Not only are the bride and groom on the autism spectrum, but so is their entire wedding party.
Finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is no easy feat for any person looking for love. But saying, “I do” can prove even more difficult for people on the autism spectrum.
A neurological disorder, autism is marked by strained social communications, including missing subtleties of tone, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues. Traditional dating activities, like having a drink at noisy bar or holding hands, can put a person on the spectrum into sensory overload and flirtatious conversations can prove confusing. Yet, plenty of autistic people long for love and friendship.
Anita Lesko and Abraham Talmage Neilsen want to show the world that people with autism also get to live happily ever after. That’s why they’re inviting the public to attend their wedding at Love & Autism: A Conference with Heart in San Diego on Sept. 26. Not only are the bride and groom diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, but so is their entire wedding party—from the groomsman to the harpist.
“There is a devastating myth that individuals on the spectrum are not interested in creating meaningful relationships,” Dr. Jenny Palmiotto, the conference’s founder, wrote in an explanation of the event. As autism is a spectrum disorder, intimate relationships are unlikely for individuals who are entirely uncommunicative, while others who are high-functioning long for romance just like everybody else.
Both Lesko and Neilsen feared love was out of reach until they met at an Asperger’s support group in 2013. As the conference focuses on communication and intimacy techniques within personal relationships, the bride and groom represent a real-life example that two people with autism can develop a healthy romance.
While marriage is certainly a major milestone for the couple, the wedding also promises to be a memorable event for all guests on the autism spectrum in attendance.
Several members of the wedding party are children—including the flower girls, ring bearer, ushers, and the cake baker. Roughly one in 68 children are identified as having autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children with disabilities are two to three times as likely to be bullied than their peers, according to the National Autism Association. Along with physical and verbal harassment, some kids are simply ignored: A 2009 study found that 12 percent of kids with autism had never been invited to a birthday party and three percent ate lunch alone every day.
That social exclusion can last into adulthood. For both Lesko and Neilsen, their nuptials will be the first wedding they’ve ever attended.
The couple hopes that won’t be the case for their wedding guests. As the pair share their love with the autistic community, they hope to change how others view people with autism and lead the way toward inclusion and acceptance.