Positive Relationships are Possible for People on the Spectrum – Love & Autism
Anita & Abraham burst into a fit of giggles as they recount their first night as a couple. Anita builds the story and Abraham shares the punch line. In telling it, they appear transported to this early period in their courtship. As the story goes, Anita has a secret that she has kept from Abraham, her best friend and now lover. She is worried beyond belief. She doubts that he will love her when her secret is revealed. She has shared everything except this with the man she now calls her fiancé.
At this point, during our weekly skype call, I too start to become concerned about what this deep dark secret could be. As a therapist, my mind is racing…is adultery, debt, a gambling problem? Clearly this pair has worked through whatever this issue is, as they are soon to be married at the 2nd annual Love & Autism: A Conference with Heart.
Anita continues by sharing her internal dialogue of self-doubt. She is hell-bent on keeping this secret because she doesn’t want to be rejected by this man that she cares about so deeply. Yet, at 2 am anxiously wakes him. She starts in, “I haven’t told you something. Its really important.” She goes on, in an anxious ramble preparing herself for his response. She blurts, “I have sleep apnea and I wear a sleep apnea mask to sleep.” Abraham briefly looks at her mutters “okay” and falls back to sleep. And just like that Anita is again reminded of the strength of their friendship! All of her anxiety washes away and they both drift off to sleep sharing a bed for the very first time as a couple.
Now her sleep mask is the fodder for endless jokes between the pair about Anita “flying to the moon” and preparing for take-off each night. The ease at which this couple shares what was once a source of shame is delightful. These inside jokes are a way that this pair affirms their bond. These only us moments are one way that humans create and sustain loving connections throughout our lives.
Yet, both Anita & Abraham share about their years before finding one another as painfully lonely. Anita, formally diagnosed with autism at 50, said that she always found herself to be loveable and fun…yet that others just saw her differences. Anita furthers that often people were cruel and gave misguided advice such as “Just be normal.” Anita spent many nights crying herself to sleep. Abraham, diagnosed in early childhood, remembers middle school and high school as traumatic isolation; where others easily found people to connect with but he was left friend-less noting his social anxiety and lack of self-confidence. Both thought that they would never find each other. Yet, both remained hopeful that they would find a person that could fully understand and accept them; loving them deeply.
The pair met in an autism support group facilitated by Anita. A slow and steady friendship grew and Abraham notes that his soon to be wife was his first true friend too. Just a few years later, Anita & Abraham are excitedly preparing to get married. In December of 2014, Anita called me and told me her exciting news, “We got engaged!” Then she paused and shared “And we want to get married at Love & Autism.
This couple is impassioned about changing other’s misconceptions about people on the spectrum. Anita shares that she wants world to know that:
1) People on the autism spectrum can and do fall in love.
2) We have real emotions (Anita says “I’m gonna cry on my wedding day.”)
3) Everyone should be invited a wedding (For Anita & Abraham, their wedding day will be their first wedding invitation)
With the bride and groom’s direction, the first all autism wedding will be on September 26th, 2015 at 4:30 in San Diego, California. Global autism ambassador, Dr. Stephen Shore will perform the wedding ceremony. Temple Grandin will do a heart-felt toast to her friends, the bride and groom. Wrong Planet’s own, Alex Plank, will stand beside Abraham as his groomsmen. Savant artist, Michael Tolleson, will create a one of a kind painting for the bride and groom. From harpist, flower girls, ring bearer, to readers—all on the spectrum–this is a true celebration of LOVE & AUTISM.
This event is more than a wedding—it is necessary for the world to view people with autism in a more positive and diverse light.
Temple Grandin recently wrote a message to the bride, “Your wedding is so important to the autism community because it shows that positive relationships are possible.”
When I asked Global autism ambassador, Dr. Stephen Shore, why do people still believe that people on the spectrum do not want and need relationships? He said this misconception still exist and “People have to broaden their knowledge.” His suggestion is simple, “People need to engage with adults on the spectrum.” People on the spectrum are good friends, involved parents, committed teammates, passionate lovers, and can and do have positive relationships! This is what Love & Autism: A Conference with Heart is all about.
To learn more about this event and Love & Autism: A Conference with Heart visit www.loveandautism.com
Dr. Stephen Shore,
David Hamrick & Lindsey Nebeker
Dr. Peter Mundy
Dr. Jenny Palmiotto
Anita Lesko & Abraham Neilson
By Jenny Palmiotto, Psy D