blindness.

So, what’s love like for people with autism? How do they experience it?

Emotional empathy: emotions that overflow

One of the most widespread ideas is that people with autism lack empathy. This statement isn’t true, in fact, it has important nuances. In a study conducted in 2019 by the University of Osaka, data was found to support the hypothesis that people on the autistic spectrum show deficiencies in what’s known as cognitive empathy. In other words, they find it difficult to understand why someone suffers, gets angry, or feels disappointed.

However, and here comes the nuance, they present a high emotional empathy. This means they feel the emotions of others with high intensity. As a matter of fact, that emotional receptivity is sometimes even greater than in neurotypicals (people without autism).

Couple looking at each other thinking about love in people with autism

Love for people with autism: understand me and I’ll understand you

Love for people with autism isn’t easy. They’re capable of falling in love and they do it deeply. That said, many romantic relationships are complicated, and for the person with ASD, they’re even more so. Therefore, their partner should always take the following aspects into account:

  • A person with autism won’t understand many of the relational codes that arise every day. For example, maybe their partner needs a hug after a bad day at work or wants to hear an I love you before leaving for work in the morning. Or, to be thanked occasionally for a compliment or words of support and comfort. Many of these aspects can escape an ASD sufferer.
  • Hence, communication is essential. That’s because autism sufferers need their partner to be their refuge and the translator of all those codes that escape them and that they don’t always understand.
  • It never hurts to make clear what’s required and expected at certain times (even if it might be difficult). For example, telling them “I’d like you to ask me when I get home from work how my day went” or “If you see I’m sad, give me a big hug” or “When we walk down the street, remember to hold my hand” etc.

People with autism fall in love every day, with all its difficulties and nuances and it can be an enormous challenge for them. This is an area where professionals can intervene. They can offer strategies and support and accompany the couple in their growth together where, without a doubt, many achieve real happiness.

couple holding hands
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  • Baron-Cohen, S. (1999). Autismo: un trastorno cognitivo específico de “ceguera de la mente”. International Review of Psychiatry, 19 – 33.