Twelve couples with one autistic partner and one non-autistic partner featured in this book discussing areas such as Family, Socialising, Meltdowns and Change. Each chapter contained a section from the perspective of each person within the couple followed by a discussion/question and answer style section from authors Joanna Pike and Tony Attwood.
Overview and Main Review
The premise of this book was both promising and interesting – it had the potential to allow an exploration of how an autistic and a non-autistic person in a relationship would perceive the same events through their different experiences. Unfortunately, the majority of the book was negative and there were a number of outdated and, in some places, outright offensive stereotypes and mis-characterisations about autism. Many of the language choices for describing autistic traits were negative and a number were also infantalising, with autistic people being described as like toddlers, and as throwing temper tantrums.
There was a general tone of negativity about being within a relationship with an autistic person and discussions around strategies and supports often veered into discussions of how non-autistic partners had to take on “mothering” roles and the strain that autistic traits had on relationships. Some of couples seemed to dislike and mistreat each other so much that I wondered how their relationship was even reconcileable. Some of the behaviours exhibited by people in the book were also emotionally abusive and the book would have benefited from exploring these from that perspective rather than accepting them as part of an ASD-NT relationship.
Many chapters didn’t offer much in terms of practical strategies either. There was a definite skew towards counselling and therapy, to the point where Attwood recommended multiple times that all couples which were ASD-NT should be in counselling to be able to last. The same few strategies (use of traffic light system for communication, for example) were used repeatedly by different couples to varying degrees of success.
Also, it was disappointing to see that all twelve couples were male-female couples where the autistic partner was the man in the relationship. Given the recent work on autism in women and girls, and recent research which suggests more autistic people are LGBT+ than non-autistic people, it is a shame that this book lacks much in the way of diversity. The couple in the final chapter, Erik and Charmaine, explored how their relationship differed to many of the others in the book as both of them are D/deaf, Erik is autistic, and Charmaine has Cerebral Palsy. This chapter was also the best in the book as it discussed both the difficulties that the couple had worked through, the strategies they used, while never going anywhere near the negativity exhibited in most the other chapters. There wasn’t any impression of burden from the NT partner’s perspectives and their mutual respect and understanding for each other was a positive end to the book. Unfortunately, these good sections didn’t really balance out the negative tone that was present for much of the rest of the book.
Given the sheer volume of negativity, misconceptions and stereotypes about autistic people and the persistent theme that relationships with autistic people are doomed to be one-sided and socially deprived relationships with people with the emotional maturity of toddlers, there was only one place this book was going. Bottom Shelf Shattered.
Live Tweet Review of Neurodiverse Relationship: https://twitter.com/booksonautism/status/1127136492093169664