I don't think anything in the post should be triggering, but if anyone needs a TW, hit me up!

I love my fiance very much, and I consider myself lucky on a daily basis to be in the relationship that we have. That doesn't mean it's always easy, of course. One thing that makes it particularly difficult is that the person I'm head over heels in love with has Aspergers Syndrome. Yes, I know the new DSM states that now it's all under the overhead of the Autism Spectrum, but I respect the fact that my partner continues to identify with the label of Aspergers, so that's what I'll be using.

I think it's important to start off by saying that Aspergers isn't what you see in movies, and most news reports treat it like some kind of indication of severe mental instability or predilection for violent behavior (the opposite is true, in fact). There are portrayals, like Abed in Community, that my partner finds humor and comfort in. Others, not so much.

First of all, Aspergers is not, as my mom told me, "asshole syndrome." People with AS/ASD are not necessarily jerks, sociopaths, or even savants. Hyperbolic or extreme representations of people with AS perpetuate these stereotypes, and I find them particularly annoying (See: Temperance Brennan, Bones, Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock). I love most of the shows I mentioned, but I just hate that people diagnose these characters due to overwhelmingly negative characteristics. "Brennan is so autistic!" exclaimed one of my friends. I asked her why and she said, "She's super smart, but she sucks at personal relationships." Sheldon makes me laugh, but he's another extreme. Sherlock is portrayed as a quasi-sociopath, as rude, and also, the favorite symptom of AS, incapable of having meaningful relationships.

A few myths about AS I'd like to dispel:

1. Just because someone has Aspergers does not mean they are violent.
In fact, the opposite more likely occurs. Due to a common sensory sensitivity, people with AS often avoid confrontation, seek out quiet, peaceful places, and avoid loud/aggressive situations. Children with AS will often have horrible tantrums due to an inability to communicate about their sensitivities, but that rarely translates into violence in adult.


2. If someone has AS, yes, they can form meaningful friendships and romantic relationships.
I'm not going to lie and say it's easy, but it is definitely possible. Nothing is more alienating than this reinforced stereotype of the person with AS who can't find someone who can "deal" with them. People with AS are often introverts, have trouble starting relationships, and can have a lot of needs in a relationship. That doesn't mean they never are going to find a partner. They need a person who can listen to their perspective, try to have patience with their quirks (still working on this one, myself) and be incredibly supportive. It's a very alienating disorder, and I think misconceptions make it even more so. In fact, some of my partner's AS-driven qualities are facets that I love and that strengthen our relationship. His inability to tell a lie, for instance, helps build my trust and our communication (lies make him physically uncomfortable and he loathes them).

3. People with Aspergers HAVE empathy!
This is one of the worst misconceptions about AS. Somehow, people think that having AS means you're some kind of emotionless automaton. More often, a person with AS has just as much emotional depth and content as a neurotypical person, they just have more trouble communicating it. The way my partner describes it is as being in a constant state of sensory overload. It's hard to process everything at once: bright lights, loud noises, uncomfortable clothing...and then process what the social situation is, what is expected of him, what he needs to do, etc. For a neurotypical person, this stuff comes like second nature. Introverts can sympathize a little more with how overwhelming social situations can be, but my partner describes it like being in a foreign country. You sort of speak the language of everyone around you, but you're constantly having culture shock. Another contributing factor is that many people with AS do not understand social lies or games. My partner couldn't handle dating as a young adult because it was all about emotional games and "when should I do/say X," etc. This may come across as being blunt/brusque, but, honestly...I find the straightforwardness refreshing.

4. People with AS are not savants.
Although I believe people with AS often have above average intelligence, they are not savants. Often, children and adults with AS will form intense attachments to certain interests or hobbies, which can lead to specialization, but nothing on the order of the kind of proficiencies of savants. My partner, for example, reads cookbooks and culinary encyclopedias all the time, cooks constantly, and loves watching cooking shows. The result is that he's unusually talented, but that's not the same as being a savant. (More often, savants are people with brain injuries or more severe autism who score very low on the IQ scale, but display incredible proficiencies in a certain talent. Higher IQ savants are possible, but much rarer.)

5. People with AS are not all the same.
It seems weird I should even have to say it, but just because one of the symptoms of AS is X doesn't mean that every person with AS has X. Aspergers is an incredibly multifaceted condition, and there are a wide variety of different markers. There are also a lot of issues that are co-morbid with AS, but not categorically a part of AS (anxiety and depression, for example). It's important to not assume that just because a person has AS that they will have every single trait associated with AS. My fiance, for example, has extreme light sensitivity (compounded by having astigmatism), noise sensitivity, and doesn't like certain textures. He has anxiety problems and used to take medication, but was able to come off when he moved in with me. Having a stable home, a job he likes, a safe place, and being overall happier has immensely helped his anxiety. He has weird quirks: he frequently taps on everything (curse his playing the drums through high school!), sings constantly, is ridiculously, painfully clumsy and forgetful, doesn't like to be touched by people he doesn't know, usually, and doesn't like prolonged social situations. Just because he has these quirks, doesn't mean every person with AS you know has them!


Finally, I'd just like to recommend a few things. If someone tells you they have AS, please listen. Don't tell them you never would've guessed or ask them if they are sure. Sure as hell don't insist on not believing them (I'm looking at you, future MIL). Don't respond with "Oh yeah?! Do you hate loud noises? Do you X? Do you Y?" If they want to talk about it, they will. If not, drop it. Use it to further your compassion and patience with their idiosyncrasies. Follow their lead with terminology. I shy away from calling it a "mental disorder" because, largely, it's shaped the personality of someone I love. He's not disordered to me, he's himself. That means quirky, weird as hell sometimes, and a bit fixed on reading ALL the cookbooks. Obviously, it comes with more hefty stuff, but every person has their baggage. I follow my partner's lead with terminology. He finds the diminutive "aspie" okay, so we talk about how "aspie" he's feeling today, or he'll come home and say it's a tough "aspie" day and we'll talk about. Not all people with AS like that term, so just follow their lead. Don't talk about them compared to "normal" people. We use terms like cisgender, able-bodied, etc., to ensure we don't alienate or unknowingly put down trans* people or disabled people. Use "neurotypical" if you want to talk about someone without AS/ASD or other conditions (NT for short, if you're online!).

I could keep going, but I won't. Feel free to ask questions, even personal ones. I'd like to be an open resource for people who want to learn more.

tl;dr Don't be a dick.