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So, I have been married since March 2018 to my loving husband. All through our relationship, I have known that he has mild aspergers, combined with being very introverted and deaf (I am deaf as well) and we manage just fine in life. He is an amazing software engineer, and I am getting my MPH (Masters in Public Health).

I have had overbearing extended family members and acquaintances asking when they could meet him or why he doesn't simply "just come meet us", or "just do X with you", etc.

I have struggled with lightening the mood and just saying "he lives in a nutshell, doesn't socialize often, I'm 100% fine with it" but I don't want to talk about him like he's not capable or smart enough behind his back. He is an intelligent, capable guy that just has different habits than the average joe. He prefers to socialize with people who he knows will engage him with a good conversation, and have a good discussion about some topic in the STEM field. He avoids small talk if he can.

My question: When I get questions about why my husband doesn't come out with me and socialize or do some overly social activity that the average joe does with his wife, how do I explain to extended family/acquaintances that my husband has high-functioning Autism, and has particular habits?

What I have done in the past is tell people that he is very introverted, and doesn't socialize, saying something along the lines of "he lives in a nutshell, doesn't socialize often, and I'm 100% fine with it" It feels like it comes across as "He doesn't consider you interesting enough to socialize with", which is not my intent.

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    When you say "overbearing extended family members and friends" are they overbearing in general? Or do they simply not understand why they can't meet your husband? – DaveG Jun 27 '18 at 15:32
  • @DaveG, they are overbearing in general especially closer to special events like holidays or when everyone is expected to socialize, and there is very little chance of an interesting conversation happening. My family is loud, that adds to the complexity. I've put up with it, and he just can't put up with it for longer than an hour or so, depending on how petty the conversations are and how loud they are. They understand better now, but some still ask me in a joking manner whether he's "brave enough" to come out and meet them. – ElizB Jun 27 '18 at 16:32
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    Outside of your own personal concern about how a comment may come across, are you unsatisfied with the sorts of things that you've been saying? – Upper_Case Jun 27 '18 at 16:53
  • @Upper_Case I don't feel satisfied with what I've been saying. I don't want to come across as making an excuse for his habits, or defending him. – ElizB Jun 27 '18 at 16:55
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    @Elizabeth But do the comments have any features you dislike aside from how you think they may come across? By which I mean, are you unhappy with how people respond, are there consequences you've noticed down the line, etc.? Or is your concern only with how people perceive you and the motivations they ascribe to you when making the comments? – Upper_Case Jun 27 '18 at 17:18
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I don't think that you need to explain in such detail that you should even mention the Asperger's. Something along the lines of

He's pretty introverted and finds big social gatherings like this one very draining, so he doesn't go to parties very often.

is more than enough information to explain the situation. It's just a stated fact, an explanation and not an excuse or defense. And it's also true, complete, and doesn't really invite additional questions or comments. People may still prod, but as long as the event is a social gathering composed of a lot of people he doesn't know well the explanation will still hold and cover pretty much any other thing they might say.

Additionally, I (as an imaginary person hearing you say that) personally would never consider a comment like that to be a commentary on myself.

Mentioning the Asperger's is revealing some pretty personal information and is likely to give people a variety of impressions about him and what he's like, which may or may not be anywhere close to accurate. That may especially be the case if you want to use "high-functioning" with it in this scenario-- it could easily sound like the only feature of the condition is that he won't interact with others (something along the lines of "he's allergic to you, specifically").

Simultaneously, there may not be a way out of meeting family members at least once (and possibly more often). I find a lot my own family's gatherings tedious and would in many cases prefer not to attend, but social custom and the necessities of maintaining interpersonal relationships require me to go at least some of the time.

If he cannot meet with (some) people at all due to his condition, then the full explanation of why that's the case may be necessary and some people may not accept it no matter how you express it. If he would simply prefer not to do so, then the "he doesn't consider you interesting enough to socialize with" interpretation you are worried about conveying may, indeed, be correct, in which case other details may be little more than excuses or defenses.

Background: I am pretty introverted and find social gatherings very tiring, particularly when they involve new people. I also have some odd social habits, some due to OCD and some due to unrelated eccentricities. The general tack of "social gatherings tend to exhaust me, so I miss a lot of them/don't stay at them for very long" has been broadly successful for me in that it is quickly accepted without controversy. I also have several relatives with varying types of autism, and have a fair amount of personal experience with their behaviors and how they handle social situations (including with strangers and at large events).

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You are not obliged to explain anything to extended family and acquaintances. And, if they are pushy enough to push, the more you explain, the more they will persist.

You don't mention immediate family (parents, siblings) or close friends. (You mentioned friends in one place and acquaintances in another place.) To immediate family and very close friends, I suggest you explain the situation like you explained it here.

To extended family and more casual friends and acquaintances just smile and say "Maybe next time" or "Maybe later" and quickly change the subject to them. If they can resist talking about themselves and return to pestering you, say (with a hint of annoyance in your tone) something like:

I said maybe next time. Let's talk about something more interesting.

And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Don't engage. Don't apologize. Don't explain.

Can you get your parents or your sibs to jump in and help you change the subject?

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Other answers have suggested avoiding explaining that your husband has autism and agree that it could be a good idea. However, if you still want to tell your acquaintances about the autism without them badly judging your husband because of that, here is how I suggest doing it:

First of all, you need to know that, in my experience, it's the people who have the less knowledge about autism that tend to judge the most. Knowing that, if you want your acquaintance to be less judgy, I will need to educate them.

For this "education part", you have two options:

  • One, educate them first, then explain that your husband is on the autism spectrum.

  • Two, do the opposite and start by telling that your husband has autism before explaining what it means.


Personally, I will go with the education option first.

If you start by telling that your husband has autism, people will immediately have a (probably false) representation of what it is and what it means. Then, when you will start explaining what it actually is, they might get suspicious and think that you are making up excuses for your husband. This means that you will have to fight twice as hard to convince them it's not the case.


However, if you start by telling them more about autism, they are more likely to listen with an open mind as they won't suspect/think that you have an ulterior motive to tell lies to them (even if, in both cases, you won't lie).

At the end of the explanation, or even later, you can they drop a casual:

Oh, by the way, my husband is on the autism spectrum.

This way you show them that it's not a big deal and that they shouldn't take it as one either.

It's important to note that this technic probably works better if you wait at least a couple of day after the explanation of "what is autism" to tell them that your husband is on the spectrum. This way they had the time to assimilate what you talk to them about and to accept it as the truth. They are then less likely to think that you are just "making excuses" to your husband.


Introducing the topic of autism:

To educate your acquaintance about autism, you need to bring the topic on the table first. In order to do that without it sounding too forced/weird, I will suggest using a technic I called "The random fact conversation" (I already talked about it here).

The idea basically is to choose a weird/unexpected/funny fact about a topic (here, autism) and start a conversation by saying:

Did you know that...?

I use this technic often with my family and there are quite used to it.

Another way to educate your acquaintance is to send them interesting articles/video about autism. You can introduce the message like this:

I read this article and found it very interesting, so I'm sharing it with you now.

However, depending on your relationship with said acquaintance, this could be seen as a little weird (for example, if you never talk in writing and only see each other once a year).


I bit of background about me:

I'm, myself, on the autism spectrum. Some time ago I had to announce to my family that I was autistic (it was a lat diagnose). Everyone didn't take it the same way but it seems that the one who already had good knowledge about autism took it better than the one who didn't.

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I was diagnosed with autism when I was 21. It's been my experience that most people who act the way you are describing do so because they don't know any better. People have a tendency to expect certain social behaviors (such as the spouse of a family member coming to family functions). When someone knows that a person has autism (or some other diagnosis that causes them to have atypical social behaviors), it's been my experience that they will be more likely to alter their social expectations of that person accordingly.

Explaining autism

I understand how difficult it can be to explain an autism diagnosis to someone that does not have much experience interacting with people on the spectrum. It can be even more difficult to explain when the person with autism is an adult, because many people associate autism with children.

The key is to explain in a way that will allow the other person to empathize with your husband. In order to empathize with him, they will need to understand the effects that these social settings have on him. The best way I have found to do this is by explaining that many of the issues that people with autism face are caused by sensory overload.

Explaining sensory overload

Explaining what sensory overload is like can be tricky. My favorite way to explain it is to use analogies that relate sensory overload to something that the other person is more likely to be familiar with. The best analogy that I have found so far is in a blog post I wrote last year to help my friends and family understand why I am such a picky eater.

Think of the brain as being similar to electric circuits. When you try to run too much power through the circuits in your home you might blow a fuse. Much like that, if you put too much stimulation into an autistic brain it can overload.

When I explain why situations can be challenging in terms that are easier for others to understand, they tend to empathize with me and are more likely to look out for my needs when similar situations come up in the future.

How you can use this

I would recommend breaking your conversation with relatives into 3 steps

  1. Explain how/why social situations cause your husband to experience sensory overload
  2. Explain how sensory overload affects your husband
  3. Explain that this is the reason that he does not come to social events

Optional 4th step

Depending on how well your relatives respond to learning that your husband is on the spectrum, it is possible that you could design a situation to introduce him to them. Of course, this will only be applicable if your husband is open to the idea of meeting them. I've had significant others in the past who have put in some effort to help me meet their family in a way that is the most comfortable for me. The things that I've found most helpful have been

  • Scheduling time to meet only a small number of people at a time (for example only meeting a set of grandparents)
  • Scheduling the meeting for an event where there is some interesting topic to focus the conversation and limit the small talk (for example going to a museum or attending a play)

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