By Ron Sandison
December 7th, my wife Kristen and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. One of the challenges I experienced with autism was relationships. While dating, I had difficulty filtering my comments and unusual behavior: a lack of eye contact, monotone speech, and I often nervously tapped my foot in public places.
After a break up in 2005, a pastor who was a mentor and friend, gave me this advice, “Before you proposal for marriage, wait a year so you and your partner experience four seasons of life together. After a year together, you will know what your fiancé is like and she will know your quirks and personality and if you’re complement each other.”
After many heartbreaks, I prayed in 2005, that God would prepare me for a healthy and stable relationship and give me a plan to develop the social skills, I need for marriage. King Solomon declared, “Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith” (Prov. 25:4).
During my struggles with relationships, God was developing in me the material and character necessary for a healthy marriage. My journal entry for 4/13/06 stated—work on your people skills and pray for God to develop people skills in you. Notice, it was in April, the month of Autism Awareness that God reveled His plan for me. He reveal seven things for me to work on.
Seven ways to improve people skills
1. Seek first to understand then to be understood.
2. No monotone—Ron, you sound like a robot.
3. Timing of words. Proverb 15:23, “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
and how good is a timely word!”
4. Have eye contact when talking to people.
5. Pronouncing “TH” and “L” words.
6. Pray and seek the Lord.
7. Develop a strategy for people skills. Model friends who have great social skills.
During the next seven years, I focused on developing my people skills based on the plan God had revealed to me. First, I focused on listening before speaking by waiting a few second before I’d respond. I asked myself three questions before I respond: is it true, is it kind, and is it necessary what I am about to say. If the answer to any of these three questions was ‘no’ I did not say it so not to offend my date.
Second, I learned to have inflection in my speech. In high school, the first girl I asked out, asked me, “Why do you sound like a robot? You lack inflection!” I thought I’d be cute so I exclaimed, “I am like a Transformer; I am more than meets the eye.” I still did not get a date with her. I developed inflection in my speech by picturing things I like while in a conversation this infused my voice with passion.
Third, I understood that the timing of my words can make or break a conversation. I learned to have “me too” moments in conversations that create a thread that ties together and builds loyalty with the hearer. I encouraged my date to talk about herself and her family and this made her feel important and valued. Good feelings make us remember the conversation and the person.
Fourth, I learned the importance of body language and developed eye contact. It took me four years to master eye contact, it did not come natural for me. On dates, I noticed the color of my date’s eyes and made a conscious effort not to look at the floor but her forehead.
Fifth, I focused on pronouncing “TH” and “L” words. I slowed down my speech and made sure when I said ‘mother’ or ‘brother’ or ‘lion’, I used the right positon with my tongue. So my words would come out right. When I am tired I still sometimes will say, “Moter” or “lyionl” instead of “Mother” or “Lion.” I prevented this from happening by plenty of rest before a date and practicing the words I sometimes mispronounce in front of a mirror.
Sixth, I prayed that God would bring a wife of noble character and transform me into a godly man prepared for marriage. Proverbs 31:10-12 says, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good not harm, all the days of her life.”
Seventh, I implemented a plan to develop social skills to maintain a relationship by modeling friends who had those skills. My friend Steve Jones taught me social etiquette and by modeling his action, I had confidence to ask women on dates.
I focused on developing my people skills and on May 11, 2010, I met my beautiful wife, Kristen, at Bean & Leaf Café in Royal Oak, Michigan. Our relationship was steady, and after two years of dating, I proposed to her at the café where we met. God had taken me through a journey of self-awareness and refining to bring a wife. Kristen and I married on December 7, 2012.
Our relationship was strengthened by experiencing four seasons of life together. The four seasons of a healthy relationship are: spring, summer, fall, and winter. I will share the purpose and lessons I learned in each season.
Spring is the season of excitement. You’re in a new relationship and everything is fresh and fun. Love is in the air and you’re optimistic about the future. Each day, you discover something new about the person who captured your heart and you only see the positive. You both display your best behavior. Spring is the season of rapid growth where friendship blossoms and attraction blooms. During spring, our bodies produce chemicals of attraction this usually last two to three months, our emotions are heightened. I learned in the spring to plant seeds of active listening, sensitivity to Kristen’s feelings, and plans for the future.
Summer is the season when it gets hot physically, emotionally and spiritually. This heat can cause us on the spectrum to get burned. In the summer, we work in our gardens, pull weeds, and enjoy outdoor activities by the pool with a cold drink. I learned in summer ways to work out our differences to insure a quality relationship and the importance of compromise. When you only have sunny days and no rain, you don’t have paradise but a desert. The foundation of our relationship is formed in the summer by hard work and trust.
Living in Michigan Fall is the season when the leaves change their colors and the air is crisp. The leaves transform into brilliant red, orange, and yellow and produce an amazing aroma when burned. It is the season of harvest when you reap the beneﬁts of all that you have planted and establish trust through conflict resolution and communication. You feel comfortable with your partner seeing your clothes on the floor and you remove your masks. I learned in the fall season to focus on the positive things in the relationship and not sweat over the small stuff.
Winter is the season when things tend to cool down and our relationship is either strengthened by our roots going deeper or we freeze over by unrealistic expectations. We rest in the winter from our busy work and slip hot cocoa by the fireplace. The plants remain dormant until spring. For me winter is a season to reflect on my marriage and how I can be a better husband to Kristen and father to Makayla. The four seasons of relationships empowered me to progress toward a greater purpose, sacrifice, openness, and romantic affection. Understanding the four seasons can help you navigate the precarious social dynamics of dating and prepare for the next phase of your relationship.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum was released in May 2021.
Ron frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016.
You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org