Tips for autism-friendly dates
By Clifford Brooks | February 13, 2020
This guest post is by Clifford Brooks author of The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics, Athena Departs and the founder of The Southern Collective Experience.
Understanding, patience, and communication are paramount when dating someone with autism. We are a persnickety bunch. As a low-support autistic in a healthy relationship I feel I can finally speak on this with authority.
Romance is not easy for anyone. Like everyone it’s all about finding that warm embrace that accepts us in all our quirky glory. I promise you they’re out there.
To get past our defenses, it’s all about comfort. Anxiety from social interaction keeps us out of our comfort zone. A date is the most intense flavor of social interaction. What if we say the wrong thing? Will they think we’re odd? Are we reading social cues correctly? Will they laugh at us?
We fear with prolonged exposure those we date will witness the stimming chinks in our armor. It is a herculean effort to bottle up the twitches, grunts, and/or humming we do in private. These comfort us. They can be off-putting to others. We know this.
To help someone on the spectrum be comfortable on a date:
- Avoid loud, crowded locations. Autism digests the world in shockwaves. The music, shouting, laughter, bright lights, and close physical space are too much. We barely hear what you’re saying because our focus is on pretending we’re comfortable.
- Pick a location that’s quiet with plenty of space. The less people around, the better.
- Be aware of our dining eccentricities. I can’t sit with my back to the room. I need to see the exits. I don’t talk while I’m eating. At all.
- Be aware of eye contact. Eye contact unnerves us. When I tell stories or answer a question I often look off an upward to do it. To truly process what you are saying I need to look away. We do this to give what you’re saying undivided attention.
- If you see one our ticks, tell us it’s okay. We notice the second you notice. Nothing horrifies us more than that cat out of the bag. Once we know you know the anxiety quadruples our compulsion to tick again. Talk to us about it. Say you barely notice. It works. I promise.
- Be conscious of personal space. At first, a quick hug or unexpected kiss will cause us to pull away. It isn’t because we don’t like you. It is not due to you feeling more for us than we do for you. Over time contact becomes easier.
Carolyn, my girlfriend, and I have dated for nearly two years. They are two of the best years of my life. Its success is due to understanding, patience, and communication. She works with me to process my condition and gives me space when my internal world grows rowdy. I give my fear to God and thank Him every day for her.
Autism is a blessing. She told me that. For the first time I believe it.