by Katie Kausch
Anita Lesko and Abraham Talmage Nielsen wanted to challenge the stigma that it's hard for people on the autism spectrum to find love. So on Sept. 26, the two held their wedding at the Love and Autism Conference in San Diego, California.
All the members of the wedding party (dubbed the "I Do Crew"), many of the vendors, the 12-year-old cake baker and the wedding singer were on the autism spectrum. The audience was a mix of autistic and neurotypical guests.
The conference, which celebrates love in the autistic community, is meant to help refute the "devastating myth that individuals on the spectrum are not interested in creating meaningful relationships," according to its website.
"It sort of started out on the small scale, to the side of being able to have other folks on the autism spectrum being able to attend the wedding, which is something that us folks don’t get invited to," Lesko told MTV News. "We thought it would be really nice to have it open so that other people [on the spectrum] could attend."
Dr. Jenny Palmiotto, the organizer of the Love and Autism conference, who also planned Lesko and Talmage Nielsen's wedding, told MTV News, "It was really open to anyone who wanted to feel the love and take part of this. It was many people on the spectrum but many people who love people on the spectrum, too."
"It was a very overwhelming experience for me," Lesko said. "I remember just about halfway down the aisle, I almost just wanted to stop and freeze and take it all in ... See, a lot of people [on the autism spectrum] complain about sensory issues, but this situation was the most overwhelming, positive sensory [experience], a very kind and beautiful [one]."
The couple were friends for over a year before they transitioned into a romantic relationship.
"She was there for me even though I was alone," Talmage Nielsen said of their original friendship. It was Lesko's support and love that encouraged him to take the plunge into romance.
"I was confident enough to move forward and I decided [that] my heart belongs to Anita. She was my hero and she was my guardian angel, and she will always provide me my emotional support."
Lesko said she just wants the world to see autistic people for what they really are: people.
"We really do have feelings and needs and emotions just like everyone else. We might not show it on the outside, because we might not make a lot of the same facial expressions and we might not know how to react to something, but on the inside we're really just like everyone else."