Love on the spectrum

SHS couple navigates a relationship despite atypical challenges

Suzanne Daly never imagined that she would see her son, junior Eli Honey, get to where he is today. He was officially diagnosed with autism in preschool, and doctors weren’t optimistic about him being able to live a normal life.
However, Honey has defied all odds by attending high school just like any other teenager would. And, like many teenagers, Honey found someone he had a special connection with, sophomore Astrid Gojko.
“I never expected things to go this well. That’s not the option that they gave me for him,” Daly said. “He was going to not be verbal, he was not going to do any of the things that he’s done and so when I thought about who he would date, I didn’t imagine that he would date.”
The pair has been dating since September 2021, and though it may not be obvious at first glance, Honey’s autism affects many aspects of their relationship.
When he and Gojko first met in math teacher Jason Adler’s Algebra II class last May, they immediately clicked. But, they got out of touch over the summer, and nothing else happened until the beginning of this school year when they started talking again.
“We had always had a connection,” Gojko said. “But then it blossomed into something more.”
Honey wanted to ask Gojko to Homecoming. But, he knew that she was already planning on going with friends and didn’t want to infringe. So, he “beat around the bush,” and instead asked her if she wanted to get a corsage and boutonniere. Gojko responded by asking the question that Honey was too nervous to ask: do they wanted to go together? His response was a definite yes.
A few days later, on Sept. 22, they officially started dating.
At the beginning of their relationship, there were many challenges they had to work through.
Though Honey’s autism is nearly undetectable in most situations at this point, he still feels its effect on his social skills. For example, he still struggles with reading other people’s emotions as well as expressing his own feelings.
“Socially, I’m kind of behind with other people my age…,” Honey said. “I just don’t understand some things that other people do.”
When they started dating, his social struggles caused problems with their relationship.
Gojko was used to having people be able to tell how she was feeling just by looking at her, and it was frustrating for Honey not to be able to do so.
“I expect you to know how I feel because I wear it on my sleeve,” Gojko said.
But for Honey, that sleeve might as well have been invisible.
Over time though, they learned how to overcome these challenges. The key was communication. They needed to clearly tell each other how they were feeling and why they were feeling that way.
Gojko compared having to verbalize her emotions to explaining an answer in school.
“It’s like (how) teachers have you elaborate on your answer,” Gojko said. “You’re like, it’s right here, It’s clear. You just have to explain it.”
Another challenge of Honey’s autism is that he gets overwhelmed easily. When these overloading situations happen, he often begins stimming, or self-stimulation.
Stimming helps him to get his extra energy out and feel more balanced and peaceful in these times. His preferred stimming technique is to squeeze something, like his arm or hand. Sometimes, he will squeeze Gojko’s arm or hand instead of his own. Though this might have seemed weird to her at first, she knows it shows how much he cares for her.
“He only does it to himself,” Gojko said. “And so if he has enough care to show me that and do it to me, I feel like he loves me.”
The longer that they have been together, the more all of his behaviors have become natural to Gojko.
“Now, a lot of things that are happening with him are just second nature for me,” Gojko said.
As their relationship has grown, Honey and Gojko have both felt the support of their parents.
This support was made clear one day while Honey was at Gojko’s house. Her parents were making tamales and noise filled the air. He began to feel overwhelmed.
Normally, her parents have a rule that he isn’t allowed to go into her room, but they could see how the loud noise was affecting him and let him go to her room.
He knew that they were more concerned with ensuring his comfort and peace than they were with sticking to their rules 100% of the time.
“That was something where I felt really cared for by her parents,” Honey said.
Gojko’s mom, Lilly Gojko, says that their relationship has had a definite positive impact on her daughter, helping her to gain a new perspective and be more open minded. But, perhaps the most important is that it’s helped her to cherish her time in high school.
“They giggle and laugh together and enjoy each other’s company which is a nice break for both of them from the pressures of high school and the difficulties in our society today,” Lilly said in a text message to The Journal.
And, going beyond just Gojko and Honey’s relationship, their moms have gotten to know each other. Lilly didn’t anticipate getting a new friend as a result of her daughter’s boyfriend, but she’s happy that it happened.
“That part has been a pleasant surprise,” Lilly said.
More than anything, Gojko and Honey are happy to have each other. Though there are challenges, they know that their love for each other is strong, and they are both looking forward to their next adventures together.
“It’s not hard to think about the future because I’ve seen how far we’ve come,” Gojko said. “I know we’ll continue to grow together throughout difficulties.”