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Dating Someone on the Autism Spectrum

*I'm going to preface that I'm not a licensed psychologist or medical professional, and that all opinions and advice offered within are based purely on personal experience and other anecdotal evidence*

Dating Someone on the Autism Spectrum


I'm not gonna lie, I have a weird relationship. We're both kind of somewhere on the LGBT+ spectrum. We're both mentally ill, too, but in different ways. But when it comes to Autism, they're on the spectrum (AS) and I'm not (NS). This has presented some unique challenges, in addition to the other factors that contribute to our little brand of weird, so I thought I would take the opportunity to chat a little bit about that from my perspective.

I'm also hoping to shine a little bit of sun on an otherwise dark topic, since you can't run a Google search on 'dating someone with autism' without finding a bunch of NS self-appointed caretaker/martyrs who just need so much sympathy, woe is them! *cough* I digress.

Here's the fun thing about Autism - it's a spectrum. That means every Autistic individual will experience it uniquely and interact with and experience the world in their own way. Dating someone on the spectrum can absolutely open your eyes to seeing the world in a completely new way and be such a wonderful experience, but as with all types of relationships that require people to meet each other halfway when it comes to communication and interaction, there can also be drawbacks when those two people either don't want to or otherwise can't make some accommodations for each other.

So, what can Autism look like in a person? While each manifestation is unique, there are some common characteristics, such as:

  • Above-average intelligence
  • A keen interest in or obsession with a particular subject — an unusual interest in Legos, for example — and being a master on that subject
  • Having strict routines or rituals and having a hard time with change or transitions
  • Sensory issues
Not all AS individuals have issues being social or making friends, but it isn't uncommon for them to have difficulty picking up on certain social cues - like body language or tone of voice - my partner often finds themselves continuing to talk at great length about a subject even after I've very visibly tuned out (headphones on, book open, lights off at night to sleep, etc). This can be frustrating for a NS, because straight-up telling someone that we don't want to talk anymore can feel very blunt and rude, but might actually be necessary with your AS partner. Luckily, this has never offended them, despite my concerns.

Sometimes your AS partner will have a keen interest or obsession with a subject that you don't care about at all.

In my case, my partner is an avid guitar fan - they have several in their collection, can rattle off specs at the drop of a hat, and even find great pleasure in building/modifying guitars - I know next to nothing about musical instruments but I'm always impressed by the wealth of technical knowledge stored in their brain. I don't code information like that, so it's really fascinating to me!

But I have to admit that I sometimes just get sick of listening to them go on and on for hours about guitars (recently they've re-cultivated their interest in vintage Lego sets so that's on rotation) and even when I steer the conversation to something more relevant they tend to veer back to that particular topic.

WikiHow


What helps is finding a lull or break in their monologue and asking if you can talk about something important or interesting to you, then offer to go back to the original topic. I find myself employing that often in my relationship in various scenarios. 

My AS partner very rarely asks how my day was or what I'm feeling, but never fails to jump at the chance to talk about their work day or what happened to them. Don't take this personally! It is not (usually) indicative of them not caring about you. It just doesn't occur to them to ask.

If it's important to you, make sure you communicate that very clearly - "It would make me feel loved and important if you asked about my day as well." Other areas that require concise and direct communication include intimacy - like what kind of touching is okay and when, how you want to be told you are loved and appreciated, and how you best like to spend time together. Dancing around the subject and dropping hints won't work - believe me, I've tested this. Dating an AS partner will absolutely help you to learn how to more directly ask for what you want and need - and this is such a great skill to take into other areas of your life!

An AS partner may not readily open up to you about what they're feeling or dealing with but they often have their own ways of dealing with stress or coping with changes in routine. Ask them about it! Be understanding and accommodating as much as you can and DON'T try to change their ways of managing their emotions.

Sometimes, a person on the spectrum can be prone to angry outbursts. While this can be frightening, it is (usually) not directed at you, but rather at something stressful happening outside of their control. Recently, my partner's laptop broke very unexpectedly. They became very angry and panicked about it, and started asking me what to do. Using the laptop at night was part of their routine and to have that so viciously disrupted through the night into chaos.

Since I experience a lot of anxiety, being around someone who is raising their voice and swearing really gets my hackles up. Being an INFJ and natural empath, I'm also prone to picking up the energies and emotions of people around me. It can very difficult to stay calm when my partner is having a meltdown and not join in. Even more difficult when I offer constructive advice about solving the problem (as in the case of the broken laptop) and it's absolutely disregarded and then asked for again later.

But all couples argue and the reasons for arguments and fights are as varied as there are people in the world. So once we both calm down and find a good (and timely) solution to whatever is vexing us, it ends up okay in the end.

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Intimacy and Romance in Your Relationship

We both kind of lucked out, because while they can be a touchy-feely person with an active sex drive, neither of us are particularly romantic in a traditional sense. Not needing to shower each other with cute words, pet names, this is our song, and fancy date nights out has made our relationship very low-key and comfortable.

If you need these things in your relationship, be sure to communicate that! Don't assume that anyone - autistic or otherwise - wants or desires the same kind of behavior in a relationship. But spontaneous declarations of love and heartfelt emotional gestures probably aren't going to be in the books for you when dating someone on the spectrum.

But there are definitely ways to keep the romance alive and sizzling!

Schedule date nights with your partner - talk about what works for both of you regarding comfort zones and expectations and pencil it in. Having time together as part of a routine can make your AS partner more comfortable with being affectionate with you in the way you need, while not forcing an uncomfortably fast transition on them.

Get to know each other's boundaries - this one is kind of unique for me, since I have an aversion to touch that stems from past abuse, but my partner is very physically affectionate. When I'm not comfortable, I have to communicate that. It might be the complete opposite for another couple, but a way to show them how much you care about them is to respect their personal and physical boundaries.

Find your own ways of conveying verbal affection - inside jokes are great. My partner and I have a lot of those. They can really make you feel closer to that person and on the same page without having to actually choke out something like "I love you."

Be clear about what you need to celebrate - do you need to go out for your anniversary with a significant other? Make sure this is something you talk about beforehand and make a plan for that event that both of you can agree on. Do you like or expect something to happen on your birthday, like a nice card or gift? Make those expectation clear as well. And always, ALWAYS respect the wishes of your partner if they don't want to make any big deal about their birthday. No surprise parties, please.

*****

Having a relationship with someone who is different from you will always have its challenges and rewards. But it's important not to sacrifice who you are and your needs for another person - there may be some differences that simply make you incompatible with another person. In that case, the most logical and kind thing to do is cut your losses and go your separate ways.


Have you ever faced any unique challenges in your personal relationships? How do you handle them and work on your relationship? I'd also love comments from anyone on the spectrum with advice on being a good partner in a relationship! 


Comments

  1. Very interesting and good to read a positive article about Autism spectrum dating

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