There are two bedroomsin the cozy Jackson,Mississippi,apartment: Dave Hamrick's is like a dad's den,with a striped beige armchair and a hanging map;Lindsey Nebeker's is darkly girly,with spiky dried roses hung over a bed topped by a graphic leaf-print quilt.After work on any given evening,Dave and Lindsey are likely to be orbiting the home separately,doing their own thing.Dave may be flipping through magazines,pausing to stare fixedly at design details or leaning in to inhale the scent of the pages.Lindsey typically sits down to eat alone—from a particular plate with a particular napkin placed just so—and may slip so deeply into her own world that Dave has learned to whisper "Psst…" when he approaches so as to not startle her and,on a bad night,make her scream.
An observer might assume the two are amicable,if oddball,roommates.But Lindsey,27,and Dave,29,are deeply in love.And they are autistic.Every day of their relationship,these two beat tremendous odds.That's because the very definition of autism suggests that for adults with this disorder,love—especially the lasting,live-in kind like Lindsey and Dave's—is not in the cards at all.
About 1.5 million people in the United States (an estimated one fifth of them are female) have autism,with varying degrees of severity.The disorder can create sensory issues,like hypersensitivity to touch and sound,and impair social skills.While some autistics are gifted (often in music or math),they may be utterly baffled by the nuances of small talk and eye contact.Expressing empathy can be virtually impossible.Imagine a first date—never a breeze for any of us—with those limitations.
"I hear a lot of loneliness,sadness and fear among the autistic adults I meet," says Stephen Shore,author ofBeyond the Walland an internationally recognized expert on autism who has the disorder himself."Without a natural understanding of communication,it's much more difficult for people with autism to find and sustain an intimate relationship." They have hearts thatfeel;it's the funky wiring in their brains that makes things so challenging.
Contrary to stereotype—theRain Man-esque loner who'd rather count toothpicks than make friends—adult autistics often know what they're missing out on and hope to find love,like anyone else.Since hanging in a crowded bar or going on a blind date can be terrifying,many connect through social-networking websites.Still,successful relationships aren't very common,especially relationships in whichbothpartners have autism.