Persons who are on the autism spectrum have difficulties to build and sustain relationships with other people. They may lack the social skills which occur naturally to people who are not on the spectrum. For example, if you are interested in someone, you might ask them what their plans over the weekend are and if they wanted to meet up. However, for someone with autism, engaging in such conversations and showing interest is much more difficult and may seem mechanical in the way they approach it.
Even though difficulties in social interactions are evident, people with autism still have feelings and are interested in having romantic relationships. They want to express love and care for others but might not know how to do so. Research has found that persons with autism have a similar level of interest in relationships as people who do not have autism but usually, are more limited in the opportunities they have to meet potential partners (Hancock, Stokes & Mseibov, 2019). This could be because they tend to have smaller networks and have more anxiety to start and maintain a relationship.
A common difficulty that people with autism have is that they do not understand humour and take things literally. Thus, it can be difficult to establish a certain level of communication because the hidden and abstract meaning behind a person’s thoughts and opinions can be lost. This can lead to frustration in the person who does not have autism because they feel misunderstood. In such cases, it is important to be patient and to explain what is meant by the statements being made and being more concrete when talking. It needs to be noted that for the person who has autism, not understanding what the other person is trying to say can be equally frustrating.
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feeling by putting yourself in their shoes. This ability is not always present in people who have autism. Thus, whilst dating, it can create some issues for the person who does not have autism as they may feel that the other person does not care about their feelings. Thus, telling the person with autism how you feel and what you would like from them is important as this will facilitate a conversation around emotions. Once this happens, it is likely that they will be more attuned to the other person’s feelings.
People with autism may have sensory issues and therefore be sensitive to loud noises, light and smell. When choosing a place where to meet, research can be done from beforehand to know what to expect from the environment so that the person with autism can feel more at ease during the date. Visiting the place from before could be a way of how this can be achieved. Sticking to a routine is usually also a common occurrence for people with autism. Thus, when an agreement on a date, place and time where to meet is reached, sticking to these variables helps.
Hancock, G., Stokes, M. A., & Mesibov, G. (2019). Differences in Romantic Relationship Experiences for Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Sexuality and Disability, 1-15.
Dr Marilyn Muscat is registered as an Educational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom where she trained. She works with children, adolescents and their families to understand more about educational, social and emotional well-being concerns that they have and to help them improve upon their difficulties. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.