Plenty of people with autism crave loving, stable relationships. Unfortunately, reality and dreams don't always match up.
Researchers say about half of all people with autism live with their family members as adults. Only 5% have ever been married.
Don't let the statistics dissuade you from making a connection with a special person. We've outlined tips you can use to both find a date and show your true self. We also have tips for people who are dating someone on the spectrum.
Dating Tips for People With Autism
To succeed in a relationship, you must find the right person and make a lasting connection. These two steps can seem overwhelming for people with autism. Honestly, they can be overwhelming for neurotypicals too.
Finding true love is never easy. But following a few important steps could help.
How to Find Someone
Some people with autism start their dating careers by asking friends on dates. They find someone they like, they make a proposition, and everything happens accordingly. If this organic approach won't work for you, options exist.
- Build on shared interests. People with ASD often have narrow, focused passions. You might love astronomy or dinosaurs or French cooking. You're in luck. Plenty of clubs form around interests just like this, and there, you could find someone who shares your focus. You already have something in common with this person. That could be the foundation upon which you build a relationship.
- Try an autism dating app. In July 2019, developers created a new app made to connect people with autism with people who might want to date them. About 1,000 people have signed up already, reporters say. Just search for "Hiki" in the app store on your phone. If you do use an app, remember to watch for fraudulent activity. Many dating apps are filled with people who ask for money or otherwise look to steal from vulnerable people searching for love. When in doubt, ask a trusted friend or family member if something is helpful or harmful. A second set of eyes can be valuable.
- Look for speed dating opportunities. Head to sites like Eventbrite or Meetup and search for "autism speed dating." Many communities hold events like this. You gather with a group of others looking for love, and you meet several people on very short microdates. If you find someone you like, ask to extend your time together.
How to Succeed in Dating
You've found someone you like, and you're ready to start talking about dating. Nervousness is natural, but don't let it keep you from enjoying your new friend's company.
Try these dating tips:
- Practice with a mentor. Look for a friend who communicates clearly and gives feedback you can trust, experts recommend. Ask questions about what your date might expect, might like, or might do. Try out conversation topics, work through tricky moments, and otherwise get ready. A bit of practice could help to reduce nervousness when the date day arrives.
- Communicate clearly. If you're comfortable with the idea, tell your date about your diagnosis and how it might change the way you interact. Give your date the option to tell you what they like and dislike as the date moves forward. Remind them that feedback is important to you. The more they can tell you, the better.
- Listen closely. Don't worry about telling your date everything about you and your history. Let the other person talk to you.
- Stop if you're uncomfortable. A date is an invitation you can rescind at any time. If something unpleasant happens, you have the right to leave the date right away. Don't feel forced to do anything you don't want to do.
- Remember to have fun. You’re not on a job interview. You’re spending time with someone you like and feel connected to. Focus on the fun you’re having, not the pressure you’re feeling.
Brush Up Your Skills
If you've been on a few dates and can't make a connection, a professional might be helpful. Therapists could pinpoint missing skills and help you feel more confident while you're on a date.
The Interactive Autism Network says your childhood therapy may help you while you're dating. The work you did with a speech pathologist helped you learn to express yourself with words. Your teachers and therapists helped you learn to make friends. As an adolescent or adult, you may need even more help to develop the strong relationship you crave.
Some therapy programs, including one held at UCLA, help people with autism build up romantic skills. Therapists break down flirting into a step-by-step formula, for example, so people with autism understand how to both express interest and accept it from someone else. People also learn how to use nonverbal cues like smiling to express comfort while on a date.
Tips to Help You Date Someone With Autism
Plenty of people meet and fall in love with people on the spectrum. Sometimes, that's deliberate. Two people with ASD meet one another on a dedicated app, and they decide to start a relationship. But sometimes, one partner is a neurotypical. This person may not know how to keep the relationship healthy.
People with autism are much the same as everyone else. They want love, they have hopes, they dream big. But sensitivity to the diagnosis and the challenges that commonly come with it can help the relationship to grow.
If you're dating someone with autism:
- Take things slowly. Autism rigidity is real, and it can impact young relationships. Before you plan a surprise dinner or switch up dinner plans, talk with your partner. Some people with autism need time to process decisions, even when they're small. Respect that tendency.
- Be generous with space. Some people with ASD describe feeling overwhelmed at work and exhausted at home. They spend all day trying to keep symptoms in check and keep coworkers comfortable. When they arrive at home, they need time to decompress. Don't intervene with calls, visits, or chatter unless the person invites you to do so.
- Be explicit. Some people with autism struggle with nonverbal communication, and you might interpret their silence as indifference. If you've had a hard day and need support, explain that need in clear terms. Talk about what you need and when you need it. Don't expect the person to read your mind.
- Ask questions. Some people with autism explain that they need to stim (flap their hands, jump up and down, or otherwise move their bodies) after hard days. This may seem unusual to you, but it may be soothing to them. If you see behaviors you don't understand, ask about them. Listen to the answers without judgment. You could develop a deeper understanding of the person you're dating.
- Try a relationship schedule. Some couples benefit from an online or paper calendar that lists important events. You could track check-in calls, formal dates, shared leisure opportunities, sex, or independent time. If your partner feels more comfortable with timetables and printed expectations, this could be an especially helpful technique.
- Understand the spectrum. Everyone with autism is different, and so is every relationship. Don't assume that the lessons you've learned about autism from movies and television shows automatically pertain to the person you're dating. Read first-person narratives of love and dating written by people with autism, and you'll see that diversity in action. Remember that you're dating a person, not a diagnosis.
All relationships need time and nourishment to blossom. Approach yours with curiosity and compassion, whether your partner has autism or not, and you're in a great position to develop a relationship that lasts.
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