Dating and Autism

Most parents probably cringe at the thought of their babies growing up and entering the challenging world of adolescence. However, it’s also reality. Our children will eventually grow up, and move on from the nest and into the world of independence, combined with finding their own economic and marital status. Dating and entering into a romantic relationship is something we all eventually experience and embrace, followed with both positive and negative experiences. Individuals on the spectrum tend to have a social deficit. They are unable to understand the social perspectives of others (i.e. body language, facial expressions, emotions and romantic gestures). Therefore, initiating or establishing both regular or romantic relationships can be a great challenge. Often, children and adults on the spectrum receive the opportunity to participate in specially designed social skills programs and excursions (i.e. camps, field trips, cooking classes, recreational activities, etc.) However, how do we teach these individuals to enter a romantic relationship? Currently at The Lighthouse Learning and Development Centre, we have a wonderful, bright group of adolescent boys. This term, we have introduced the subject of “Sex Ed.” Just as written in the Ontario Curriculum, we will cover topics such as puberty, identifying the reproductive organs, the development of human life, identification and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, etc. However, the topic of “what it’s like to experience a relationship” or “what do I need to understand when entering a committed, romantic relationship” is often missed. For example, what our intermediate class is currently learning is how I can comprehend the social perspective of my future partner, and some of the challenges that can follow (i.e. what happens when we get into an argument, that its healthy to have a disagreement, and how we can positively determine and solve our problem). To those that choose to date an individual with Autism, it is also important to not only understand the principals of a positive, romantic relationship, but also to truly comprehend the meaning of Autism and its social inadequacies that can follow. Therefore, but taking the time in getting to know your partner with Autism, the more meaningful and successful your relationship can become. Here are some general guidelines someone can learn when dating someone on the Autism Spectrum.
  • Get to know what Autism is all about: Just be mindful about some of the resources you choose to read, and be open to reading information, articles or even speaking to someone directly who either works in the field or is on the spectrum.
  • Learn about their varying communicative styles and expressions: Some individuals with Autism may not fully understand when being asked a direct question (i.e. guess who I saw at the mall today?). Rather than starting a conversation with a question, you can always initiate a discussion by asking him or her “would you like to know who I saw at the mall today?” This not only gives him or her a choice to respond, but also opens the possibility of them answering.
  • Social challenges: Attending a social event, gathering or party is usually difficult for anyone with ASD. Feelings of anxiety and the inability to focus and participate within social conversation can take place due to sensory processing issues (i.e. sudden loud noises, smells or tastes). Therefore, its always best to prepare ahead of time by letting your partner with ASD know about any upcoming events, allowing him or her to take a break if needed and accepting their choice to leave early or to not attend.
  • Being physical: Individuals with Autism do not like to be touched (i.e. hugged or kissed) unless they initiate or let you know when they would like to receive a direct hug or kiss. Sudden romantic movements or gestures may leave your partner with feeling of uneasiness or confused thoughts. Therefore, it’s always best to communicate to your partner ahead of time about your physical attraction to him/her to help establish and sustain a stronger physical connection. For example, if you can see that your partner is feeling upset, you could always say, “I can see that your feeling upset. Can I give you a hug?” or the other way around, “I am feeling a little upset, can you give me a hug”.
  • Accept their stereotypical behaviours with pride: Some individuals with Autism will often engage in stereotypy, otherwise known as ritualistic, repetitive behaviours (i.e. rocking themselves, flapping hands, humming, etc.)Hence, these are behaviours that can occur either when feelings of anxiety may arise, or simply because its apart of their routine. If your partner feels adamant that they need to go for a walk every day at 5pm because that makes them feel better, then be courteous towards this and try not to infringe upon their daily routine by deliberately changing their time. If a situation may arise or you become aware that he/she may miss their walk on a particular day, its best to prepare them ahead of time, and or allowing them to be flexible by walking at a different time.
  • Communicate about their needs: Just as much as we would want our partner to know everything about us, we should also openly communicate to them about expressing their needs, especially when it coincides with Autism. What are things that make you happy, anxious, excited or upset? Not only will you be provided with valuable information that can positively build your relationship, but also allows someone with Autism feelings of comfort and trust.
  • Dual Diagnosis: Many individuals on the spectrum tend to have comorbid disabilities/diagnosis (i.e. ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, Speech impediments, etc.) Therefore, its always best to not only become aware and educated about an additional diagnosis, but to also become very supportive upon their varying emotional, psychological or physical needs.
  • Be a Lifelong Advocate: Ignore all negativity and common stereotypes that are usually associated with Autism! Rather then dismissing or ignoring ignorant comments, you can always support your loved one by educating others about your positive experiences with someone on the spectrum, and to always stay up to date on current research.

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