The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Autistics can pursue relationships like anyone else

with 4 comments

I had a long chat with a friend and colleague who’s currently overseas, and we discussed blogging for some time during our three-hour online conversation. Along the way, she mentioned coming across a magazine article about an autistic couple, but couldn’t remember the name.

Here’s where the journalist inside me kicked in. I did some quick research, and discovered the magazine was Glamour and the article was published in February 2009. The story was picked up by ABC’s Good Morning America, briefly summarizing the detailed descriptions from Lynn Harris, the reporter who wrote Glamour‘s story. Usually, I don’t come across magazine articles, but their style of journalism differs from television and the newspapers. Magazine reporters are no less skilled than their “daily” cousins, but their storytelling more closely resembles fictional novels. That doesn’t mean their stories are no less real.

Just like fiction, Harris gives us a beginning, middle and end to the relationship between David Hamrick and Lindsey Nebeker, profiling how they manage to stay together when many write off autistics seeking relationships as impossible. Both require separate bedrooms and rarely speak to each other at home or on the phone, as neither are comfortable with “small talk.” Although mass media and conventional wisdom describe autistics as loners, Harris reports many autistic adults aware of their shortcoming know what they’re missing out on and hope to find love. However, many prefer to seek out partners electronically, generally through social networking websites. David and Lindsey met in person via an autism conference, and Harris uses their meeting to transition from their tumultuous childhoods to adapting their needs while living together. To avoid sensory overload, they discussed every last detail to make living as roommates successful, even down to light bulb preference.

While planning every step of joining their lives in one place sounds like material written for the character of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory (Sheldon has Leonard sign a roommate agreement which lists every possible situation the two could face as scientific living mates), David and Lindsey formed a bond and defied standard expectations of autistic people. In fact, a speech-language pathologist who knows the couple said other adults could learn a page from their playbook: both speak their minds clearly and directly, with no expectation of mind reading.

As a fellow ponderer about my chances at a relationship (if you’re curious, I’m straight, but this applies to anyone on the spectrum and should not be disregarded because of orientation), reading this two-year-old story left me thinking why this sub-topic of the autism spectrum is generally ignored by other forms of journalism. A newspaper or television reporter thrives at their ability to tell a complete story in a small amount of space and would scoff at the excuse of relationships being too complex for an audience with the attention span of a goldfish. While I could theorize for eternity, the profile story provides insights to answer the many fears parents have about the future of their autistic children.

Harris doesn’t waste time explaining the supposed deficiencies of autistic people, she details how both of her subjects lived with the disability and what impact it had on their history of relationships. Harris indirectly tells worriers to set aside their concerns, and perhaps a few tips for others on the spectrum eager to break down what is perhaps the largest communication barrier for autism. She also points out a few advantages of having a couple not feeling compelled to follow the conventional rituals of love. Harris fulfills her role as a journalist by giving her audience ideas they likely would not have thought of had the story never been published.

I could not find a follow-up or update on the couple in my research, but regardless of their fate, Harris’ role as reporter and storyteller highlights how much mentally disabled people have in common with the rest of the world, even if their behaviors place them on the “outside.” With the number of autistic adults increasing (1.5 million adults expected by 2016), Harris’ article will likely be the first of several autistic relationship stories as the uncomprehending public tries to understand what the deal is with their autistic peers.

4 Responses

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  1. Glad you shared this information with us. Have you seen the movie Adam? It is the fictional story of a relationship where one of the characters has ASD. Todd and I heard a married couple speak last year who are both on the spectrum. They seemed to compliment each other very nicely. As with any relationship what you are looking for is a partner who can deal with your “quirks” and you with theirs. If they happen to find these traits endearing all the better:)

    Jenny Leslie

    January 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm

  2. Hi Mike:

    David and Lindsey have designed a love and romance site which deals with their relationship. Lots of information about them separately and together.

    Here is Naked Brain Inc: Naked Brain Inc, the blogsite which was designed

    And Lindsey is part of the Autism Womens’ Network, which was started last year [2010].
    Autism Womens Network: Lindsey’s profile

    She wrote a piece on the Thinking Person’s Guide.

    And in November 2010 she spoke at the Geneva Centre in Canada. For many years now this institution has had ground-breaking conferences. David was there, and so was Stephen Shore.
    Love Conquers All

    If your overseas friend was in the UK, they might well have encountered the story through an IPC magazine.

    Adelaide Dupont

    January 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    • Thanks for the links. I’ll check them out when I get a breather. To clarify, my friend who shared that story is playing basketball overseas in Spain and we met through the WNBA as I cover that league. However, we both will talk about things we’ve researched and she happened to mention this story, but couldn’t recall the magazine title. I figured the story was specific enough that I could spot it on a Google search.


      January 11, 2011 at 11:20 pm

      • It’s wonderful to have a partnership like this – personal or professional.

        Have a nice breather!

        The WNBA is a great league.

        Adelaide Dupont

        January 12, 2011 at 3:40 am

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