Falling in love on the autism spectrum
This guest post is by Dr. Kerry Magro, EdD, a professional speaker, best-selling author and autism entertainment consultant who is on the autism spectrum.
At the age of 34, I’ve had several relationships throughout my life. Seven girlfriends to be exact. I’ve also had several breakups. When I talk to families with children on the spectrum, this is usually one of the most asked about topics and also one of the most sensitive. How does a child with autism grow up and acquire the skills to find a partner and have a healthy relationship as an adult? It’s certainly a complex topic with no clear-cut answers.
Looking back at my personal experiences, some of my main problems in relationships have been due to “social awkwardness” and “mind blindness,” which is the inability to develop an awareness of what another person is thinking. My struggles with putting myself in the shoes of others has made it difficult to develop anything but basic friendships. Being able to read people is not only an important skillset from a relationship standpoint, but in many other areas of life as well, such as at school and in the workplace. As we all know, navigating these obstacles during a pandemic has made dating even more challenging for autistic and non-autistic singles alike.
My social awkwardness could be attributed to many factors, but for me it was always based on “small talk.” Many times, especially when I was younger, I couldn’t hold a conversation without having long stretches of awkward silence. The only way I was able to keep a conversation going was to quickly change the subject to something that I knew a lot about, such as basketball. This proved to be difficult because while I did have friends who played and liked basketball, it’s not something everyone wants to talk about 24/7. How do you make strides in the dating world without having the ability to hold a conversation? The truth is, I struggled.
Because of my shortcomings in these areas, confidence also became an underlying issue for me. These embarrassing moments where I didn’t have anything to say often made my dates think I was a shy person who wanted to keep to myself. Of course, this was never the case. Could you imagine wanting so badly to interact and be social, in many cases even be loved, but you just didn’t know how to go about it?
When I was 9 years old, my doctor recommended against mainstreaming me in a public school because she said I would never understand social cues and worried about me getting beat up. Granted, I survived those days, a testament to having developed coping mechanisms and splinter skills. Looking back, I wish that I found someone who understood what it was like to be in my shoes. It would have been nice to meet someone who knew exactly what I was going through at that point in my life. Today, I’m still searching for that special someone in the romantic sense, but I know she’s out there somewhere.
One thing I know for sure is that all relationships take effort and personal growth. Whether you’re on the spectrum or not, I truly believe that the best relationships begin when both people are the best versions of themselves. Even today, I still don’t have all the answers, but I want to help the neurodiverse community find meaningful relationships. That’s why I’ve written a book titled “Autism and Falling in Love” and dedicated a large part of my life to being a shoulder to lean on for the autism community. If you have a question or comment for me, you can visit my website.