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Top 5 autism tips for professionals: developing, maintaining and staying safe in a relationship

Nele Muylaert is a graduate in special needs and educational therapy and a blogger for the Curly Hair Project.  Here she gives her top tips to help both autistic and non autistic partners developing or staying in a relationship.

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Author: Nele Muylaert

Top 5 tips

Autism and developing, maintaining and staying safe in a relationship

A relationship can be very tricky, for anyone. Having autism doesn’t make this any easier, and can cause misunderstandings, problems with communication and other things. It is incredibly important for the person with autism to feel safe with their significant other. Feeling safe will motivate them to show their true selves, but will also motivate them to work on the relationship and help maintain it.

How do you help someone with autism to do this? Here are 5 tips that may help.

1. Communicate

People with autism very often assume others know what they are feeling or thinking (lack of theory of mind) and fail to communicate what goes on in their head. Finding ways to communicate what they feel or think is therefore extremely helpful in a relationship. Writing letters, keeping a diary, writing online messages or finding other ways of communication suitable to them may help increase communication between the person with ASD and their loved one. Friendly reminder: it takes great effort for the person with autism to write down what they feel or express it in any other way. Any attempts should be validated and appreciated.

2. Boundaries

It may be very hard for the person with autism to indicate their own physical boundaries. They may be extremely sensitive to touch, and may not feel comfortable in close proximity of others for quite some time. Do not be afraid to let others know about these boundaries! Encourage the person with autism to be mindful of these boundaries, and communicate these boundaries to their significant other. Be mindful that the boundaries of someone with autism may include: not making eye contact, avoidance of intimacy (it may take a very long time for them to adjust to this idea or get desensitized to someone’s touch), little to no cuddling... Never force them into any of this, and respect their boundaries at all times!

3. Feelings...what to do with them?

Someone with autism may have a very difficult time understanding what their emotions are, and processing them. They may suffer from delayed emotional processing or DEP. Be aware of this and the fact they need longer to process what they feel. This also means they may open up about events or emotions related to an event or situation long after it has passed. Remember that because you have already processed it and it is a closed matter for you, the emotions and feelings related to the situation are still very real to the person with autism. Validate their feelings, and except they may be delayed to the situation or event.

4. Determine a pace suitable for both

People with autism need time to adapt to a change in routine. Having a relationship, or developing one may be very tricky and it may take a long time before the person with autism will feel entirely safe and will open up 100%. Patience is key, and it is very important to determine a pace that is suitable for the both of you to avoid frustration.

5. Explain

People with autism do not deal with change, and can get very overwhelmed. When there is a change in routine, plans, or even change in mood, always remember to explain why. Explaining why something has happened, or why someone feels the way they do helps to place what is going on and provides a sense of rest for the person with autism.

Date added: 10 March 2016