Are you an adult with High-Functioning Autism or Asperger's? Are you in a relationship with someone on the autism spectrum? Are you struggling emotionally, socially, spiritually or otherwise? Then you've come to the right place. We are here to help you in any way we can. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile...

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Lack of "Displays of Affection" in Adults with ASD

“I have a question that may be somewhat ridiculous – or even insulting, so please don’t get me wrong here. But can my husband with autism even understand the concept of true affection? I’m asking because sometimes I have my genuine doubts.”

Lets’ make sure we all understand what affection is first of all. It’s a physical way (emphasis on “physical” here) of showing just how much we love someone. It’s an attachment that consumes us, wanting to kiss, hug, or hold the person we love. Receiving constant affection from your partner or spouse is a great reminder of how much he or she cares for you.

A lot of emotional concepts are challenging for adults on the autism spectrum. Affection is probably one of the most complicated emotions of all. The lack of empathy, sensory sensitivities (in this case, perhaps touch), and inflexibility that many people on the spectrum live with makes understanding the concept of affection difficult (but not impossible).

It’s very difficult to separate the idea of an ASD individual loving someone from the true source of struggle, which is the concept of “theory of mind.” He feels a full range of emotions (e.g., anger, sadness, joy, and yes, affection), but the issue lies in connecting these emotions to the emotions of his significant other. Theory of mind is understanding that his spouse’s thoughts and feelings are her own and how they can coincide with his, even though they are not reliant on what he is feeling.

The possibilities are there for your husband. Affection is an emotion that he can come to understand fully. The process of developing theory of mind is ongoing in people on the spectrum. Affection is only a small part of this very multifaceted equation.

While affection may be a tricky emotional concept for your husband, the basic idea of affection is very real. Balancing affection within a marriage is what will bring on a variety of experiences, both negative and positive. With straightforward discussion about emotions, your husband should be able to understand the concept affection, and be successful at it. He probably already does understand this concept at some level, but doesn’t show it as frequently as you may like.

Unless it feels artificial to you, there’s nothing wrong with asking your husband to show you some affection when you need it (e.g., “kiss me” … “hold me” … “give me a hug” … etc.). Some women feel that if they have to ask, the affection is simply fake, which is certainly understandable. Unfortunately, these women may never receive displays of affection. Even though “asking for affection” seems like settling for second best, it may be better than nothing.

We all should feel comfortable with asking for what we need. If we don't, then we have no room to complain. And, using the excuse "Well, if I have to ask, then forget it ...I'll do without" sets us up for feelings of resentment in the long run. So ask. If after asking, we still do not get our needs met... well, that's a completely different story - and the topic for another article on how we need to begin the process of taking care of ourselves by getting our needs met elsewhere!



•    Anonymous said… Affection doesn't seem to be in his vocabulary unfortunately. I would so love a proper hug from him or an unprompted I love you. Even a Wow you look lovely  :( x
•    Anonymous said… Based on my experience.... rarely if ever....
•    Anonymous said… For crying out loud, it's called communication. How about when some NT guy grabs you without permission and acts entitled to your personal space? I've heard a lot of women complain about having their space violated by some creep. It's not a bad idea when you're dating someone to just ease into various PDAs. You cozy up and sometimes move their arm where you want it, so they feel comfortable holding you or whatnot. If they initiate, a lot of social anxiety comes up around doing something wrong, and they will hesitate. A lot of folks on the spectrum whom I know are best when folks bother to ask at first, and build up that trust. It's good for all kinds of folks.
•    Anonymous said… How come there's is never any focus on partners of aspie women? It's all partners of aspie men. I understand love and affection but dislike touch beyond my children and grandchildren hugging me and cuddling and so on.
•    Anonymous said… I am an aspie and I have no problem understanding the concept of affection. Most of the time, I enjoy displaying my affection to the people I love through kisses, hugs and such gestures. However, when my sensory hypersensitivity is at its worst and/or when I feel overwhelmed, I experience intense feelings of claustrophobia and any form of physical contact becomes almost unbearable. That might (partly) explain your husband's attitude. I hope this is useful.
•    Anonymous said… I can feel affection but do not want to touch them or have them touch me.
•    Anonymous said… I have asked for a hug to be given everyday. Usually, one of us remembers to do it and when it happens it feels wonderful! It feels genuine and affectionate and he seems to enjoy it as much as I do.
•    Anonymous said… I think you have hit the nail on the head. We are expected to confirm. It's incredibly stressful as an aspie woman. There is little or no awareness out there I believe !!!
•    Anonymous said… I understand the concept of affection but don't like being touched. Could this be your husband's issue? If so then maybe talk to him about how you both can show affection without the overwhelming-ness of physical contact. Like telling you how he feels for you, or giving small handmade gifts, what ever suits you both.
•    Anonymous said… I'm an Aspie Romantic I guess.But I have so many ASD friends who I've tried to help understand what it is their spouses want and need. Only one I think is hopeless.Please don't quit trying!!!! Because when they DO start to show you, you'll be swimming in the depth of their love and devotion and everyone will ask you why you're always smiling!
•    Anonymous said… Interested in the bit about it feeling fake if you have to ask, as this is something I've always felt. Do I just have to look for the ways he does care (i.e. endless "tasks") or when he does respond when I ask, is this "real" or just a mechanical response to a request for affection.
•    Anonymous said… Mine thrives on affection. He is one with a very outgoing personality. His love languages are attention, affection and affirmation
•    Anonymous said… My bf doesn't seem to like public affection. But he is very affectionate, depending on his mood, but "big bear hugs" don't ever happen from his initiative. And if i "squeeze" too long, he doesn't like it.
•    Anonymous said… Of course we feel effection we just can't show it the same way as NT people many of the ways NT's the truth is most aspies and autistics feel affection far more deeply than NT's we just show it differently as we don't know how to show it the same way as typical people. Your having doubts because he can't show it the same way as a typical person. Most typical people believe you show love and affection by compromising and giving into what the other person wants or with body language or expressions we can't do those things so we show affection in otherwise usually by doing something often going out of our way to do something or putting a lot of thought into something and I found with my own partner and other partners of autistic and aspies that they don't recognise this as an attempt to show affection often disregarding it upsetting us. We also like to be able to see people we have affection for so just hang around them and follow them around if he stays with you a lot just being their that's a sign of affection aswell as changing or stopping what he is doing is another sign as he is trying to make you comfortable.
•    Anonymous said… That is a pretty loaded question. If you mean "understand true affection in the way you do and want to receive it", perhaps not. But many neurotypicals don't understand that either. Read the Five Love Languages yourself first (if you haven't) in order to fully understand what you mean by "true affection". Then read it with him and let him know what *you* need to feel loved. You might also want to work with him on finding out what makes him feel loved and what he believes he does do that he thinks is loving behaviour. You might not realize what his displays of love actually are. That is because the 5LL is written from a lot of NT assumptions. For example, for me, giving my loved one lots of space and time alone is an act of love.
•    Anonymous said… They don't feel ur POV, like u feel theirs. NTs believe that love brings out loving/compromising behaviors. Empathy is rarely demonstrated.
•    Anonymous said… Unfortunately the problem is fewer women are diagnosed and even fewer share their diagnosis. We suffer the same fate as NT women - we're expected to conform. Men can be open about having aspergers but women are expected to act like the good wifey.  It's even worse having been in an AS/AS relationship - hearing aspergers put down by NT women while having AS men put you down because apparently dating an AS man somehow means you must be NT and therefore "the enemy".
•    Anonymous said… We feel affection like anyone else. PDAs & the like are difficult for me. We're a little more inhibited with those things.
•    Anonymous said… You should make a group and have everyone that follows this page join the group. Then it's closed instead of being public and more could help and be comfortable commenting. Just an idea.
*    Anonymous said... I love going on vacations with him. He let's me in. We cuddle and have lots of excessive time to feel each other. But when we go home to our separate houses, it's over. Back to work. Little closeness. It makes me think it was all fake.
*    Unknown said...You have to tell him what you expect from him. Either write it down or gently but firmly tell him exactly when,where,what,how and the frequency. Have a callendar and schedule what you need. Remind him if he forgets. If he rejects your ideas then leave him and find someone who you are compatible with. Don't accept settling for less, you will regret and resent him forever.
*    Unknown said...This is so true! You have to teach him what you need. It you don't, you aren't giving him a chance. But if he refuses, pack your stuff and never look back! You WILL resent him if you accept a lonely life.

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Why Adults on the Autism Spectrum Are Prone to "Meltdowns"

“I’m in a relationship with a man who has Asperger syndrome. I’m familiar with the disorder and have worked hard at changing my expectations for the relationship. The one thing however that I still struggle with is his anger issues. I guess people refer to it as a meltdown. So, my question is how can I tell whether he is simply coping with his symptoms versus just plain ol’ being pissed off?”

First of all, a meltdown is not the same thing as “acting-out in anger” (having an adult version of a temper tantrum). Meltdowns are more complicated than that. An adult with ASD (high-functioning autism) is prone to meltdowns when he finds himself trapped in circumstances that are difficult to deal with, especially those which involve frustration, sensory overload, and confusion.

Meltdowns tend to happen more frequently for those who experience sensory integration dysfunctions, rigid or inflexible thinking, resistance to change, low-frustration tolerance, hypersensitivity to sensory input, executive functioning disruption, difficulty with social comprehension, difficulty understanding cause-and-effect, difficulty identifying and controlling emotions, and communication challenges.

Think of a meltdown as an “escape mechanism.” If adults on the autism spectrum have the means to get themselves out of stressful situations before they become overwhelming, cognitive and emotional pressures recede. Without these means of escape, anxiety will escalate, and these individuals may begin to panic, setting them on a course towards neurological meltdown.

Escape routes that are difficult for the ASD individual to utilize include the ability to prevent or remove himself from uncomfortable situations, understanding others and making himself understood, the ability to act on decisions, and being able to soothe himself under stress.

The typical individual without ASD has a functional set of escape routes. For example, he understands that most people don't deliberately try to hurt him, knows what it feels like when he is getting upset, has the freedom to leave when a stressful situation becomes too much to handle, can regulate the extra sensory input, can communicate his needs and emotions, and can calm himself down relatively quickly in most cases. 
In other words, he has coping strategies that allow emotional and cognitive stress to decrease - or disappear entirely. But, this is not the case for the individual on the spectrum. When he finds himself in a stressful situation from which he can’t easily escape, his brain becomes flooded with emotional, sensory or cognitive input, which jams the circuits and initiates a “fight-or-flight” response.

During a meltdown, executive functions (e.g., memory, planning, reasoning, decision-making) start to short-circuit, which makes it even more difficult for the person on the spectrum to find a way out of the distressing circumstance. Eventually, neurological pressure builds to the point where it is released externally as a surge of physical energy (e.g., yelling profanities). Although the volatile reaction resembles a tantrum and seems to come from nowhere, it's part of the “meltdown cycle.”

Meltdowns and anger-control problems often look the same on the outside, but that’s where the resemblance ends. “Going off” on someone is a voluntary “battle of wills” to try and gain control over a situation. Anger is designed to draw attention for the sole purpose of satisfying a want, or avoiding something that is unwanted, So, once that goal has been met, the eruption quickly resolves itself.

On the other hand, meltdowns are the complete opposite. They are involuntary physical and emotional reactions to being placed in an overwhelming situation from which there is no quick escape. The ASD person isn’t in control or trying to get attention, in fact he may be unaware of things happening around him.


•    Anonymous said… As an Asperger's person myself, i really understand anger and I have melted down more than I would wish to. But no matter where upu are, in spectrum or off, you dont jave a "get out of jail free" card that entitles you to be nasty to people around you and then blame Asperger's for it and then do it again... or just let yourself be an asshat... so sit him down and talk about this amd about techniques for dealing with it. Meditation works very well but takes practice. A good book on how to do this esoecially for anger is "don't bite the hook" by pema chodron. Meditation is a good practice for both of you, especially gratitude and acceptance, i would recommend reading various writers, although Thich Nhat Hahn has a kot if very simple effective practices for daily life. Ps, this has nothing to do with religious belief, its retraining one's neurological responses to be better under one's control and management.
•    Anonymous said… As someone on the spectrum, I would suggest that a melt-down arises from being overwhelmed by too much information and sensory input to effectively process, but anger arises from either disappointed expectations or an awareness of injustice.
•    Anonymous said… As to your question how to tell an temper tantrum from a meltdown if someone angry it can last for days and usually won't feel guilty for their behaviour as they feel it was provoked where as with a meltdown it's a spontanious release of stress built up due to triggers which during it we can't control and often feel guilty and ashamed after likely not even remebering what we did. This of course can be avoided if you learn to calm this stress or more ideally release it before it builds up to the level of a meltdown. Unfortunately we are not always aware we are building up to a meltdown and we need to learn to spot it building in ourselves and fine a safe way to release this stress or remove ourselves from what ever is causing it. With me I either find a game or something to take my aggression out on or runaway for the day if it's seriously stressing me to get away from it to calm down. Your partner needs help in spotting when his triggers are causing a meltdown to build up inside him and help finding another way to deal with besides an explosive outburst!
•    Anonymous said… Best advice I can give is do not have any expectations in the relationship. You have to go with the flow. Yes at first it is hard but in the end its worth it.
•    Anonymous said… Either way the best advice I can give is when you notice he's upset give him space, don't try to talk to him about it just give him time to cool off.
•    Anonymous said… I don't understand why you don't just ask your husband. He would be able to explain it best.
•    Anonymous said… I'm NT my partner is an Aspie too. Same issues here love, we are going on 4yrs together and he learns very slow but he has learned. Meltdowns used to bee twice a week. Big humdingers! On occasion I rang police to come talk to him & on one occasion they put him in hospital 2 nights. Long story short, he's not had a major meltdown since early December. I don't react much anymore as this can spike his reactions. I've learned he's learned & he's a genius who has gotten better and who does try hard daily. His struggles with his gut, sounds, smells and loudness is hard on him. I make an environment that suits him to the best I can as well as having an environment I accept too.
•    Anonymous said… In my 20 year marriage to my aspie husband, this is the single toughest issue. The anger is embarrassing and devastating in the moment, and it ruins relationships with family members.
•    Anonymous said… My wife saying "you're having a meltdown" is all it takes to get me to take a break. But it took two years to get to this point. Wish my ex had understood though.
•    Anonymous said… No, as an aspie, sometimes it's hard for us to explain our selfs the way we want to or need to and as a outcome, we become very angered
•    Anonymous said… Sounds like my partner!
•    Anonymous said… They also never do anything wrong in their mind and never apologise for anything that they do that is wrong. In the end I didn't know who or what I was to him but all I felt was that I was only there when needed  🙁. I kind of feel like I was an experiment to him to find out whether being in a relationship was for him. They have trouble doing anything that most people can.
•    Anonymous said… With me it is one big smash it is like I'm watching myself do these things but have no control to stop them. I have learned control over the last 4 or 5 years and have only had a few.
•    Anonymous said… yep my ex partner was exactly like that and when she had her meltdown im still to blame, why cant i understand how she was feeling, those memories have sure scared deep in me
•   Anonymous said...  Interesting. My aspergers ex wasn't bothered with bright light, in fact he went through a phase of lighting my house up like a Christmas tree with party lights. Crowds didn't bother him and he always wanted to be the centre of attention. He got angry if there was background noise while he was talking though. He also went into melt down if I expressed emotions. He basically had a melt down every time something didn't go his way or as he planned.
*   Anonymous said... I am a 54 year old woman with Aspergers. I don't remember any time that I had a "meltdown" but once, since being diagnosed. There is a woman at my office who seems very hyper and I was tasked to help her with a project and she came to me with complaints about something. She was very annoying to me and I just "went off" on her...mildly though, not so that I would get fired or anything but I know what it feels like to let go of my composure. I try really hard to avoid these emotional moments. It's hard, but we can do it.

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