Love and Autism

Love is in the air this time of year and romantic sentiments are particularely a focus on this Valentine’s Day with roses, chocolates, and champagne on full display.  At the Portsmouth Neuropsychology Center, we regularly see clients who are looking to improve their romantic relationships and seek deeper intimacy with others.  In particular, our clients on the Autism spectrum desire such relationships, despite wide-spread views that such individuals may not have such romantic interests or be able to successfully manage such relationships.  Interestingly, a May 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that the majority of adults with autism spectrum disorder have had or are interested in romantic relationships.   However, they may experience unique challenges that can potentially complicate dating life and romantic relationships with others.  For example, difficulties interpreting such social cues as body language, eye contact, and facial expressions may make it difficult for such individuals to realize someone is interested in them or be able to monitor how well a date is going.  For other individuals, they may have sensory sensitivities that may cause specific types of touch to be aversive.  Determination of an appropriate first date location (note that meeting at a bar is not always a top choice for individuals on the spectrum) is also critical.  Individuals who have ASD are most likely to be successful in developing romantic relationships with others when they are tuned in to their strengths and weaknesses and how that can impact their love lives.

Kerry Magro, a writer for Autism Speaks and on the autism spectrum, offers 10 things she wishes people knew about dating someone who has autism. “Often a misconception is that people on the spectrum want to only date others who are on the spectrum.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  We just want to find someone we connect with and can be ourselves with.  Love is love, no matter the person.”  Additionally, she notes that eye-contact may be difficult for individuals on the spectrum.  As such, it may appear like such individuals are not listening to their partner which could lead to potential conflict.  At the same time, individuals with ASD may offer unique strengths in their romantic relationships.  For example, in an August 2013 The Atlantic article, the author highlights that people with autism may have greater emotional capacities. “Studies have shown that people with autism can have feelings that are stronger and deeper than those without autism,” said John Elder Robison, bestselling author of Look Me in the Eyes and autism advocate. “Yet those feelings may be invisible to outsiders because we don’t show them. Because we don’t show them the expected response, people make the wrong assumption about our depth of feeling about other people.”

The article Romance 101: Dating for Adults with ASD offers helpful tips on getting started in the dating scene, including how to meet people, ways to show you are romantically interested, and tips for how to actually ask someone out.  The specific characteristics associated with autism including reading social cues, understanding another’s perspectives, making small talk and exchanging niceties, can make dating even more complicated for individuals with ASD.  However, consulting with a psychotherapist with experience treating individuals on the spectrum can be helpful to develop strategies for meeting others, forming intimate relationships, and managing the ups and downs associated with any romantic relationship.  Additionally, the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE) offers neurodiverse couples coaching that can be instrumental to help couples better problem solve, develop coping strategies, and build skills to improve the relationship. While dating can be challenging and confusing at times, it can simultaneously bring tremendous satisfaction and meaning.  Seeking appropriate supports can help bridge the gap between wanting to have a relationship or improve existing relationships to more fulfilling intimacy.

For more information on romantic relationships and autism spectrum disorder please check out the following helpful resources:

Romantic Relationships for Young Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome High-Functioning Autism

Romantic Relationships and Autism Spectrum Disorder