Autism spectrum disorders and romantic intimacy

Wedmore, Haley
Major Professor
Megan J. Murphy
Committee Member
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Human Development and Family Studies

Few would deny that romantic intimacy is an important part of the human experience. People with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may face impairments in communication, social understanding, and emotional responsiveness; however, the importance of romantic intimacy in their lives is no less significant than it is for typically developing people. In response to the dearth of voice in the literature from people with ASD as well a lack of previous research investigating the romantic perceptions and experiences of people with ASD, I set out to explore the lived experiences of individuals and couples with ASD in regard to romantic intimacy. The lived experience of eight participants including one couple, four individuals, and three guardians of participants with ASD were explored through a qualitative methodology using a Hermeneutic phenomenological approach via a critical disability lens. Three main themes emerged through the data analysis including: What Makes it Work?, What is Challenging?, and How is Intimacy Experienced? Themes that emerged indicated that overall aspects of romantic intimacy are similar for people with ASD and typically developing individuals, including the experience of attraction and various expressions of intimacy. Challenges regarding romantic intimacy are likely to be experienced that stem from characteristics of the disorder including sensory/processing issues and social/communication difficulties. Additional challenges may result from circumstances beyond the individual's control such as his or her living situation and societal messages/pressures. Although such challenges may impede on one's ability to be romantically intimate, a number of features have been identified that may transcend such barriers. Such features have been identified through the compatibility of partners, dedication and hard work on the part of both partners, and through helpful external supports. Implications for support services, interventions, and future areas for research are discussed.