The Curious Incident Of A Relationship With An Asperger’s Syndrome Adult

It started with a casual conversation in a shopping isle, he asked for her number and uncharacteristically, she gave it to him. “Great, I’ll call you”, he said and lodged his cell phone in the back pocket of his jeans. She always erred on the side of caution as she’d been hurt many times. Mostly due to her own low self-esteem and a common trait for partners who couple with Asperger’s Syndrome sufferers. Her mantra however was “never turn down an opportunity or invitation.”

Asperger’s Syndrome may not be obvious at the first romantic encounter

He did call, and he was the perfect gentleman; he opened the car door when he picked her up as he did when they left. She settled herself at the bar when they arrived and it didn’t take her long to realise it was going to be a long two hours, this man hardly contributed to the conversation and she did all, if not 90% of the talking on the date. In sum, she left unimpressed, although his chivalry appealed to her old fashioned ideologies. Little did she know that these were learned gestures acquired through observing romance by way of film, literature or other tools of romantic displays.

He kept in touch over the months; his vocabulary bank and written prose in messages were exceptional, mastered and sophisticated. During the course of the year, he continued to contact her and randomly remembered her birthday. She was touched but still had no desire to entertain a second date, but he was relentlessly romantic and eventually, she gave in.

In the beginning, he paid for meals out, bought flowers and scented candles, the norm for a relationship in the beginning stages of the honeymoon period. Though strangely never did he kiss her, hold her hand or put his arm around her in public. He shied away from physical touch unless it was within a sexual context.

Asperger's Syndrome

As time went on and she got to know him better, his behaviour appeared robotic and repetitive. He’d recite pages and pages of poetry and Shakespeare word for word from his matric year; his voice monotone (she would Google the poems whilst he did this, it was a game he loved playing).

Another peculiar trait noticed, his subjects were limited to two things; cycling and rugby fixtures, any other topics were superfluous to his interests and he was socially awkward if he wasn’t among his own friends, and even then his interactions were superficial and forced.

She mistook his Asperger’s Syndrome for routine, which she craved. Unfortunately, it ended badly and in a strange turn of events. They went hiking and she broke her ankle. She managed to hobble along the path back with his help, he dropped her at the hospital and left. There was no communication the next day or the day after to ask if she’d been discharged, was dead or alive. It was then she realised if this was the level of care and treatment received over a broken ankle, should there ever be a ‘real’ emergency, he would not be able to cope. She subsequently ended the relationship.

Being in a relationship with an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome can be devastating for a neurotypical partner. Neurotypical or an NT, are people who don’t feature on the autism spectrum. Asperger’s Syndrome sufferers present difficulties in communication, social interaction as well as repetitive behaviour patterns with narrow interests associated with the disorder.

Abstract language concepts, such as irony and humour may well be beyond the comprehension of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and they take most forms of humour literally, missing the nuance of jokes for example. He didn’t get her humour.

So how do you recognise a partner who may have Asperger’s Syndrome?

Here are signs that you should look out for, and it’s not to say that an NT and Asperger’s Syndrome relationship can’t work out, but it stands less chance than a romance between two neurotypical people. The caveat pertaining to the below is that your partner may display some and not all of the noted characteristics common to adults with AS.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome may prefer to spend more time alone or engage in solitary activities. There is an inability for a person with Asperger’s Syndrome to recognise social or non-verbal cues, such as boredom or signs of stronger emotions like sadness or anger. As a result, the person may appear emotionally distant. This creates frustration with an NT partner as the behaviour of their Asperger’s Syndrome other half can be interpreted as being non empathetic, which means the NT’s emotional needs are not being met.

An adult with Asperger’s Syndrome may follow rigid routines and can become easily frustrated or angry when something interferes with their plans or activities. You’ll find that their speech is monotone, or may appear robotic. It’s quite common for an Asperger’s Syndrome person to engage in a monologue with intense focus on self. This means if you’ve had a rough day at work and your Asperger’s Syndrome partner is unable to support you and launches into a diatribe of cycling facts, you’ll understand where the disconnect lies, especially when they struggle so deeply when trying to express their own emotions.


Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Asperger's Syndrome

The condition won’t necessarily hinder career success; Daryl Hannah, Dan Aykroyd and Scottish singing sensation, Susan Boyle for example, have all been clinically diagnosed with the condition and have skyrocketed in their career disciplines.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for an NT and Asperger’s Syndrome partnership? There is, but you will need to be committed. If and when diagnosis is confirmed by a qualified mental health practitioner, the couple need to mutually work through stages of acknowledgement and motivation. Both parties will have to agree to work diligently through learnt behaviour patterns and strategise how to overcome relationship difficulties presented by the disorder.

Many couples find relief after diagnosis and sustained counseling with a therapist familiar with an Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer will also alleviate stress the condition may put on the relationship.

Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome can have romantic relationships

According to psychologist Bronwyn Hood, recent research shows that people with Asperger’s Syndrome desire romantic relationships as much as the rest of the population, despite the delay in the development of their social skills and narrow social interests. Individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome benefit from relationship skills guidance and educational interventions that address empathy skills, emotional self-awareness and sexuality. Successful relationship therapy involves developing a realistic understanding of the challenges faced by Asperger’s Syndrome and NT couples. Further to this, realistic goals related to those challenges need to be established, and practical tools implemented to support the mutual attainment of the milestones.

Asperger’s Syndrome sufferers are capable of love and want to be loved as much as NTs do, some go on to sustain long term relationships and marriages, some don’t. It’s more about your own boundaries as the neurotypical party to apply your learned emotional intelligence to overcome the barriers encountered in your relationship with an Asperger’s Syndrome adult.

Sam Swaine is a Cape Town based journalist and an independent marketing consultant. She’s a clean eating enthusiast and spends her time running the Atlantic Seaboard and surfing the Indian Ocean. Her writing topics of interest include emotional well-being, arts and culture and career advancement.




  1. 14 April 2018 at 5:31 am

    Do you actually know any autistic people? I don’t appreciate that you get to fantasize about autism and present that as the reality, poisoning the expectations of people I might have to deal with. Have you no empathy?

    My parents were both autistic and our family was nothing like the emotional wasteland described here. My dad was a social worker, even.

    Thanks for the help keeping autistic people untouchable.

    • mm
      15 April 2018 at 6:34 pm

      Thank you for taking time to write to us. Your point is taken and we appreciate that your life experience has been very different to Sam’s article. The intention was never to make autistic people untouchable, but just allow for a personal perspective. We will share your feedback with the author Sam Swaine.

    • Sam Swaine
      16 April 2018 at 11:28 am

      Dear Mike, ​Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on the article. The piece was based on a particular ​​case study
      ​and we would agree it may not be indicative of all experiences. ​ As you mentioned,people with Asperger’s go on to lead fulfilled and successful lives both in their personal and professional capacities. We would very much like to get your perspective and experience in this regard and will be in touch shortly. Sam Swaine

    • NT Husband
      19 April 2018 at 9:28 pm

      My wife of 18 years has Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly Aspergers). She was diagnosed two years ago. This article speaks very well to some of the problems we have experienced.

      In addition my twelve-year old son has ASD, and I have several other relatives and friends on the spectrum.

      I don’t think the author’s intent is to attack or disparage anyone. But I can absolutely vouch for the main takeaway of this article – ASD/NT relationships are difficult. In fact they are extraordinarily difficult. And the problem is not one-sided. My behavior is as frustrating (or more) to my wife as hers is to me. That doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be successful… but please understand that it will not be easy… for either party.

      • mm
        20 April 2018 at 8:38 am

        Thank you for sharing your own experience. It is a sensitive subject and we would agree that any relationship needs work and can only be successful when both parties love, understand and are committed to each other. We appreciate that you wrote to us. Gisele