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Dating Someone with Autism: Understanding and Nurturing Relationships

Dating is challenging enough to navigate even under normal circumstances because it requires communication, interpretation, and understanding of each other’s feelings. Dating someone with autism ( a neurological condition affecting their perception) is particularly tough because they have difficulty expressing their feelings, managing sensory needs, and reading social cues. People with autism may also have […]

Dating is challenging enough to navigate even under normal circumstances because it requires communication, interpretation, and understanding of each other’s feelings. Dating someone with autism ( a neurological condition affecting their perception) is particularly tough because they have difficulty expressing their feelings, managing sensory needs, and reading social cues. People with autism may also have rigid or repetitive behaviors.

People with autism present different symptoms and varying levels of intensity. Read on to learn more about what to expect when dating someone with autism. You’ll be surprised to discover that, besides the challenges, you can expect openness and honesty.

1.     The Autism Spectrum: A Unique Perspective

Autism spectrum denotes a wide range of symptoms people with the condition can present. The Mayo Clinic stresses that the autism spectrum now includes conditions like Asperger’s syndrome, which was a separate condition before.

The condition usually begins in early childhood and is related to brain development, impacting the person’s perception and socialization, making it more difficult for them to communicate and interact socially. The symptoms and their severity depend on the spectrum level the person presents.

People with autism often find it difficult to adjust to changes in their routine. Additionally, they don’t easily make eye contact or look at people when speaking, giving the impression of disinterest when in other’s company.

Generally, people with autism may talk at length about their interests but may show no interest in their partner’s hobbies. Other behaviors include struggling to have a two-way conversation and to understand other’s perceptions.

These symptoms have given rise to the misconception that someone with autism can’t have a relationship.

Studies provide a unique perspective on autism, showing that even though people with the condition have communication and socializing difficulties, they have the same interest in intimate and romantic relationships as everyone else. Sadly, their anxiety surrounding their relationships results in more short-term relationships.

2.     Building a Strong Foundation: Communication and Understanding

Communication problems are the most common issues in couples where one person is autistic. Therefore, building a strong foundation is imperative to foster better communication and understanding.

Learn More About Autism

Learn about autism spectrum disorder to help you understand all the differences and associated characteristics. Knowledge makes it easier to comprehend the challenges your partner may face.

Be Clear and Direct

Communication errors are easy, so never assume you know your partner’s actions and words since you could misinterpret them. Instead of making assumptions, seek confirmation about any unclear meaning by asking your partner. Therefore, you must practice active listening, giving them your full attention, and making eye contact if they feel comfortable.

Always be clear and direct in communicating your feelings and what you want because things that are obvious to you may be invisible to your partner. It’s important to avoid using figurative language or sarcasm, as autistic individuals often interpret language literally. Additionally, give them explicit instructions or information to avoid confusion.

Use Solutions to Solve Problems

You will need patience and understanding to make adjusting to your environment easier for your partner based on their sensory sensitivities and rigid routines. Don’t create problems, but find ways to solve them.

For example, if your partner always shows up late for dates, don’t accuse them of being late because they will perceive this as an attack, putting them on the defensive. Approach this differently, offering a solution by asking them which time or day suits them best. Use visual aids, for example, charts or written instructions, to enhance understanding. Additionally, help your partner navigate social situations with visual schedules.

Routine and Positive Reinforcement

Many individuals with autism flourish on routine and predictability. Establish a routine to provide them with a sense of security and reduce anxiety.

Learn if they have any sensory sensitivities or preferences. Some autistic individuals may be sensitive to certain sounds, lights, or textures. Respect their boundaries and work together to create a comfortable environment.

Use praise and rewards to reinforce positive behaviors to motivate and encourage your partner. Cultivate closeness by planning things you both enjoy.

3.     Nurturing Emotional Connection: Empathy and Acceptance

Nurturing an emotional connection through empathy and acceptance is vital for building durable and meaningful relationships for everyone, including someone with autism. These are some tips:

  • Practice active listening by showing a genuine interest in the things they say. Reflect on what they’ve shared to demonstrate that you understand and care about their perspective.
  • Cultivate empathy by putting yourself in their position and trying to understand their emotional state and experiences. Validate their emotions, even if you don’t always fully understand them.
  • Accept the other person without passing judgment. Everyone has unique experiences and perspectives. Try not to make assumptions about their feelings or motivations.
  • Express openness and vulnerability by openly sharing your views and feelings, creating a safe space for the other person to do the same. Vulnerability fosters a deeper connection by showing you trust and value the relationship.
  • Acknowledge and respect the differences in how they perceive and experience the world by embracing the diversity of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Building emotional connections takes time. Be patient, allowing the relationship to develop at a pace that respects the person’s boundaries.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate each other’s achievements. Positive reinforcement helps build a sense of support and encouragement.
  • Use “I” statements and positive communication, helping avoid criticism and blame while showing appreciation.
  • Physical touch, verbal affirmations, and other gestures of affection can strengthen emotional bonds, but tailor these to your autistic partner’s needs.
  • Trust is the basis of any healthy relationship because it builds emotional connection. Build it by being reliable, keeping your commitments, and demonstrating consistency.
  • Shared experiences help build a sense of connection and strengthen your bond. Find activities that you can engage in together.

4.     Overcoming Challenges: Sensory Sensitivities and Social Interactions

People with autism process sensory information differently, meaning you can expect them to be sensitive to things like sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Therefore, they may find certain noises, lights, textures, aromas, or foods overwhelming or distressing.

These sensory sensitivities can differ among individuals with autism. Additionally, sensitivities may change between different environments or over time.

Individuals with autism often develop coping strategies to manage sensory sensitivities. For example, they may wear noise-canceling headphones, wear sensory-friendly clothing, or carry comforting objects. You can also help by creating a sensory-friendly environment, introducing changes gradually, and limiting unwanted surprises.

Some evidence points to the benefits of mindfulness for reducing anxiety and improving sensory regulation. Encourage your partner to practice daily meditation or join you in yours. However, don’t force them if they aren’t ready.

Another common characteristic of autism is misreading social cues or following social norms. Therefore, it makes dating someone with autism difficult but not impossible.

Be open to learning about the exceptional person you are dating. Make it your mission to understand their likes and dislikes, communication styles, frustrations, and annoyances. The learning process requires patience, as does your new partner. Use kind words when explaining why certain behaviors are inappropriate in some situations.

5.     Supporting Independence: Encouraging Autonomy and Self-Expression

Sometimes, you may feel like you’re the “parent” in your relationship. Perhaps your autistic partner isn’t as adept at handling certain circumstances, making you feel like you must take control. You may even feel you must speak for them, fearing they may make an etiquette blunder.

Unfortunately, this can create an unhealthy relationship as your partner loses their sense of independence, leading to resentment. Suppose you feel you have started exhibiting this type of controlling behavior. In that case, it’s essential to realize that you must let your partner make decisions and learn from their mistakes while offering support only when they ask for it.

Encourage your autistic partner to act independently wherever possible, like running errands for you or cooking a meal, and provide tips on avoiding mistakes in public, helping them develop autonomy and self-expression.

Remember, support them without nagging.

6.     Celebrating Differences: Embracing Neurodiversity in Relationships

Both you and your autistic partner have your strengths and weaknesses. Recognize each other’s strengths and emphasize embracing neurodiversity in your relationship.

Start by listing each of your strengths and areas that need improvement. That way, you can reach a point where you celebrate your differences, each contributing to the relationship.

Points to consider include:

  • Which of the two is more flexible?
  • Who can contribute practical solutions?
  • Who pays greater attention to detail and is more organized?
  • Who’s more comfortable in social situations?

The answers will allow you to divide tasks according to your strengths. For example, the more punctual one can pay the bills, the more social one can take on tasks requiring communication, like phoning friends for special occasions.

Brainstorm ideas on how to tackle areas that you both tend to lack. For example, if you’re both forgetful, make sure your bills get paid automatically with a bank order or set reminders.

Sometimes, you may feel that you have taken on too many responsibilities. Communicate this to your partner and find a way to work around it.

7.     Seeking Professional Help: The Benefits of Therapy and Support Groups

Therapy and support groups can help a person with autism avoid the stress and social isolation they feel. One of the problems for people with autism is that as they enter adulthood after high school, they lose their support system.

Support groups led by professionals or individuals with ASD help promote acceptance of others, guide them on appropriate group behavior, and provide relevant social feedback.

With therapy, the person can communicate in any way they feel comfortable to a trustworthy counselor, helping to validate the emotions, thoughts, and experiences of the autistic person through uncensored self-expression. Through this support, individuals with ASD can set goals, receive support, and progress in their daily functioning, mood, and self-expression.

Therapy contributes to a healthier lifestyle since the person learns coping and communication skills and how to decrease their anxiety and depression. They also work on finding ways to balance sensory sensitivities.

Therapy and support groups help decrease the symptoms and behaviors that often hold people with autism from reaching their full potential in their daily lives and when building relationships.

8.     Growing Together: Cultivating a Loving and Lasting Partnership

Most people with autism want to have a loving and lasting relationship. Unfortunately, many people believe that people with autism cannot change, calling for their neurotypical partners to make adaptions. Indeed, some autism-related behaviors are difficult to change. However, people with autism can experience growth, allowing them to cultivate a loving relationship that lasts.

There are several strategies for growing together in a relationship. Here are three strategies that research has shown boost the quality and satisfaction when dating someone with autism:


Communication skills are vital for growing together in a relationship. Reflection requires the listener to highlight what someone has shared and then paraphrase it to ensure they have understood. With reflection, you convey to the speaker that you have heard and understood them.

People with autism like to receive information in a literal or basic form, something that’s often difficult in romantic relationships where most people use subtle communication a lot. Therefore, when your autistic partner tells you something or when you ask them a question, it’s important to understand what it means to them before memorizing and repeating what they have said. The goal of reflection is to make them feel heard.

Stay Connected

Loving and lasting relationships require frequent and thoughtful contact. Of course, the frequency and how they keep in touch depends on their unique needs. Unfortunately, some autistic people can become so engrossed in their tasks or hobbies. While this makes them very successful at what they do, they can forget to stay connected.

You can set reminders on their phone to make it easier for them to remember to check in with you according to the frequency and means you both deem appropriate.

Remember that not all your contact means that you are staying connected. Effective check-ins are not a call to see what you need from the grocery store. Whether by text or phone, their communication must show their care and concern for you.

Start with general but thoughtful questions for your check-ins, like “How are you feeling?”  to help create a daily routine. As check-ins become frequent and customary, ask more specific and in-depth questions or say something personal. For example, “How did your boss like your presentation?” or “It was lovely to see you last night.”

Encourage Togetherness

Neurodiverse couples have several challenges, especially getting to spend time together. The problem is that people with autism usually enjoy independent activities because of their sensory sensitivities or restricted interests.

Finding activities that you can both enjoy requires quite a bit of creativity. Remember your partner’s physical and emotional discomfort when trying new activities.

Spending time together in shared activities is essential, but you don’t necessarily need to love it. The best way to deal with this is to create a list of activities you are each willing to try together. Look for activities that overlap, but if none do, then discuss how far you are ready to go beyond your comfort zone as you decide which activity is ideal.

Dating someone with autism requires many common relationship strategies with several modifications. Learn more dating tips here on Marriage.com. Growing together need not be difficult for neurodiverse couples, especially if they are willing to work through the complexities. Cultivating a loving and lasting partnership can prove very rewarding if you love the person for who they are.


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