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Originally published Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Vancouver couple show autism, romance can coexist

Not only did Emilia Murry Ramey and Jody John Ramey figure out dating, they laid out tips for others in a book.

The Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Emilia Murry Ramey and Jody John Ramey met through a mutual friend. They soon discovered they had more in common than their friend. Both were students at Portland State University. And both have autism.

The Vancouver couple are among the estimated 1.5 million Americans living with the effects of some degree of autism.

Specifically, Emilia and Jody both have Asperger syndrome, marked by social awkwardness and a lack of understanding of conventional social rules.

As if dating weren't hard enough.

"I hadn't had any dating experience before meeting her," said Jody, 35.

"I used to say I had more jobs than dates," joked Emilia, 33.

Not only did Jody and Emilia figure out dating, they laid out tips for others in a book, "Autistics' Guide to Dating: A Book by Autistics, for Autistics and Those Who Love Them or Who Are in Love with Them."

The book is available for $19.95 on the London-based Jessica Kingsley Publishers Web site jkp.com.

"A lot of literature on autistics comes from the medical community that shows autistics as broken and in need of fixing," Jody said. "We don't talk about autism as a deficit at all. We talk about how to sell the positive traits of autism in a romance."

The couple, who married in 2006, didn't set out to write a book. Soon after they started dating, Jody, who has made presentations at autism conferences around the world, suggested they make a proposal to the Autscape conference in London for a session on dating.

"Since we'd only been dating for two weeks, she thought I was nuts," Jody said. But Emilia was willing.

The couple's presentation was a success, and they went on to offer similar sessions.

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"We decided the book was the next step," Jody said. "A large percentage of our book is just good, solid relationship principles."

The book stresses communication.

"People on the autism spectrum aren't good at reading subtle social cues," Emilia said. So couples have to specifically voice their feelings and concerns. Even then, she said, things can get tricky.

Emilia said she learned that if something Jody said offended her, she should ask what he meant before getting upset.

The book also addresses touch, which makes many autistics uncomfortable.

"I'm a bit touch-defensive," Jody said. "It isn't that I don't like to be touched. It's that there are specific ways I like to be touched. The book helps couples find those ways no matter what their verbal ability."

Autistic people often have very narrow interests, which can be a barrier to connecting with others. The book helps them navigate beyond a laser-point focus.

"If you love 'Star Trek,' go to a 'Star Trek' convention," Jody said. "Don't talk about 'Star Trek' at your grandmother's funeral."

The book also seeks to help autistics overcome stereotypes.

"One of the problems that holds people back is a negative view of autistics," Emilia said. "People think of 'Rain Man' or someone banging their head against the wall.

Autistics can have successful relationships."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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