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Neurodiverse Relationships

Please enjoy as James and Fiona explain their beautiful bond. Soon, they've promised a post about planning their upcoming wedding, autism-style!

Making a neurodiverse relationship work

By James Cleves & Fiona Robertson

Hi, I’m James and I’m neurodivergent. And this is my fiancee, Fiona, who is neurotypical.

Having a neurodiverse relationship sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it works for us (and from what we’ve read, we’re not actually that unusual).

So how do we make things work, when our brains work in two completely different ways?

James: Our brains might be wired differently, but, first and foremost, we have many things in common and shared interests. Fiona may not be into one of my special interests, but she very much enjoys sharing another of them by watching Star Trek with me.

Fiona: That’s true, I got into Star Trek and many other geeky things when I was quite young, so it’s nice being able to share one of James’ special interests - even if I can’t remember all the details and trivia the way he does!

J: One of the most important things, I found, was being completely upfront with Fiona when we met about my situation. I laid out my freight train of “issues”, including my autism, dyspraxia and all the rest. This was actually against the advice of my friends, but I felt compelled to be honest, and if I hadn’t done this, I don’t think it would have worked.

F: I really appreciated the honesty, though it was an awful lot to take in at first. I’d never met an autistic person before and only had TV portrayals to rely on. And I hadn’t even heard of dyspraxia, so I had to do some rather quick Googling!

F: I didn’t really know what to make of James being neurodivergent, to be honest as I had such little information to go on, but I knew that autism was something that everyone experiences differently. So I just had to be blunt with James and ask him what autism meant for him.

J: I was pleasantly surprised after explaining all this to Fiona that she still wanted to get to know me and be in a relationship with me as up until that point, my experience of dating hadn’t been too positive. In the past, when I mentioned that I was autistic, most people would run away.

J: I thought it would be important to explain about things like burnout, meltdowns, and my need for quiet time to recharge. And it was essential to talk about my sensory issues. Mentioning these, especially to someone unfamiliar with autism, could have been so overwhelming. Thankfully, I found someone who is broad-minded enough to understand that these things are essential for me to recharge and continue to function to the best of my ability.

F: I’m really glad that James took the time to explain all of these things to me, as if he had simply disappeared for quiet time without a word, I might’ve thought he’d gone off me! Most things haven’t been a big deal, like starting to use fabric softener to alleviate his skin sensitivity.

J: One thing that was quite a big deal though was when I had my first non-verbal moment. In my whole 35 years, I’ve only experienced this once, and this was in the last year and it was quite frightening. Especially for Fiona, who thought she had broken me!

F: Haha, maybe not broken as such… but we hadn’t spoken about the possibility of you going non-verbal before so it took me by surprise and I was completely unprepared to deal with it.

J: It took me by surprise too. The reason I hadn’t talked about it before was that I’d never experienced it before so I didn’t think to mention it.

F: That’s fair enough. And in the end, we managed to get through it just fine, didn’t we?

J: Yes.

F: So why do you think we work so well together - what do we each bring to this relationship?

J: She can cook!

F: And he likes to eat! No, really, it’s much more than that. It’s not a case of opposites attracting, because in many ways we’re quite similar. But I do feel we complement each other. Like, if I start to get too serious and stressed, he’s there capering around, making me giggle like a child.

J: I feel, when I’m with her, secure, supported and loved.

F: Aww… That’s how I feel too. When you hug me, that’s my safe place. My happy place.

J: I feel the real secret is listening to one another and trying to understand one another. And if we don’t understand anything, we simply ask what the other person means and where they’re coming from. It might be a cliche but, no question is a stupid question when you’re dealing with different neurotypes.

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