More Research for the Good of Our World: We must Acknowledge Intelligent High-Functioning Autism and Marriage

I recently wrote a post called “Intelligent High-Functioning Autism” pointing out my personal belief that most mixed-neurological marriages are marriages between typically developing people and people with high-functioning autism who have above average intelligence.

I received feedback from many typically developing spouses saying, “Thank you! I had never thought about the professional community not recognizing us because they can hardly recognize intelligent high-functioning autism.” And I received feedback from a few typically developing spouses saying, “My spouse is of average intelligence, not high intelligence.” I decided to write this post as a followup.

It is of course very important to recognize that there are many mixed-neurological marriages between typically developing people and people with autism who are of an average intelligence. Many people marry for all sorts of reasons. These couples are real and are struggling to manage autism in their marriages just like the people in mixed-neurological marriages when the person with autism is highly intelligent.

Whenever I am writing or speaking in generalities, I am doing just that: writing or speaking in generalities. I am referring to patterns, probabilities and likelihoods. I am saying that, in general, it is my perception that most mixed-neurological couples are couples managing highly intelligent autism, not average-intelligence autism or low-intelligence autism.

The way diagnoses are managed today, average intelligence means the person with ASD still has high-functioning autism, or autism without intellectual or language impairment. In my experience, at least in the United States, more people in these marriages are receiving more help from the professional community than are people who are managing above average intelligence in mixed-neurological marriage.

That doesn’t also mean, however, that they dynamics of mixed-neurological marriage are well understood or that the typically developing partner is receiving treatment or help for the effects the mixed-neurological relationship has on him or her. Usually the partner with autism receives the help and the typically developing partner is counseled to act as a caretaker even though a marriage relationship is inherently different than a parent-child relationship, a teacher-student relationship or a professional-client relationship.

And let’s face it: with autism, level of intelligence does make a big difference. It matters. A lot. Intelligence is one quality some people with autism are best able to use in their own favor. It helps them memorize the minute and nuanced social cues typically developing people are constantly sharing without thought. In general (but of course, just “in general”), higher levels of intelligence help people with high autism develop more effective compensatory strategies. And, the better the compensatory strategies, the more likely it is that the person with autism will achieve marriage.

But — and I’ll say it again — SOOOO much more research needs to be done. It is one thing for me to make these claims. It is another thing for science to prove them. The science needs to happen. But before research can really take off, scientists need to know that a problem exists. They can’t ask the right questions if they don’t have any idea what questions to ask. And right now, they don’t. Not really. Mixed-neurological marriage is hardly acknowledged and when it is acknowledged, most clinicians are thinking of the people with autism they treat in their clinics. Yet those people are not likely from the same population as most of the people with autism who are in mixed-neurological marriages.

Yet all of this is still just a hypothesis, an assertion. The research hasn’t been done! One of the primary objectives of REAL is to start a conversation for the purpose of promoting the future research that must be done to better investigate these assertions — and then, ultimately, to better serve mixed-neurological families across the world.

As a final thought, many of the mixed-neurological marriages (of which I am aware) that do occur between a person with autism of average or low intelligence are arranged marriages, particularly among Orthodox Jews. It is easier for a person with autism who has a lower level of intelligence, and consequently (I believe) less effective compensatory strategies, to achieve marriage without full courtship.

More acknowledgment of mixed-neurological marriage and more research are critical.

Mixed-neurological marriages are affecting families, intimate relationships, parenting, marriage, divorce and mental health across the world.



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