Autism couple Anita Lesko and Abraham Talmage Nielsen got married at the second annual Love & Autism: A Conference with Heart event in San Diego, California. The wedding was the first ever all-autism wedding as people who attented and organized it were suffering with autism spectrum disorder.
"Our message is really simple. Love is part of the human experience, and this doesn't change with neurological differences associated with autism. We wanted to bring to light these relationship issues," said Dr. Jenny Palmiotto, founder of the Love & Autism conference.
"It must be so different to live in a world where people assume that ... you are inept or incapable of having a relationship, or maybe even don't want one. That's really contrary to my clinical practice and even all of the available relational research to date," said Palmiotto, who is also clinical director and CEO of The Family Guidance & Therapy Center of Southern California.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of complex developmental disorders of brain development that are characterized by social, communication and behavioral challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 68 children have been identified with ASD.
Lesko and Nielsen met six years ago at an autism/Asperger's group that Lesko started after she was diagnosed at age 50. Lesko was relieved when she was diagnosed because all the differences she had been unable to describe in her life— including loneliness and lack of relationships— were finally clear. Lesko is 56 and Nielsen is 28, but the couple told Palmiotto that finding someone you can trust and depend on for the first time makes any age difference irrelevant.
Everyone involved in the wedding identified as being on the autism spectrum, including the DJ, classical harpist, wedding cake baker, officiant, groomsman, ushers, flower girls and ring bearer. According to the Love & Autism website, in a previous conversation Temple told Lesko, "your wedding is so important to the autism community because it shows that positive relationships are possible." The wedding was also significant because it showed that people with autism support one another.
"So often the discussion is about supporting people with autism, but now with this wonderful event we see great people standing up for and beside their friends," Palmiotto said.
While autism diagnoses are often associated with difficulty relating to and sharing experiences with others, Palmiotto said Lesko and Nielsen's wedding offers evidence those features aren't central to the condition.
"Looking at all these wedding participants dancing, socializing, we could hardly get them out of the hall. People on the spectrum are social beings. Relationships are core, from the cradle to the grave, and that is very true as well for people with autism," he added.