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How Wedding Officiants Can Work Best with Autistic Couples

Published Thursday, Dec. 9th, 2021


Asked to officiate a wedding for an autistic friend or family member? Planning a wedding ceremony for an autistic couple for the first time?

 

 

If you’ve been asked to officiate a wedding for an autistic friend or family member, or are planning a wedding ceremony for an autistic couple for the first time (or just want to learn more about working with ASD and other neurodivergent people), you’re in the right place! 

 

Below, you’ll find 6 simple suggestions to make the ceremony planning process more autism-friendly… and tips on how to improve your communication skills and create better connections with couples in general. 

 

Although these suggestions are written for non-autistic wedding officiants helping autistic couples comfortably navigate the ceremony planning process, these skills are universal. They can help any wedding officiant build stronger working relationships with any couple -- especially those who are new to planning a wedding ceremony! 

 

 

 

A young couple in alternative colorful clothing stand in front of an outdoor wedding altar, while the bride puts the wedding ring on the groom's hand. She has bright red hair and a pink dress, he is wearing a plaid wedding jacket. Behind them, the wedding officiant delivers the ring exchange script, while wearing a black button up shirt, black shorts, and sunglasses.

Congratulations on being asked to officiate a wedding!

It's truly an honor to join two people in marriage. 

 

Don't forget you'll need to get ordained online first, 

and check out the rest of our training tools for help getting started. 

 

 

 

 

1. Talk to autistic adults the same as you would any other adult

 

This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how common it is for folks to ‘dumb down’ their language when they find out they’re talking to someone who’s autistic, or in the most cringe-worthy cases, treat autistic adults like children. Please don’t do this. 

 

Remember that autistic adults are adults. This is true even when autistic adults communicate differently than allistic individuals (non-autistic individuals), or bring a friend or family member to a meeting to support them. And this goes for nonverbal autistics, too! 

 

Whenever possible, communicate in ways your couple is most comfortable with, including written exchanges (emails or texting) or video calls, and keep in mind that certain forms of communication (such as talking on the phone) might be more challenging for autistics than they are for neurotypicals (non-neurodivergent folks).  

 

The best approach when speaking with autistic individuals is to address them just like you would any other adult -- with respect, patience, authenticity, and great listening skills. 

 

Still, there are a few things you can do to make the entire wedding process smoother (for your autistic and allistic couples), which brings us to the rest of this list! 

 

 

A young couple lie on the floor. One wears a white wedding dress and a colorful flower lei, the other looks at her while smiling, in a light green shirt and loose light blue tie.

Weddings between autistic and allistic people, or between two autistic people,

are as unique as the couple -- and are filled with fun, friends, joy, and love.

 

 


2. Use a written questionnaire

 

Many established wedding officiants use a detailed questionnaire to gather useful information from an engaged couple about their relationship and the type of ceremony they’d like to have. We love a good questionnaire! And they can be especially useful when working with autistic adults and families. 

 

Why?  All engaged couples need time to process and answer important questions honestly and authentically when making big choices about their wedding day -- whether one, both, or neither of them is autistic. And some autistic folks might need more time, a day or more, to consider their options before answering. Written questionnaires are brilliant at providing the time needed to do this. 

 

Examples of what to include in a questionnaire include a couple’s names, pronouns, how they met, where and when the wedding will be held, what unity ritual they want to include, and whether friends and family members will participate in the ceremony. Detailed questionnaires might also ask couples to describe their partner in their own words, and to share their favorite memories together or what they hope for in the future.
 
When asking questions during face-to-face conversations, for example to clarify information in the questionnaire, be specific about what you want to know, and leave enough time for everyone to answer thoughtfully. 
 

 

A young couple sit next to each other affectionately while looking at a laptop

Written questionnaires give couples a chance to answer important questions at their own pace.

 

 

 

3. Outline each part of the planning process

 

The more information you can offer your couple about the ceremony planning process, the better! Uncertainty can cause autistic folks a lot of anxiety. Reducing this uncertainty by providing plenty of details from the start can be very helpful. 

 

First, create a timetable or timeline for the tasks you and your couple will need to complete before the wedding day… then stick to it. (That last bit is important, and changes to the schedule should be made only when necessary.) 

 

This timetable tells your couple when you’ll complete each item you’ve agreed to as part of your service package -- such as writing and revising a custom wedding ceremony script, drafting custom wedding vows, or choosing a wedding sermon or special reading. It also lets them know when they need to have their items done -- such as applying for a marriage license, writing their own vows, or choosing a ring bearer. 

 

Be sure to schedule any follow-up meetings and rehearsals, too, and stick to the timeline. 

 

It’s a good business practice to provide all couples with a clear written contract (and invoice) outlining what services you’ll provide, how much each service costs, including extras, when your fee is due, and what happens if something unexpected happens (such as an illness, family emergency, or missed payment) that causes you or your couple to cancel the services. 

 

Let your couple know your ‘office hours’, when you’re generally available to talk, and the best ways to reach you in case they have any questions about the planning process or contract! 

 

 

Photo shows two figures, one sitting in a window sill, feet up,, wearing a wedding dress wearing sneakers. The other is standing in front of her, with their hands in the woman's lap in an affectionate stance.

Autistic people sometimes find a quiet room at their wedding venue where they can recharge

and regroup from stress during the rehearsal or the wedding ceremony.

 

 

 

4. Learn to love the rehearsal

 

All autistic individuals are unique, but the desire to know what to expect from a new situation is a common trait. Autistic individuals like having a degree of predictability and familiarity to their experiences, especially in potentially-stressful social situations like weddings. 

 

One of the best ways to help create a sense of familiarity on the wedding day is to practice the ceremony’s flow events several times ahead of time -- with a rehearsal!  

 

(Honestly, this is true for non-autistics, too, and we believe everyone benefits from a rehearsal.)

 

Offer to rehearse the ceremony with your couple. Some couples won’t know this is an option, especially if this is their first time getting married. If you usually charge extra for rehearsals, state the additional costs ahead of time, and be prepared to run through every part of the ceremony step by step, possibly more than once. If possible, hold all rehearsals at the wedding venue.

 

To provide even more support, offer to write down each part of the ceremony (including the ‘stage directions’ that tell where each person stands and moves during the ceremony), and send a copy of this script to your couple a week or two before the first rehearsal.

 

 

Two young men embrace, in love, during a casual wedding ceremony outside.

Weddings with an autistic nearlywed might be casual, formal, small, or large...

It all depends on the couple!

 

 


5. Ask what to wear (or not wear)

 

Autistic folks process sensory information differently than neurotypical folks do, which means that they might be affected by scents, colors, sounds, fabrics, and other sensory stimuli more than others, including those from clothing or perfumes. And blocking out painful or distracting stimuli becomes more difficult in stressful settings, such as a busy wedding venue.

 

Just as you would with any other couple, ask for general guidance on what to wear (and not wear) to their ceremony. Avoid any bright colors or shiny / noisy fabrics, especially if these are in the ‘not’ category, unless your couple requests them. Avoid any strong smelling soaps and perfumes the day of the wedding. 

 

If this is your very first wedding ceremony as an officiant, we recommend What to Wear (and Not Wear) as a Wedding Officiant as a good fashion primer.

 

 

 

 

6. Find Autistic-lead organizations to learn more

 

Seek out autistic-lead self-advocacy organizations and blogs written by autistic individuals in the wedding industry to learn more. Autistic adults are the best resource for learning about autism and the wedding experience. 

 

A few autistic-lead resources include: 

 

Wedding planning articles and user-submitted examples of Real Weddings from within the autistic community. 

 

 

 

 

  • Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network
    A nonprofit that provides community, support, and resources for Autistic women, girls, transfeminine and transmasculine nonbinary people, trans people of all genders, Two Spirit people, and all others of marginalized genders.

 

 

 


Did you know? 


New estimates suggest that at least 1 in 44 people are autistic, but it’s nearly impossible to know this number for sure. Many individuals don’t realize they’re autistic until they’re adults, and many others are undiagnosed because of autistic masking (when autistic folks hide their awesome autistic traits to ‘fit into’ a neurotypical world). 

 

And while most ASD adults prefer identity-first language -- which means using “Autistic person” or “Autistics,” versus “person with autism” -- all individuals and families have their own perspectives on this. So follow their lead! 

 

If you've been a wedding officiant for a while, you’ve probably worked with an autistic adult, an autistic couple, autistic parents or grandparents, or other neurodivergent adults, maybe even without knowing it! 

 

(And we bet it was an especially fun wedding, too.)


 

 

This article was written with help from the autistic community, and we want to make sure we get it right! If you have feedback or suggestions to help us improve this article, please email us at [email protected]

 


 

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