Allistic is a term that the autism community invented years ago, originally as a parody switch on the word autism, but has become accepted as a neurotype reference. Allism simply refers to anyone who isn’t autistic.
I often get mail from allistic partners who are NOT “neurotypical wives,” who have read a few of the earlier posts. Many take issue that I use the language of neurotypical wife + autistic husband in those posts. There are reasons for some of the earlier entries using that language, so let me explain more.
First, it’s important to address the term “neurotypical” itself, which is inherently limiting and often inaccurate to begin with in describing the allistic partner. Many non-autistic partners that I work with aren’t necessarily neurotypical – perhaps they have ADHD, OCD, bipolar, dyslexia, etc – but, not autism. Perhaps they have acquired neurodivergence – such as PTSD TBI, MS, etc. Many conditions shift our brain away from the identifier of “neurotypical.” What is referred to on this site as the “neurotypical wife/spouse/partner experience” is reflective of most non-autistic partners, even if they aren’t a NT female. The shared feature of allistic partners referenced on this site is that their social-emotional communication needs differ from their autistic spouse, even if the allistic spouse is also neurodivergent.
When I began writing this blog, I knew that search terms for this very niche topic would be difficult to optimize, and reach the readers who most need to feel heard. Because the language of autism is broad (i.e. autistic, Asperger’s Syndrome, AS, HFA, ASD, ASD Level 1, neurodivergent, etc) – I originally wrote with reference to the most widely-used labels. (Another example would be many of the neurodiverse relationship podcasts that tend to mention the NT wife + ASD husband paradigm – most of these hosts are of course aware that ND relationships take all forms.) The identifiers that I used at the start of this blog are the most searched on the internet, which in turn helps make the blog as accessible as possible for those who are seeking information. My early posts, to help rise in visibility with the most common search terms, use mostly “neurotypical wife” and “autistic husband.” However, you may notice that more recent posts use less specific qualifiers. “Neurotypical spouse,” “allistic partner,” “ASD spouse,” “autistic partner,” etc are the norm. I do this with conscientious intention.
Topics on the blog are shared from my own cumulative perspective. It is gathered from my life story of experiences, which include my own childhood, marriage, family, kids, and two decades of autism-related work, networking with other neurodiversity practitioners, and coaching partners and parents who are neurodiversity-impacted. My written voice will always be the perspective of a neurotypical woman once married to an autistic man, because that IS my voice – however, the experiences conveyed here are representative of far more than only mine.
The majority of my clients do often fall into the neurotypical wife + autistic husband paradigm. However, I work with neurodiverse relationships of every paradigm. It is very important to me that acknowledgement of various allistic-autistic pairings exist within the confines of this site, even if I cannot thoroughly make reference when I write posts. Your story matters, and “neurotypical wife/husband/partner/spouse” is not an intent to exclude. There is simply a juggling act in trying to inclusively speak about everyone, given so many terms in circulation, and allistic still is not well known or widely used.
Cassandra is a term I use to intentionally encompass allistic women. (Obviously, taken from the terminology of Cassandra Syndrome or Cassandra Phenomenon.) However, any allistic partner can be a “Cassandra” who experiences emotional deprivation and Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Syndrome. Likewise, the autistic partner is certainly not always a husband or man (or only singularly-gendered).
In most neurodiverse marriages, the foundational issue between partners is the tremendous difference in social-emotional functioning. The allistic partner is usually gifted with a high amount of emotional intelligence, and their autistic partner is not. Both suffer the effects from a very mismatched social-emotional pairing. The issue is the DIVERSITY between them that causes communication challenges and different needs that seem challenging to meet and convey. I also work with ASD-ASD pairings, where perhaps a female ASD partner is over-functioning in compensation for her ASD partner. She might be masking nearly 100% of the time to survive in the marriage. This doesn’t erase her autism by any stretch, but her experience in the marriage might be more Cassandra-esque. This is true with same-sex marriages between two ASD AMAB partners, as well. Usually one partner in a combined ASD marriage is feeling either an internal or externalized pressure to function as an allistic spouse, causing untold exhaustion.
As a final word, it’s worth noting that while neurodiverse marriages certainly have many of the common overlaps discussed on the blog, that there are differences between how an autistic female (AFAB) partner presents, and how an autistic male (AMAB) partner presents within the relationship. This blog is more reflective of the male autistic, and less representative as the female autistic partner. Research shows differences in the AFAB autistic brain vs. the AMAB brain, and it follows that sometimes autism is manifested differently in marital dynamics with an ASD AFAB partner.
My clients in neurodiverse relationships include every pairing of gender and sexuality.
All that to say – please know that I am very aware of all the varying frameworks that exist in this marital dynamic, and I honor and respect every experience. I’m simply limited in my ability to name each and every one of you in each post – but I do my best at this juncture, given the now-achieved high visibility in the search engines, thankfully – to speak in a gender neutral tone. Thanks for your kindness in understanding the limitations of language, in addition to the various intentions behind my intentional selection of language at various times in writing this blog.