If you’re dating in 2023, you’re probably tuned into all of the exciting ways to meet people and the challenges that modern dating can bring. It’s so important to have an awareness of yourself and your needs but also the needs of the people you’re dating.
Perhaps you’ve just hit it off with someone who is on the spectrum and are wondering, “What is dating someone with autism like?” Or maybe you’ve been with your partner for a while and just need a refresher to ensure that both of your needs are being met. Dating someone with autism just requires a compassionate heart and a sensitive approach—just like any dating relationship.
Here are some things to expect when dating someone with autism.
Remember that autism spectrum disorder has its name for a reason—it’s a wide spectrum of traits and features. The person you’re dating may present all of the traits typical of autism, or they might just display a few. It’s important to learn about the intricacies of your partner and not generalize their actions or tendencies.
Value their emotions
A common trait among people who have autism is lack of outward emotion. But this doesn’t mean they’re not emotional. Far from it! They share the same types of emotions that neurotypical people do; in fact, sometimes these emotions can even be more intense than a non-autistic person’s emotions. But they might have trouble showing them in a way that meets society’s expectations.
Understand that people who are autistic feel deeply, so don’t be offended if they need space or time alone to process. Make sure to check in often and ask how they’re feeling.
Social situations might be tricky
When you’re dating someone with autism, it’s important to give them grace in social situations. They can have trouble interpreting social cues or acting in ways that society expects them to in social scenarios. This can lead to embarrassment or frustration for the neurotypical partner in the relationship and potential low self-esteem and confidence for the partner who is autistic, if they notice that their words or actions aren’t being received well.
Be patient and don’t be afraid to tell them gently how they can react or respond in a different way next time.
Get ready for pure honesty
Do you have a new haircut, or did you cook a new recipe at home? Dating an autistic person means being prepared for brutal honesty. Though you might be hurt that they tell you directly that they don’t like your buzz cut or the new way you cooked tofu, this type of bluntness can be a relief in a relationship. There isn’t as much guessing or wondering how they feel about certain things. This can propel both of you into honest and open communication—something that most people in any type of relationship strive for.
Be straightforward with your needs
Because people with autism often have difficulty reading body language and facial expressions, they might not readily anticipate your needs. As with any relationship, it’s not healthy to just hope that your partner will know what you’re thinking—and the same goes for dating someone on the spectrum. Speak up about what you want and need without relying on body language.
There isn’t much gray area
Typically, people with autism have a black-and-white perspective on life. While many people have the ability to “read between the lines,” those on the spectrum might have more trouble learning the nuances of language and humor.
This means that when you’re dating someone with autism, you should be careful with sarcasm, as they might take things literally and become confused or hurt by your words. Similarly, and this goes back to being straightforward, make sure to be clear and direct with your communication. The more concrete you can be, the better.
Their love language might be different from yours
Autistic people in relationships often have trouble physically expressing emotions and affection. So you might wonder, “How does someone with autism show love?” Every human being has different ways of showing love! Your partner with autism might show affection by doing something for you through acts of service or gift giving—rather than physical touch or gazing into your eyes.
Don’t let potentially misaligned love languages lead to dating fatigue. With open communication and understanding, you can both learn how to meet the other person’s needs. It might just take a little time and a lot of compassion.
Be aware of sensory overload
When you’re dating someone with autism, make sure to accommodate their heightened senses. Sensory overload is a common trait of many people on the spectrum, so it’s important to know when and how to make them feel safe.
When you hang out socially outside of your homes, choose meeting places wisely. Your partner might be sensitive to restaurants or clubs that are loud or have too many lights or they could be sensitive to smells. It might take awhile to know what exactly their triggers are, but by listening to their needs and reading their body language, you’ll be able to help them find a space that’s comfortable.
Celebrate their ability to focus
One of the amazing qualities of someone who is autistic is their keen ability to focus on the things that they’re passionate about or interested in. They might read about a topic for hours and then tell you (or whoever they’re around) all about it. Perhaps they have a hobby that they spend a lot of time with. Support their capacity for focus and give them space and time to do it. Lean in to their interests to help them become even more confident in themselves and their natural abilities. Remember: Confidence is attractive.
But this focus can make it hard to pull them out of something they’re working on, reading, or talking about. If you find yourself becoming exasperated when you’re dating someone with autism who is intensely focused, try participating in their hobby so that you can both do it together. This could also be an opportunity to pursue your own passions, giving both of you personal time.
Physical intimacy might be a slower process
Someone with autism might have sensory issues and need to process and get used to physical touch. You might have to be the one to initiate physical affection, but, as with any relationship, dating with autism requires asking your partner first if something is ok. Take your time with physical affection so that you’re both comfortable.
They might not understand how to please the other person or read body language signs. This is another instance where it is super important to communicate, compromise, and find ways to show each other love that meets both people’s needs.
Stability is key
Change might be challenging for some people with autism. Spontaneity and dealing with changes in routines or unexpected plans might not be their strong suit. While you can’t control everything, you can control how much of a heads up you give them for an upcoming plan or the way in which you react to a potential upset. Maintain as much stability as possible when you’re dating an autistic person, and give them the space they need to process and prepare for change.
Try not to think of stability as necessarily a negative aspect. Your partner can also help you by being extremely reliable and dependable—two traits that are sometimes hard to come by in the dating world.
Try to see the world through their eyes
People with autism are living in a world that is biased toward neurotypical people, which can make it difficult to be understood and seen for the beautiful people that they are. The most important thing to remember when dating someone with autism is to change your perspective to see how they view and interact with the world. Empathy goes a long way in any relationship and can lead to a better understanding of each other’s wants and needs, challenges and hurdles.