Earlier this week I read “Queer Love in Color,” a New York Times article that explores and exposes the invisibility of LGBTQ couples of color. The reporter, Jamal Jordan—a black editor for the Times digital transition team—lamented the lack of pictures or other visible proof that queer minority couples exist and form happy, lasting partnerships. Via digital media, his article was illustrated with intimate portraits of queer men and women of color of all ages who have found happiness with life partners and were eager to be photographed. Finally, some encouraging and inclusive news. But what about disabled couples or those with autism? Where are the images of happy couples with disabilities?
I can’t help but wonder about the invisibility of other marginalized minorities. Like the reporter, I’m unsure whether prejudice against disabled people causes them to become invisible, or if there are so few happy couples with developmental disabilities that it makes sense we never see them photographed. Likely the answer includes both options. Still, as the mom of an adult daughter with autism, I would find it encouraging (and inspiring) to see pictures of all kinds of minority couples finding love. Not just LGBTQ. Not just black and Latino. Not just stereotyped “beautiful people,” but people with a wide variety of disabilities. In other words, everyone.
All parents of adult children with disabilities wonder if their sons and daughters will find lasting love. The question of what will happen to our children if they are alone and single after we die is almost unbearable. I try to stay upbeat. My daughter Samantha co-starred in an award winning romantic comedy, Keep the Change, about two young adults with autism. Finally, there are films, television, plays and documentaries about life on the spectrum, life with Downs’ Syndrome and cerebral palsy. (Remember the son in Breaking Bad?)
While Samantha is single at 27, she has enjoyed two long, serious relationships. One lasted for two years in college; the other for over three years. While it’s exponentially more difficult for a person with social challenges (such as autism or NVLD) to find an appropriate romantic partner (compared to a neurotypical twenty-something) I am comforted by the long-ago encouragement of Dr. Stanley Greenspan: “What Samantha manages to do once, she can do again.” He also said that whatever was at the “top of her range” would over time become easier. Let’s hope he’s right…
Like all parents, we don’t want our sons and daughters to take up with just anyone. But young adults with disabilities are more vulnerable to predatory or unsuitable partners. Many are lonely and less likely to be selective (or even know HOW to be discriminating) than neurotypical millennials. Samantha has plenty of suitors, but she needs to wait for that special someone and NOT simply accommodate or yield to the most persistent man. So far, so good. Of course she is an adult and entitled to make her own choices (and mistakes, gulp). She refuses to be “infantilized”—one of her favorite multi-syllabic words learned from her Aspie ex-boyfriend. My daughter won’t tolerate being over-protected by her parents or her friends. After a childhood consumed with speech therapy and social skills, parents must (somehow) teach their adult kids how to navigate dating and intimacy, so that they can make thoughtful and SAFE choices on their own.
There is hope on the horizon with the emergence of dating services for people with disabilities. Last summer Samantha joined UNEEPI, a dating service started by a young man with high-functioning autism to help adults on the spectrum find friendship and romantic relationships. Last summer Samantha was only seeking friendship. Now it’s time to update her profile.
Another mother with an adult son on the spectrum just sent me an email explaining that she is creating a new website to help young people with autism meet one another. When that dating site is up and running, I will encourage Samantha to join and put up her profile (with her life-skills coach, not her mom).
Obviously, it’s better for everyone—disabled or not, LGBTQ or heterosexual—not to settle, but persist until that special someone comes along. I hope Samantha continues to be patient and selective. Somehow she must stay safe while remaining visible and lovely.