Do People With Autism Get Married? Tips For Healthy Relationships 2023

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Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

Do People With Autism Get Married? Tips For Healthy Relationships

Relationships are always challenging. When someone experiences the difficulties with communication that come with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it may seem like those challenges are insurmountable. It’s not unusual to wonder if people with ASD can maintain a romantic relationship, so can autistic adults get married?

The short answer is yes, autistic adults can get married. There is nothing inherent in a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder that would legally prevent someone from marrying, signing contracts, or otherwise making binding commitments. Additionally, there is often no barrier to them forming genuine and deep relationships.

The question arises because of that popular image of someone with ASD, that of someone with special needs and developmental disabilities. It’s important to understand, however, that autism is a spectrum and not everyone experiences it in the same way, nor do they face the same challenges. Additionally, while developmental disabilities can prevent someone from marrying, it’s often not that simple.

Can Autistic Adults Get Married?

Like anyone else, people with ASD seek out meaningful relationships with others. It’s just part of being human. While ASD can place some barriers in the way of those relationships, those barriers are not insurmountable. People with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be affectionate, fall in love, and make a long-term commitment like marriage.

Marriage is also a legally binding commitment. Some people who experience developmental disabilities as a part of ASD may face questions regarding their competence to enter into that sort of legal commitment. However, that’s not as clear-cut as it may seem. Frequently, legal obstacles can be overcome as well.

In the majority of cases, there’s no question that the person with ASD is able to make their own choices. While ASD can involve significant developmental[1] or intellectual disabilities[2], those disabilities don’t always express themselves in the same way or to the same degree. 

What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

People with ASD[3] may face many sorts of challenges, but health professionals look for two specific types of challenges before making a diagnosis. Those two areas of concern are:

  • Difficulties in communication and social situations
  • Repetitive behavior, including restricted interests

You can find fuller explanations of ASD elsewhere, but a quick summary might be helpful. 

People with ASD can face social struggles on many levels. Some people may struggle to speak or be unable to speak entirely. Others may have difficulties understanding social cues, sarcasm, or humor. 

Repetitive behavior can also appear in a variety of ways. The repetitive behavior might be physical motion, such as spinning or flapping the arms. Restricted interests are another sort of repetitive behavior, where someone with ASD puts all their focus on just a few topics.

Diagnoses

It’s due to this range that Autism Spectrum Disorder was once several different diagnoses, such as Asperger’s Syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder. Eventually, it was realized that all of those different conditions involved challenges in a few specific ways, so they were all brought together under the single name of ASD. 

That’s the ‘spectrum’ part of the name. The ‘disorder’ part means that the challenges are significant enough to interfere with their quality of life. For some people, that means they may not mature as quickly, may struggle with learning disabilities, may have trouble communicating, and face a range of other issues. 

However, ASD isn’t always that severe. People who were once diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and often still identify with that diagnosis, may not appear to be facing any challenges at first glance. People with other types of ASD may also fully be able to function[4]. While they still face challenges, those challenges don’t normally interfere with them making reasoned decisions.

When that’s the case, there is no barrier to them making their own decisions about their life. 

Intellectual Disability and Marriage

There is only one reason that someone with ASD would be prevented from marrying. That’s if their competence[5] to enter into a legally binding marriage is called into question. 

This can be a delicate and complex subject. On the one hand, there are people who want to make commitments to people they love[6], and would understandably like those commitments to be official. 

On the other hand, people with special needs can be vulnerable in many ways. They might need someone to step in and help with aspects of life they struggle with. There is also the fear that people with special needs might not always understand the full consequences of their actions.

The standards for competence vary depending on the state. However, if someone is found incompetent, a guardian is appointed to handle their affairs. In that case, the person with ASD may still be able to marry with the permission of their guardian.

While they may face limited legal barriers to marriage, people with intellectual disabilities may be prevented from marrying for social and economic reasons[7]

Limited Income

Some people with ASD may depend on government support, like social security income, to pay their living expenses. The amount of support they receive can be affected by a few things, but most importantly income and assets. 

Due to the way the rules for that support are structured, while one partner may have qualified on their own, together they may not receive the same support[8]. For people in need of assistance, while on a limited income, that can be a real problem.

Couples with intellectual disabilities face a number of other challenges, including retaining custody of any children. 

In reality, while people with ASD can get married, many of them choose not to. One study[9] found that between 5% and 9% of people with a developmental disability marry.

Relationships And ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder may not prevent people from forming relationships, but it can make that relationship more challenging in some ways. As with any other aspect of their lives, people with ASD may need a greater amount of patience and assistance than other people in some regards. This can be balanced with the understanding that the struggles they face are genuinely not their fault.

All of the tips for communicating with a person with ASD can also be applied to communication[10] in a relationship[11]. A few of the most important things to remember are:

Honest Communication Is Vital 

People with ASD can have a hard time with body language, non-verbal social cues, humor, and sarcasm. Confusion may result. The solution is to be direct about feelings and other important aspects of a relationship. Even if it seems awkward or inconvenient, it may be the only way to let them know what you’re thinking and feeling. 

 Overload and Meltdowns

People with ASD can sometimes be easily overwhelmed. They might be triggered by loud noises, a crowd of people, tight spaces, or a bunch of other things. Adults with ASD have often learned strategies and coping skills to prevent a meltdown. In that case, just follow their lead and do what you can to help. No plan is perfect and when they do become overwhelmed, they may look to you to help them calm down.

Be Patient

If you’re in a relationship with someone with ASD, romantic or otherwise, you may end up in some challenging situations. However, the same is true of relationships with many neurotypical[12] people. Remember that they aren’t insulting you or being thoughtless, but are instead struggling with a disability. 

Conclusion

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder want to make the same sort of connections with other people that all humans do. While they may, unfortunately, face some struggles when communicating with others, they are still able to be a good friend or even romantic partner. 


+ 12 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. CDC (2019). Facts About Developmental Disabilities. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/facts.html
  2. ‌Aaidd.org. (2020). Definition. [online] Available at: https://www.aaidd.org/intellectual-disability/definition
  3. ‌Autism-help.org. (2021). Autism, PDD-NOS & Asperger’s fact sheets | Issues for adults with Autism, the most common Autism Spectrum Disorder. [online] Available at: http://www.autism-help.org/autism-adults.htm
  4. ‌MPGteam (2017). Can My Autistic Child Live A Healthy & Happy Adult Life? [online] Manhattan Psychology Group. Available at: https://manhattanpsychologygroup.com/can-expect-future-child-asd/
  5. ‌TheFreeDictionary.com. (2013). legal incapacity. [online] Available at: https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/legal+incapacity
  6. ‌Srcp.org. (2021). Marriage, Long-Term Relationships, and Having Children. [online] Available at: http://www.srcp.org/for_some_parents/developmental_disabilities/the_specifics/marriageDD.html
  7. ‌SNA Admin (2010). What Happens When Persons Living with Disabilities Marry? [Guide]. [online] Special Needs Alliance. Available at: https://www.specialneedsalliance.org/the-voice/what-happens-when-persons-living-with-disabilities-marry-2/
  8. ‌theadvocacymonitor (2019). Marriage Equality Is Still Not a Reality: Disabled People and the Right to Marry. [online] Advocacy Monitor. Available at: https://advocacymonitor.com/marriage-equality-is-still-not-a-reality-disabled-people-and-the-right-to-marry/
  9. ‌International Journal of Culture and Mental Health. (2021). Marriage and family life in people with developmental disability. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17447140903205317
  10. ‌Wheeler, M. (2016). Tips for Women in Relationships with Partners on the Autism Spectrum: Articles: Indiana Resource Center for Autism: Indiana University Bloomington. [online] Indiana Resource Center for Autism. Available at: https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/tips-for-women-in-relationships.html
  11. ‌The Asperger / Autism Network (AANE). (2017). Marriage with Asperger’s Syndrome: 14 Practical Strategies – The Asperger / Autism Network (AANE). [online] Available at: https://www.aane.org/marriage-aspergers-syndrome-14-practical-strategies/
  12. Merriam-webster.com. (2021). Merriam-Webster Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neurotypical

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

Sean Newton has nearly ten years of experience as a health and fitness writer, focusing on diet and its effects on your health. He also is an avid athlete and martial artist, specializing in bodyweight exercises and movement training. Together with an evidence-based approach to good health, his goal is to lay out the facts for readers, so they can make informed choices.

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

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