Tag Archives: autism

Intimacy and Autism

The thing to understand about intimacy and caring within a relationship is this: the skills necessary for healthy love began being acquired long before “relationship” was even a consideration. Especially a romantic sexual one.

It begins in early childhood.

So, with Valentine’s Day only a week away highlighting stories and gifts meant to celebrate romantic love, I am sharing insights for caregivers meant to guide you as you guide your loved ones toward healthy relationships. Specifically if you are the parent or caregiver of someone with autism or a similar disorder.

Note: Anytime we talk about guiding people with autism we are talking about guiding people with challenges that are similar to, though more extreme than, people without autism.

Some things to know as you teach love and sex:

Autism influences sexual behavior.  Intimacy is a sensory experience, and people with autism have a heightened sensitivity to sensory input. A person with autism may have an extreme distaste for certain smells or an intense excitability from certain textures. Regardless of the severity of the disorder, these sensory issues are bound to influence sexual behavior.

Autism can influence sexual orientation. In large part due to the aforementioned sensory sensitivities. When a person has a heightened sensitivity to sensory input it can be easier, and feel safer, to relate to someone of the same gender. There are more familiar textures, smells, and sounds. Alternatively, it can cause uncomfortable sensory reactions to their own body or gender. There is still more to learn in this area, and we continue to do so.

Sexual Education is highly important for your autistic loved one. Not only for their sexual wellness, but for their overall self-awareness, self-esteem, and social skills. It is vitally important, all the way to the point of step-by-step instruction, especially related to clean up and privacy.

However, it is even more important that the person doing the educating is comfortable and capable of non-judgemental teaching.

The ability to love oneself begins in early childhood.  And when adolescence sets in, when arousal becomes overwhelming and a huge driver in the neurotypical person, in the autistic person with a sensory challenge it can be such a strong driver that it creates a blindness to the world around them, complicating an already challenged social skill system.

In most cases, they find themselves wanting to masturbate in public and in front of people in the living room. They don’t know how to go about dealing with the drive they’re experiencing but they love the release they get.

Caregivers: Right then and there it is important for you to be comfortable, be explaining, and slowly – one step at a time – regardless of language development, regardless of apparent cognitive understanding, teach privacy and self-love.

In this way, slowly but surely, you will impart to any individual – regardless of their level of challenge – the means by which they can become the best possible partner they could possibly be.

If you cannot do this, you will negatively affect any ability they may have of having an intimate relationship.

If you are an autistic adult, or you love someone who is, and childhood is long behind you but you want some ideas you can work with now, I have a few to share.

Number one: Be clear. Be clear with the when, where, and how. Be willing to discuss things you would normally, perhaps, simply engage in. This is good advice for both the neurotypical partner and the autistic one.

Number two: Take no offense. You can play with sensory reactions to moles with hairs, or certain smells, but don’t be offended by them.

Number three: Turn special interests into fetish play. An example could be someone who is extremely into automobiles might find it exciting to have “vroom, vroom,” sounds during foreplay or upon entering. If this offends you, you’re in the wrong relationship. If this embarrasses you and you are unable or unwilling to get over it, you’re in the wrong relationship.

Whether you are at the beginning of this journey, or quite far down the road, it is important to remember: It is not just the individual and their challenges that determine the style and level of intimacy in a relationship, it is also the life that came before. The experiences they had that helped develop the skills necessary for intimacy in the first place.

This is true regardless of diagnosis.

Intimacy begins long before the two come together, no pun intended.

If you are at the beginning, begin well.

If you are quite a ways down the road, consider the beginnings and work to understand their influence. Then, begin at this new beginning and be purposeful with your influences.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The joy on granddaughter's face is like the joy of heading home

The Best Day

The Best Day: Heading home after doing good work while away.

My tummy’s beginning to bubble with excitement. It’s the last day of work during my travels overseas before returning home.

It’s been wonderful. We’ve accomplished a lot and I believe I may have changed the face of coping with autism and other brain disorders. Changed them for the better. Made a difference in the world again. But I want to go home.

This happens every time I travel.

I’m focused, I work hard, I enjoy every moment of it. And on the last day the truth begins to percolate in my tummy: You wish you were home and you will be soon.

I allow the great-grandchildren’s faces into my mind’s eye. I send a message to my grandson. The call of home can be strong. Today, I will allow it in.

I’m glad I travel. It was easier this time than others, because now my most challenged son, Dar, travels with me and I don’t have that low grade anxiety of wondering what’s happening for him. (Join Dar and I via our videos on YouTube by clicking this link: Autism on the Road.) I love Dar. I love traveling with Dar. But I love them all the most and I want to be near them.

The great-grandkids, the grandkids, the kids. Familiar soil, familiar food, these do matter. But the hugs, cries, laughter, and “please buy me something” pull of family members is the strongest for me.

So, today is a great day.

My last day of work.

My mind travels over all the things I’ve accomplished in the last seventeen days. Forty-three videos on various techniques for autism, speaking to teachers, training new people who know nothing at all, untraining people who’ve been misled by the usual ideas around autism, spreading the word about what matters and what doesn’t, hands on helping people that are challenged and yet brilliant at the same time. I’ve created things while I was away that will live beyond me and I should be proud, and I am.

But more than anything I feel the tickle in my tummy that’s trying to reach my chest and say, “It’s almost home day, it’s almost home day. You don’t have to stay away anymore.”

This is the best day.

Tomorrow’s good. I’ll be on a plane for almost fourteen hours and I’ll be aware of my return, but I’ll get jet-lagged and go through that process next. So today, and about three days from now, are the best days of all.

I will enjoy.

As I struggle through the process coming up of adjusting to different time zones again, I’ll pass my mind over all I accomplished and know it was worth it.

Today is the best day.

Patiently, I Waited

As a young child my son had sensory problems that made brushing his front teeth intolerable. The dentist (who used laughing gas) chastised me for not forcing the issue. I stopped going to that dentist, stopped subjecting my under-the-influence son to the sight of his mother being lectured. We stayed away from the negative energy. And patiently, I waited.

Over the years we tried a few dentists. Many of them made me cry. Back then the handling of a patient was rough, needles hurt, and attitudes were superior. I kept my son away, trusting that the gaps between his teeth would help prevent cavities. I cleaned his front teeth with a toothpaste covered cloth and, patiently, I waited.

His front teeth began to stain with plaque and calcium deposits. I copied what I had seen the hygienist do and started picking the plaque from his teeth. (My son trusts me. So though when others try to work in his mouth he flinches and pulls away, when I do it he is very cooperative.) I took him to a dentist specializing in challenged children. He  tried a commanding style rather than gas to gain my son’s cooperation. My son bolted from his chair and we left. Patiently, I waited.

When my multi-challenged child reached the age of 20 all his opportunities shifted. He was bigger, scarier, sweatier and no one felt comfortable in his mouth. I told them to let me help but instead they tried biting blocks. He bit. Of course. Because the dentists and hygienists were not willing to see me as his expert. By now he could run a cloth over his own front teeth. I continued to pick the plaque and patiently, I waited.

I read about neurofeedback and decided to try it with him. He was still scary, still dependent on me, but the practitioner was patient and loving and we made it through the session despite the EEG wires pasted to his head. He seemed calmer afterward so we did more. I decided to become a practitioner and make it always available to my son. Patiently, I waited.

After a year his minimally verbal mouth seemed helped. He began to brush those very stained front teeth. I ceased to pick and tried to encourage self care. He improved a little more. After a while I decided to try another dentist. They again refused to let me help. They insisted on x-rays before cleanings. I insisted that this would be a set up to fail. But my son was different now and when they wouldn’t listen to me I listened to his new behavior. I didn’t believe it would work but I also didn’t want to limit him. I consented and they took him to the x-ray room. He was in his thirties and used to people helping him so he went willingly. Patiently, I waited.

The technician, covered in panic and sweat, ran into the room where I was waiting. Come help, she begged. I followed her to my son who was sitting smiling and trying to cooperate.What was her problem? They stuck the x-ray film in between his teeth inside the left cheek. He shook his head and spit it out. The lady turned to me and said, “See!” I said, “Well, that hurts. I can barely do it.” I talked them into letting me hold his head while they x-rayed. He still couldn’t do it and they were still annoyed. I needed someone who would drop their own rules and adjust for our needs. We left and patiently, I waited.

I found a dentist I liked and brought my son for all my appointments. He sat on the floor in the corner and watched. I got a couple of crowns, a root canal, two deep cleanings and one regular cleaning, all while he watched and they got used to his agreeableness. Patiently, I waited.

Technology had improved and cleanings no longer hurt. The vibrating water jet wand was a masterful tool for plaque. The hygienist is sweet, the office calm. My son’s breath had begun to give off an odor, something it had never done before. I decided to try again. I talked her into an appointment. I insisted that I had no expectation for success, just a desire to try. A wish for a positive experience, a willingness to be her assistant. She agreed but rescheduled him three times. She was nervous, the pandemic a handy excuse. He turned forty and still we waited, patiently. 

Today he had a cleaning. He waited patiently while I went first with his grand niece sitting on my lap. (He likes to impress her so she was an unexpected yet handy addition to the experience). She waited patiently, he waited patiently, I waited patiently till my teeth shone like diamonds. It was his turn. The hygienist babbled nervously, I donned gloves, she donned gloves, he opened his mouth. I stayed back. She went to put the vacuum in his cheek and he closed his teeth. I moved forward and put my fingers between his teeth confident that he would never bite me. 

Patiently and thoroughly we worked together. I pulled his lips and she vibrated the wand. He smiled calmly with his eyes while we complimented with genuine amazement. My four year old great-granddaughter (his grand niece) – dressed purposely in a backwards t-shirt so people could watch Elsa and Anna walk away – moved closer to peek at the operation and we all commented on how shiny his teeth were getting. It was remarkable, the plaque and stain fell onto his tongue and was vacuumed away piece by piece by piece. The gaps had kept food from sticking between his teeth and protected them  enough to allow for this eventuality. He has a brand new, stain free smile. He is proud, his breath clean and his gums healing.

Patience pays off.

Lesson to take with you:  Even if it didn’t work before it might work now. (And with a little technological help it might work even better.)