Since autism spectrum disorder is considered as a clinical condition, great emphasis has been placed on interpersonal contact and experience between individuals with autism and others. There seem to be two questions posed by individuals with autism in establishing relationships with people around them. The first question is how they establish a relationship and how they experience it. The second question is how the attachment process differs from typical childhood development.
What seems problematic in the relationship between people with autism and people around them is that they do this in a unique and very superficial level. People often think that individual with autism is no longer attached to them more than they are to an inanimate object. Overall we cannot say that is true. Because people with autism can distinguish between those close to them and strangers, and they may have a choice like the ones they love.
People can feel that the child with autism sees themselves only as an object, as part of the physical world. It is clear that children with autism find it difficult to understand what is happening in others’ minds, their intentions, and feelings, and what motivates them. They also hardly understand their own feelings and their own self-feelings. Even though they feel a connection as a result, they do not always show the way we are used to.
The relationship certainly exists between people with autism and others. It just turns out to be different from normal. In order to help develop the ability to develop interpersonal attachment experience, it is very important to focus on both the means of communication and the social interaction on which it is based.
In this article, the parent-child relationship, peer relationships, sibling relationship, and romantic relationships will be listed in the context of autism spectrum disorder.
Parent-Child Relationship in Autism
Good family relationships are always important for child development. But, it is more important in families with children with an autism spectrum disorder. If there is a positive relationship, which means family members help each other, support each other, deal with challenges together, and fully appreciate the contributions that everyone makes to family.
Raising a child is already a very challenging and consuming job. Imagine raising a child on the spectrum. All of them have difficult times from time to time. But, some of them know how to get benefit from the situation and say positive things. For example, some of them find it helps them learn humility, patience, compassion, acceptance, and respect for others.
The attachment of their relationship with their parents is a very important issue. Within the scope of attachment, it is an early expression of emotional contact. That’s why it is very important. Children always build different relationships with other family members. They can be different from each other. Especially with the mother, we establish different kinds of relationships, different kinds of bonds. This interdependence is the most fundamental and natural element of childhood experiences. It works the same with the children on the spectrum as well. They also engage with people close to them.
Children with autism do not show the expected level of attachment and extrovert signs in normally developed children. They may not actively share experiences with their parents, they may seem unconcerned, they may not ask for attention from their parents. Just because a child with autism does not want the parents to hug does not mean he/she refuses them. Because it is more likely that the child does not know the meaning of this behavior.
When a child who diagnosed with autism do not contribute sufficient energy to their relationships, parents are unable to guide no matter how motivated or proficient they are. And because of that reason, their parent-child relationship cannot develop in a normal manner most of the time.
Parents of children with autism are not unable to do their parental job in a responsive and elaborative manner. Because they are presented with nothing productive to respond to. Parents are not provided with the types of children actions that they can support and elaborate.
In addition to those, parents of children with autism are cut off from obtaining any type of regulatory feedback, which parents of normally developed children rely upon to adjust their actions to be optimal for their child. Actually, situations are similar to each other. There is no way for parents of whether normally developed children or children with autism to determine what would be one step ahead for their children.
The parents of children, who have completed their development normally, focus their energy on acting as mental guides. They seek opportunities to expand and develop their children’s competence. On the other hand, parents of children with autism only use their energy to attract their children’s attention and struggle with their children to continue their participation in life.
Peer Relationships in Autism
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders tend to be alone. Young children and adolescents in the spectrum also sometimes prefer to be alone. Not wanting to talk, bullying, etc. can cause them. But peer friendship is important for older people and adults in the spectrum. It is important to improve and develop peer relationships.
People with an autism spectrum disorder might not recognize their peers as much as easily like normally developed people do. There are two extremes among them. While one group assumes that peers are strangers, another group assumes that peers are friends. Both of them have risks as they get older.
What kind of risks they could have? Perceiving every peer as a stranger limits the ability to establish and maintain a close relationship, which affects self-image and career. On the other hand, perceiving every peer as a trustworthy person leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. Peers occupy a temporary space. Only a handful of peers become true friends.
Individuals with autism do not perceive peer relationships in the same way as others. Among their peers, people with autism can seem detached and indifferent to their peers, can seem rigid in their preferences, can be uncooperative especially in group works, and can be aggressive because of vocal or physical mannerisms.
As one of the greatest challenges in dealing with peers among individuals with autism, emotions can be one of them. However, there are also sensory issues with strangers. These sensory issues eventually lead to a reasonable fear of being overstimulated.
Sports and art activities to be held with peers at every stage of life provide improvement in the personal and social development of individuals with autism and the skills required by the activities. Peer interactions involving such activities in the field of sports and arts are of great importance, as they involve both social interaction and the opportunity to learn different skills. In these activities, individuals with autism can have a good time together with their peers while recognizing the interests and abilities of themselves and other participants and gaining new skills.
It has been scientifically accepted that individuals with autism benefit from peer-mediated interventions. There are various research results showing that children and young people with autism benefit from peer-mediated interaction both academically and socially.
In a study conducted on individuals with autism, it is found that individual characteristics and environmental factors are important in having peer relationships, while in another study it is stated that environmental limitations in physical activity and social participation behaviors could be more important than insufficiency itself.
Peers do not understand when a teen or adult with autism would rather skip a party or some other fun event in order to maintain a routine. Peers in the childhood period definitely do not give a meaning why a child might like crayon colors and no others, or why a classmate with autism wants to color nothing but shoes day after day.
This rigidity might create problems for peer relationships in autism. Peers can have no trouble moving on while individuals with autism spend years on the same object or concept. Details matter to them in a way they do not to most of their peers. From the people with autism’s view, no one understands them wanting to perfect a specific skill or knowledge area.
Siblings Relationships in Autism
Sibling relationship has an important place in the development of each of the siblings in terms of socialization, trust relationship, providing support, value and giving, learning, maturation. In this context, having a sibling with autism will be different from the relationship experienced by two healthy siblings both individually and relationally.
Having a sibling diagnosed with autism is expected to have different effects for the other siblings both in terms of the quality of the sibling relationship and psychologically positive or negative. Having a sibling with autism has different consequences in terms of the sibling relationship and psychological adjustment for normally developed siblings.
It is reported that there are brothers and sisters who have warm relations and positive emotions with their siblings with autism as well as those who reflect negative emotions by talking about isolated life and conflict.
When the reflections of these different experiences in the sibling relationship are examined, it is stated that the positive relationship between siblings develops more difficult due to the behavioral problems frequently seen in individuals with autism. On the other hand, it is stated that siblings of children with autism who have less behavioral problems tend to have more positive emotions and spend more time with their siblings.
The siblings of individuals with autism state that they play roles such as helping their siblings with autism, entertaining them, rescuing them when they are angry and helping parents. A more positive and higher self, a more positive perspective on all personality traits, academic achievement, and behavioral traits are among the positive effects of autism on siblings.
However, higher risk of having behavioral and emotional or adaptation problems, hyperactivity or depression, using anger and aggression as the most commonly used coping method, lower participation in social activities, frustration and embarrassment, less positive emotion in sibling relationship, being more pessimistic about the future of siblings, feeling lonely and peer problems, increasing responsibilities in home life, violation of personal boundaries, lack of private living space can be said as the negative effects of autism on siblings.
Romantic Relationships in Autism
More or less every experience is challenging for individuals on the spectrum. Sexual and romantic experiences and feelings are extra challenges. Understanding feelings in terms of sexual and romantic is already difficult for people. Can you imagine how hard it would be for individuals on the spectrum? Intimacy, attraction, and affection are very challenging, both expressing and receiving. If they find these things difficult, they might be more at risk of doing inappropriate or risky things or getting into unhealthy relationships.
It is not a problem or unusual that many people on the spectrum have partners and children. While some of them are successful at managing a marriage, romantic relationships, and family life very well, some may have problems and difficulties. As the rest of the world, people on the spectrum want to have a meaningful life, a meaningful relationship with a partner, and maybe children.
On the contrary to popular belief, having a romantic relationship with someone on the autism spectrum can be as rewarding as any other romantic relationships. We don’t say that everything would be easy. You may need to invest more in your relationship. You need to make some adjustments to get along with your partner. Apart from those, you may have additional responsibilities.
Having a relationship with someone on the spectrum may teach you how to communicate nonverbal. At some point, you need to understand and interpret your partner’s body language, facial expressions, and voice tone. As we mentioned before, this is another point that you need to invest in more. You need to understand how your partner feels, what your partner thinks, etc. Your partner may need your help and wouldn’t tell you. So, it is your time to understand.
When it comes to forming and establishing romantic relationships, people on the spectrum have always been someone that follows other company. As in their daily lives, they need someone to take the lead. Otherwise, if there is no one to take all the responsibility, they do not tend to engage with others in terms of a romantic relationship.
Imagine marrying someone who says everything in his mind at the expense of breaking your heart, wants you to prepare the same breakfast every morning, insist on washing clothes on a certain night every week, allowing you to call only your specific friends to your home, Outraged if any of his routines break down, and if you are noisy in a crowded room, you can’t understand what you’re saying. These are some of the many challenges facing people who have partners on the spectrum.
The sensory overload of people with autism can often affect the relationship between couples. It causes conflicts. For example, you are at a noisy party and an individual with autism needs to make an effort to speak to their partner. This can make the individual with autism worried and less attentive to his partner.
Dating can be a frustrating and challenging experience for anyone in the world. It can be even more for women with autism when interpreting romantic clues, flirting, or finding that someone is particularly interested in them. While some people with autism are really good at dating, some have never had a proper relationship. All women want to feel loved and approved, but this need is especially strong for women with autism.