1) Autistic people are often late bloomers when it comes to relationships.
Nick Dubin (author of Asperger’s and Anxiety and other self-help books) did not start dating until he was twenty five. In Asperger’s and Anxiety Dubin mentions another autistic man who didn’t date until his forties. That man is now married with two children. It can take autistic people a long time to develop the confidence and social skills we need to maintain meaningful relationships. But that does not mean meaningful relationships are impossible. Furthermore, entering the game late isn’t necessarily a disadvantage, as the above example should indicate.
2) Not everyone on the spectrum has an aversion to touch.
This is a very popular misconception. It’s true that while some people on the autism spectrum dislike physical contact or feel they need large amounts of personal space, that’s just not true of everyone. The autistic friends I have are actually way cuddlier than my neuro typical friends. They can occasionally take this too far, as it’s difficult for them to understand social boundaries. I love hugs and can be very affectionate when I’m in a relationship. However, if I am experiencing a great deal or stress or anxiety I generally don’t want to be touched or held. This is because all my senses are heightened, and any form of physical contact will result in my body pumping itself full of adrenalin because it feels like it’s being attacked. If you are unsure whether somebody on the autism spectrum will be comfortable with physical contact, just ask permission before you touch them.
3) An aversion to touch doesn’t always mean an aversion to sex.
This is a more tricky area. I can’t go into too much detail myself as I don’t have a constant aversion to touch. I’ve met plenty of autistic people who don’t do hugs, avoid most forms of physical contact and still manage to maintain sexual relationships. I won’t pretend to understand this, but it obviously works for them and brings them happiness. It would be unfair and prejudice to assume an autistic person does not have sex simply because they prefer handshakes to hugs.
4) A lack of social skills does not mean a lack of interest in socialising.
I have fallen victim to this misguided stereotype countless times. I’ll admit that I find socialising quite draining. Meeting new people makes me nervous and I don’t have the social skills necessary for interpreting peoples body language, facial expression and other forms of none verbal communication. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy socialising. I love chatting with my friends and going on dates. I just need to make sure I allow myself plenty of time to recuperate afterwards.
5) Our potential partners are not limited to other people on the spectrum.
I can see the benefits of dating someone who is on the autism spectrum. I wouldn’t have to explain the difficulties I face on a daily basis and I’d be less anxious of being dumped purely because I have Asperger’s. There is even a website http://www.aspieaffection.com for adults with Asperger’s Syndrome searching for likeminded individuals. However, it would be extremely limiting to suggest autistic people should only date others who are on the spectrum. I’ve never dated an Aspie myself (this wasn’t deliberate, the women I’ve been attracted to so far just happened to be neuro typical). However, I imagine there are a few downsides to romantic relationships where both parties are on the spectrum. For example: autistic people often think in black and white terms and can struggle to see things from other people’s perspectives. Imagine how violent an argument could be between two people who could not see the others perspective! I’ve already encountered this situation with many of my autistic friends, and having that kind of argument with a lover could only be worse.
6) We are very capable of love and affection; sometimes we’re just bad at expressing it.
There are a lot of people out there who seem to think autistics are not capable of love. I recall a time during my teenage years when I did not say ‘I love you’ to my parents and rarely hugged them. I was being bullied, and had dealt with that by retreating behind my walls, not expressing affection towards others because I felt it would make me vulnerable. I say “I love you” all the time now. I never stopped loving them; it was just difficult to express that love. After speaking with some autistic friends I’ve realised this kind of emotional shut down is quite common in times of crisis, particularly when the person in question is a teenager. I cannot imagine how difficult this is for our loved ones, whether it’s spouses, dates, friends or family. We will never stop loving you. Sometimes, it’s just so hard to express that love in words and actions.
7) Routine’s make every aspect of life feel safer, including dating.
One of the symptoms of autism is the imposing of a strict routine (to the point where any changes to that routine will cause a great deal of anxiety). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I remember when I had my breakdown. For a month Dad just kept repeating ‘you’ll be ok once you get into a routine’. And once I’d found the right routine, I was ok. If you are dating someone with autism, try to establish a regular date night, where you see them at the same time each week and do something fun together. This will increase their sense of stability and help them to relax more around you. There will be times when circumstances beyond your control force you to change the date routine. It would be unrealistic to expect this to cause no anxiety to someone on the autism spectrum. Just remember it’s nobody’s fault.
8) We’re often hopeless at flirting, but excellent at being loyal and affectionate.
I hate to make generalisations, but autistic people are often hopeless at flirting. This is because flirting is a complex aspect of socialising that relies on the ability to successfully interpret body language, facial expression and other none verbal communication. Autism is a social awareness and communications disability, so were bound to find this difficult. Sustained eye contact also seems to be an important part of flirting, and is something else autistic people can struggle with. Although we may suck at flirting, that doesn’t mean we won’t be loyal, affectionate, caring partners. If you’re curious about whether an autistic person fancies you, don’t rely upon a confused interpretation of their body language. Just ask them.
9) We can’t always read romantic signals.
This is probably the main reason dating can be so difficult for those of us on the autism spectrum. I’ve ignored a couple of sexual propositions from women I was VERY attracted to, simply because I did not realise what they were asking for at the time. Apparently if you meet someone in a club, make out with them and they invite you home for a ‘cup of tea’, it’s really a proposition for sex. This is probably obvious to some people, but not to me. At the time I said no, because I don’t drink tea. All I can do is urge people to be more direct about these kind of propositions. Not everybody has the social skills you take for granted.
10) We can’t always guess how you’re feeling.
This can be a real problem with both friendships and romantic relationships. I vividly remember one occasion when I had said something to upset a friend, and he didn’t tell me. For several months he just carried on as normal, expecting me to realise I had upset him through subtle indications in his body language and vocal tone. Of course, I had no idea what was going on. Autistic people just don’t have the skills necessary to interpret how you’re feeling. To us, none verbal communication is like a foreign language of which we only know a few words. At times, you will have to be very explicit when explaining how you’re feeling to an autistic person. That doesn’t mean we don’t care. We’re just bad at interpreting none verbal communication.