Emotions are very personal, differently experienced and expressed by each individual, whether or not they are autistic. Ask someone what they experience when they feel joy, or indeed what bring them joy, and you will be unlikely to hear the same answer twice. Autistics can experience emotions very deeply and intensely, sometimes so much so that it is unbearable. At other times, there may appear to be a lack of depth or intensity to autistic emotion. I think that some of this is around the socio-cultural expectations that surround when and how people are supposed to feel and express emotions. What is appropriate in one culture is not in another, so if autism were seen as a culture these differences could be easily explained as cultural differences, which in some ways it what they are.
When an autistic (for example me) cries whilst witnessing an act of true kindness and compassion, others may be puzzled, but I am just as puzzled at the lack of depth or intensity of emotions demonstrated by others. When people cry at a wedding, I have no understanding of why, resulting in others thinking my expression of or experience of emotion is inappropriate or weird. Really is is just that we are all individuals, we all react to different things, what brings joy to one person may bring fear to another.
It is true that the depth and intensity of autistic emotionality can be so overwhelming that our responses can be counter intuitive – for example, not sitting an exam we would have passed with no problems or not crying at a funeral, sitting rigid instead. Relationships between autistics and others, whether or not they are autistics, can be enhanced but also hindered by this intensity of emotions, just as much as the pragmatism of many autistics affects their relationships. All relationships, whether intimate or purely functionally, such as employee-employer are complicated and mediated by emotions. Learning how you feel, what you feel and why you feel is key to being able to communicate your emotions effectively to others in ways that are helpful and positive.
After being frustrated by a lack of useful information about negotiating relationships and sexuality effectively as an autistic, I decided to write one. This is coming out in the next few month. The reviews have been really positive:
‘All too often in life and literature autistic people are cast as sexless, childlike beings. In fact, this could not be further from the truth. The Autism Spectrum Guide to Relationships and Sexuality addresses this by providing a highly useful guide for adults on the autism spectrum which focusses on practically everything related to relationships, dating and sex. I would have found this book particularly helpful when I was a young adult coming to terms with my gender identity and sexuality and starting to have my first experiences of sexual relationships.
The book is completely free of any kind of judgement or moralising. It is respectful and inclusive of the various sexualities and gender differences that people have. The book includes detailed information on a number of topics which autistic adults will find useful, such as different types of sexuality, starting relationships, dating, sexual pleasure and ending relationships. The text is subtle and nuanced, providing information on some complex topics such as people whose sexuality changes over time and how that can impact on their partner. Few topics are left out so it really is a one-stop-shop for adults on the spectrum wanting to gather some useful strategies and understanding around the topic of relationships.’ – From the foreword by Jeanette Purkis, autism advocate, public speaker and author of Finding a Different Kind of Normal and The Wonderful World of Work
‘The Autism Spectrum Guide to Sexuality and Relationships is a solid guide…Powerful, easy-to-read and practical advice providing knowledge and strategies for people with autism.’- Ioannis Voskopoulos and Labrini Ioannou, Psychologists