1. Anita Lesko and Abraham Talmage Nielson celebrated a major milestone for themselves and for everyone on the autism spectrum on Saturday.
2. The couple got married at the Love & Autism Conference in San Diego, California; everyone involved in the wedding identifies as being on the autism spectrum.
Both Lesko, a nurse anesthetist, and Nielson are autistic and met at an Asperger’s support group that Lesko started in Pensacola, Florida. After dating for a year and a half, Nielson proposed on Christmas last year. Love & Autism founder Jenny Palmiotto had the idea that they get married at the conference to showcase a healthy relationship between two autistic people, and Lesko and Nielson jumped at the chance.
3. Everyone, from the officiant to the wedding cake baker, had some form of autism.
Palmiotto coordinated all of the vendors, including wedding photographer Kristina Bant Jenkins, whose son is on the autism spectrum. Artist Michael Tolleson live-painted the event, and Temple Grandin even pre-recorded a champagne toast to play during the reception. Lesko said they consider their nuptials to be the first-ever all-autistic wedding.
The sign seen above made it easy for the bridal party and the 185 guests to communicate. It color-coded preferences, like “Open to conversation” and “I prefer not to talk,” so that guests could feel comfortable around others.
“A common misconception about folks like me is that people think we don’t have any feelings or major desires, but we’re the same as everybody else, if not even more,” Lesko told BuzzFeed Life, adding that she hopes her wedding will correct that perspective. “We tend not to be very demonstrative with emotions on our faces, so people think we don’t have any emotions. On the inside, we’re highly emotional people and capable of deep, deep love.”
4. Lesko noted that the fact that she and Nielson were able to find each other at all is something worth celebrating.
Both had never dated before they met each other, and Lesko said she often felt lonely, wishing she had someone to share her life with. (In fact, their wedding was the first they had ever even attended, according to Yahoo! News.) Dating, with its flirty conversation, loud bars, and physical affection can sometimes be too much for autistic people to bear. Having spent most of her adult life in operating rooms for work, Lesko was accustomed to the sensory overload that often cripples autistic people; Nielson, on the other hand, lived in solitude with his mother.
Lesko told BuzzFeed Life that Nielson “felt an overwhelming sense of calmness and peace come over him” when they first met. She calls it love at first sight, but they stayed friends for a year before they began dating.
5. The wedding had so much advance attention within the autistic community, Lesko said, that people reached out to Palmiotto to get involved.
Above are the ushers, flower girls, and bridesmaid, all of whom are on the autism spectrum.
6. Kat Highet, a classical harpist, overcame her discomfort of performing in front of others to play at the wedding.
Los Angeles-based DJ Alex Plank served as groomsman and spun tunes at the after party. He is the creator Wrong Planet, a web community for individuals on the autism spectrum or living with other neurological differences.
7. Dr. Stephen Shore, their officiant, is a globetrotting autism ambassador.
Lesko was walked down the aisle by Adelphia University professor Bill Butler, who was diagnosed with Aspergers when he was 60, and does presentations and workshops around the world on autism when he’s not in the classroom. She said he’s “like a father to her.”
8. Lesko has some advice for people in serious relationships with someone on the autism spectrum.
Lesko emphasized that communication is the most important thing for people in a serious relationship with someone on the autism spectrum.
“Understand you’re going to have to work a little harder to communicate, and encourage them to talk and get their feelings out,” she said. “Once you establish two-way communication, it will be easier. That’s the most important thing, because that’s what a relationship is built on.”
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