Nurse anesthetist Anita Lesko
was already set to speak at this year's Love & Autism
conference — an event created by therapist Jenny Palmiotto
, PsyD, to combat the myth that people on the spectrum aren't interested in romantic relationships — when Lesko's partner, Abraham Talmage Nielsen, proposed. "It was probably about 17 degrees, and it was a crisp, clear night with all the stars in the sky, and we were outside by the Colorado blue spruce tree, and he got down on one knee, and he asked me to marry him," she recalled to me. "And I started to cry, and he cried." Both Lesko and Nielsen identify as being on the spectrum, and after responding to Nielsen with an enthusiastic "yes," Lesko wondered: Instead of merely speaking at the 2015 Love & Autism conference, why not get married at it, too? Dr. Palmiotto gave her wholehearted support, and she and the newlyweds-to-be proceeded to gather a wedding party composed entirely of people also
on the spectrum. On September 26, with Dr. Palmiotto's help, Lesko and Nielsen were married in the first "all-autism" wedding. Additionally, it was the first wedding either Lesko or Nielsen had ever attended.
"I’m hoping that people who watch, who are unable to attend, and who are in attendance, can see that people on the autism spectrum can and do have emotions, and needs and feelings, just like everyone else," Lesko told me before the ceremony. "We have the desire to have love, relationships, and marriages like everyone else." The wedding party included author Temple Grandin
, PhD, who recorded a video message to Lesko and Nielsen; professor Stephen Shore
, EdD, who officiated the wedding; WrongPlanet.net
creator Alex Plank
, who was the DJ and groomsman; artist Michael Tolleson
, who live-painted a backdrop for the ceremony; and classical harpist Kat Highet
, who played the ceremony's music. Those who took the roles of flower girls, ring bearer, and ushers are all also on the spectrum. Days before the wedding, I spoke with Lesko and Dr. Palmiotto on how they prepared for the event — and what they hoped it would give participants, guests, and onlookers. Click ahead to read their words and view 16 beautiful photos from the wedding.