A parent’s perspective on her son’s quest to find love on the spectrum
Meet Ira T., 26, and his mom Lisa
My son Ira was diagnosed at 3 years old with autism. My sweet, talkative inquisitive little boy suddenly became shy and withdrawn, losing most of his language and social skills. We quickly enrolled him in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy and specialized preschools, which helped with strengthening his skills.
He grew into a handsome and popular young man who went to his prom with his childhood best friend and participated in high school social functions. At the Kinney Center, Ira has blossomed and experienced so many awesome firsts. He was privileged to be on the field when the Philadelphia Eagles brought home the Lombardi Trophy after their Super Bowl victory, he was featured on Channel 6ABC in a segment about the dog walking business he worked for, and most recently, on the NBC10 Philadelphia Eagles Autism Foundation Vaccination clinic. Ira’s accomplishments have surpassed anything I could have ever dreamed for him. He is now 26 years old and works at Saxby's Coffee on St. Joe's campus as a server.
Unfortunately, dating has been a challenge. I encouraged him to try and connect with autistic female peers during high school, but his lack of real social understanding prevented this from happening.
The biggest challenges he faces are the lack of understanding the nuances of relationships and attraction. It’s a challenge for him to understand that even if he has a crush or attraction to a young lady, those feeling may or may not be reciprocal. Understanding and accepting unrequited love is difficult for folks who are not autistic—it’s almost impossible to explain to an autistic young man.
Also, there are very few opportunities for Ira to date. His social outings are limited to family events and functions at his day program. Neither provide him with a pool of eligible young ladies. The pandemic has made it that much harder, with social interactions limited to those in our small bubble.
We continually encourage Ira to work on his social skills—maintaining eye contact, answering questions and engaging in conversations. Also, limiting age-inappropriate conversations—not too many young ladies are interested in Thomas the Tank engine.
My advice to parents is to encourage their children to participate in as many group activities as they can to foster social interactions. Building meaningful friendships can be an important segue to fine tuning the skills needed to date and find love.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my dream of there being a dating app for people with autism. Most autistic people have few opportunities to meet individuals who are interested in dating and intimacy. A safe space (exploitation is always a fear) where my son could meet a nice young lady and find friendship or love is my ultimate dream. I’m hoping that bringing this situation to light can make this possible.