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Is My Partner on the Spectrum?

Neurodiversity is a term that’s used to describe the differences in how brains operate and process information from the world. We are all multifaceted and unique people, so of course, we would find differences among us! Yet, the world is set up for a neurotypical population- there are social norms that carry stigma or assumptions about how people should think and behave.
Because of this, people with neurodivergent brains—brains that operate differently from the majority of other people’s brains- sometimes learn to fit in by masking. Their adaptations are creative and they reveal great aptitudes! However, the burden to “fit in” usually falls on the neurodivergent person, which isn’t fair and can often cause a strain on mental health and relationships.
If you find yourself wondering “is my partner on the autism spectrum?” continue reading to learn about how couples therapy might be helpful.

What is Neurodiversity?

There are several different groups that neurodivergence can fall into, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) describes traits that fall along a continuum that an autistic adult may exhibit in how they relate to others, which are different from how most other people relate. Autism is often noticed socially, such as in the workplace or by their partners and friends.

What does it mean to mask?

Masking refers to ways that an autistic person acts so they can be more like neurotypical people and can navigate a neurotypical world. It is a kind of social survival strategy. Examples of masking in autistic adults might look like:

  • Following scripts for conversations or using rehearsed responses
  • Forcing eye contact and mimicking facial expressions
  • Trying to withstand being in places where sensory stimulation is too high
  • Over-doing in order to compensate for the trouble in connecting relationally
However, masking can be very costly to maintain. Often, it can lead to anxiety or depression, as they are under such stress from following “the right cues” and sacrificing who they really are. Especially for an adult who has undiagnosed autism, there can be fear around consequences for not conforming—such as being bullied, loneliness and rejection, and not hitting social milestones.

Autism and Mental Health

If you notice your partner is tense or on edge, is having outbursts and seems to snap easily, or is seeming to be overwhelmed in social gatherings, therapy may be helpful to learn better ways of coping and practicing mindfulness of triggers. Therapy can be helpful in learning about neurodivergence as well and directing a person to resources that could be beneficial for them.

What does Autism look like in adults?

Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that traits can fall along a continuum that varies from minor impairments to severe. These impairments cause challenges in social relationships, speech and behavior, including nonverbal behavior. Research suggests that about 1 in 44 people is on the spectrum, with more prevalence found in men.

While difficulties range from person to person, your partner on the spectrum may have some of these characteristics:

  • Trouble reading others’ emotions from their facial cues and body language
  • Difficulty regulating emotion and recognizing their own emotions
  • Flat voice tone that doesn’t show much emotional range
  • Difficulty having an “ebb and flow” reciprocal conversation
  • Difficulty having a “filter” in conversations and saying whatever one thinks
  • Showing strong interests in objects, collections, or unique hobbies
  • Showing rigidity in their routines and are often upset if they are interrupted
  • Sensitivities to sensory stimulation like noise, the brightness of lights, and touch
  • Dislike or seeming to not have a need for physical touch and displays of affection
  • Being viewed as eccentric and perhaps that they know a great deal about a topic that interests them
  • May go into long monologues about a topic even if another person isn’t interested

Should I tell my partner I think they are
on the spectrum?

We often analyze the behavior of people we’re closest to, as a way to better understand them. However, it’s really hard to diagnose someone that we are emotionally invested in because we’re not able to be objective. If you think your partner is on the spectrum, before you say anything to them, you may want to commit yourself to extra reading to learn more about neurodivergence and how to be a support. You may also consider connecting with a therapist to help with your own process of feelings and struggles. Only a mental health professional can diagnose autism. There are extensive assessments that a mental health professional will facilitate before diagnosing autism.

if your partner is on the spectrum therapy and support can help

How can I better connect with my partner?

If your partner displays some of these traits, please know that it’s a myth that autistic people do not want to connect. Many do want to connect, but within certain terms. Working with a couples therapist might be helpful to learn what your partner’s style of connecting is like, how they view relationships, and what feels comfortable to them in terms of affection. Learning more about your partner’s preferences can help you understand them better. It can also help with feelings of self-blame and confusion you might have, as neurotypical people have trouble reading neurodivergent people too.

All brains are wired to connect, your partner on the spectrum just may do so differently. If you could use help with better connecting to your partner and resolving challenges in your relationship, contact our care team today. One of our trained therapists is ready to work with you.