As someone with an autistic son, my life has been overwhelmingly focused on understanding autism for the past two years.
That’s why I am so affected by live advice column on website Slate called ‘Dear Prudence’, written by Mallory Ortberg, in which a young girl asks if she should tell her boyfriend she thinks he has autism.
Calling herself ‘Missing Emotional Reciprocation’, she writes:
I’ve been dating someone who lives a few hours away from me for about nine months. He’s intelligent, kind, funny, generous, and a little socially awkward (which is great because I am, too). A few months into our relationship, I began to suspect that he might fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. I have not discussed this with him because I care about him and don’t want him to feel like I think there is something “wrong” with him.
He does not show attraction or love the way that I’m used to, and I’m struggling with the lack of emotional reciprocity. I don’t know if he actually enjoys my company, except he keeps coming around—he doesn’t compliment me, flirt with me, or tell me that he loves me. He doesn’t respond or even acknowledge those things when I do them.
She mentions symptoms such as failing to express feelings and failing to communicate effectively, saying she’d think he was a “jerk” if not for her suspicion he may have autism.
Ortberg rightly advises her not to speculate about her boyfriend having ASD, saying it’s up to professionals to diagnose the condition. (I can tell you from experience that the process of diagnosing someone with autism is lengthy, expensive and complex. With good reason.)
Meanwhile, I too suspect her boyfriend is just a bit of a jerk.
As a member of several special needs social media pages, including one made up of adults with autism and their carers, I can say that most (not all) of those with autism know it and are very aware of how they are different and their limitations. By the time a loved one mentions it, they’ve probably thought it several million times themselves.
Maybe they don’t realise they have autism, but they certainly know they struggle to cope with noise, large social groups, to eat a variety of food or any other combination of the many and varied symptoms and signs of autism.
The reason this discussion on Slate fascinated me so much is because I spend a lot of time wondering what Giovanni will be like when he’s all grown up.
Will he have a job?
Will he get a romantic partner?
Will he move out of home?