A recent study that shows only about 32 percent of the population with autism has a partner, with only 9 percent of those being married. Individuals on the Autism Spectrum may be intimidated by the social hurdles involved in getting to know a special someone. This is because love and relationships are often not addressed as part of an autistic person's normal development. However, with some very self-aware changes, it is possible to navigate the minefield of social cues for dating and maybe even marriage someday.
Many of the frustrations about dating are the same for the autistic and the neurotypical alike; Being nervous, not being sure how to approach someone you like and so on. Men and Women with autism have the added challenge of having to read body language and social cues.
If You're A Guy on the Spectrum
If you are on the spectrum or not, remember that dating is first and foremost a social activity and you should be taking steps to make the other person feel comfortable. Here are some tips to ensure things go smoothly (hopefully). These tips come from Mark Coulter of Coulter Video, and he is an adult with autism.
Find a girl with interests similar to yours. Common interests will give you something easy to talk about. This can be a shared interest in a type of movie or subject you both enjoy. Or the willingness to try out something new you both are curious about.
Work on your manners. Girls and Guys tend to appreciate a guy who knows not to talk with his mouth full, how to stand back and let someone else enter a door first, and how to keep his voice volume low in a crowded movie theater. It’s not just using good manners with her, it’s also how she observes you acting with everyone else. If she sees you using some basic manners and always trying to do the right thing, she’s more likely to be forgiving if you haven’t mastered other social skills.
Get a mentor. Having a friend or mentor of the opposite sex can be a useful resource to figure out the social cues you will need to figure it out. For example, if you are a guy, having someone who is a girl who will tell you what is expected of you and what you can expect from them.
- Get to know a girl before you ask her out. Put yourself in the girl or guys place. The better he or she knows you, the less risk she takes in going out with you — and the less risk you take that you won’t have anything to talk about. Less pressure makes for a better first date.
Make specific plans. It's not enough to just say "would you like to hang out sometime" as this can be too much of an open-ended question. Sometimes people on the spectrum find it easier when there is a plan. Regardless, having a plan shows effort and your potential date will appreciate the attention to detail. Start with where would you like to go (insert event here) on this (specific day and time here).
- Listen, listen, listen. One of the biggest mistakes guys make is talking too much about themselves or their interests. This is a special challenge for people with Asperger Syndrome. When you talk with a girl, make your point and then give her a chance to respond. If she changes the subject, try and talk about the new subject for a while. Assume that a girl cares as much about her interests as you do yours and her opinions are just as valid. She is not less or more, she is different — in some interesting ways.
If You're a Girl on the Spectrum
While a large number of guys are diagnosed on the Spectrum, Women or girls on the spectrum are often harder to spot, because women are typically better at emulating neurotypical behavior.
Be open. Be upfront about what social behaviors are different for you. Things that bother you, or things that might cause you to react in a certain way. If there is something you don't understand how to navigate, tell them.
Tell him to be clear with their intentions. The "let's just wait and see" approach might work for neurotypicals because they can more easily read body language and social cues. For many girls on the spectrum, labels are key. It tells them where they stand and what the relationship is.
Be honest and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand some social nuance, it can be disarming. Be upfront about what you understand and what you don't about your partner, whether you or the one on the spectrum or not. It takes a special kind of patience, but the right person will figure it out together and take the journey with you.
Don't put too much pressure on yourself (or them). Everyone's autism will affect them differently, and being around different people will affect you differently as well. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to move at a pace that you are not comfortable with. Just because you go on a few dates with someone doesn't mean that you are in a relationship with someone. You and your potential partner should both be aware of what is comfortable for each other.
Dating and the possibility of love can be a scary experience for anyone, whether they are on the Spectrum or not. With some patience on both sides, we can all find that special person, and it can be a great experience where you both grow and evolve together.