The following is an excerpt from an recent interview: –
It is a truth universally acknowledged that, though wonderful at times, romantic relationships can be really difficult to manage.
Relationships can be even more difficult for autistic people, who may struggle with the social nuances and complexities of things like dating and maintaining relationships.
With this in mind, we interviewed Paul Smith, autistic man, keen mountain biker, and Support Worker at our charity’s Adult Service in Skipton. Paul chatted to us about life on the spectrum, how he and his partner are spending Valentine’s Day, and navigating the maze of modern love as an autistic person.
When were you diagnosed as autistic?
I was diagnosed three or four years ago by a nurse who had experience working with autistic people. At the time I didn’t know a lot about autism, but I definitely embraced the ‘knowledge is power’ approach and decided to find out more.
I also taught English as foreign language for a while, and developed an interest in Special Education Needs and Support, including speech and language therapy and exploring different ways of communicating.
What is being autistic like for you?
It’s very different on different days. I’d say it’s difficult for me to find a fit with people. I wrote a piece on my blog about how autism is often described as like a jigsaw piece. But I feel the metaphor is an oversimplification as life isn’t just a single puzzle piece.
Almost everything in life revolves around social communication, which is something I find difficult, being on the spectrum. This is something I try to be very open about with other people. Often subtle social cues can be lost on me – this can be tricky when it comes to things like romantic relationships.
Speaking of, are you celebrating Valentine’s Day this year?
I’m actually working my first night shift (in my role as a support worker), which falls on Valentine’s Day this year. I’ll probably have lunch with my partner though. – [I think you said wine and a sandwich would do?]
Do you do anything to mark Valentine’s Day with the adults you support?
No, we don’t tend to celebrate in any way. The adults I work with are not really at the stage where they are ready to consider things like Valentine’s Day or enter into romantic relationships at the moment. Gifts are made for close family members and my role is in supporting my client with making these.
How do you feel about Valentine’s Day generally?
I think Valentine’s Day can be a bit exploitative [often just a way for corporations to make money?]. Why wait until just one day in the year?
I’m also just not good with remembering important calendar dates – Valentine’s Days, birthdays etc. There seems to be a day for everything, so it’s hard to keep up! But if I see something I think my partner would like (on any given day) I’ll buy it for her, rather than waiting for one specific day.
Is your partner also autistic?
No, but her brother is on the spectrum, so she has some insight into what being autistic is like. She also struggles with anxiety and other mental health issues, which is something we both share [and can support each other with?]
You mentioned finding relationships difficult, why?
A lot of subtle nuances which are a big part of relationships and meeting people – eg. body language, – are lost on me. When I was single I’d often find it really hard to tell, in the moment, if someone liked me and would only realise when it was too late.
I think relationships are complicated because people are complicated, and it isn’t only autistic people who find it hard.
Do you think things like the media and societal expectations influence how we view relationships?
I think the media does have a part to play in it, yes – especially having worked in that industry myself as a presenter.
Positive relationships in film and TV are often portrayed as easy and effortless, when this just isn’t the case in reality.