Any relationship requires communication to work. Being autistic doesn’t change that. However, being clear in your communication about how your autism could interact with a potential relationship can help you build a solid foundation from which a beautiful connection will grow.
No two people experience autism the same way. There’s no definitive way of providing dating advice. What works for you may be problematic to someone else with autism. Instead of trying to give you specific advice, I’ve opted for helping you figure out what works for you and potential partners.
Here are some tips that will help you navigate relationships, both now and in the future.
Outline Characteristics You Need in a Relationship Before Dating
Are there certain types of people that frustrate you with their actions? Are there certain behaviours you can’t accept? Knowing your limits before you get into a relationship will help you avoid serious conflict before it begins.
Create and store a list of characteristics you need in a relationship. They can be about the nature of the relationship, or about the person themselves. Then, when you’re searching for potential matches online, you can use that information to weed out candidates that don’t meet those needs.
Know How to Explain Differences in Your World View
How you understand things and potential dates understand things will likely differ. See if you can find ways to explain the differences. For example, many people use sarcasm to make jokes. If you don’t understand sarcasm, let them know how it comes off to you.
It’s hard to know exactly how any potential partner views the world. No two people experience life in the same way. However, if you know you don’t see things the way most people see them, find a way to demonstrate the differences. If you need help, you can ask your friends if there are ways you relate to the world that’s different from most other people.
Define Boundaries Ahead of Time
Before you start talking about getting in to a serious relationship, you need to know your boundaries. Do you have sensations that you can’t stand? Will certain noises trigger angry responses? Along with knowing what can make your symptoms worse, you should know what you are personally okay with experiencing, as well as things that make you uncomfortable.
Let them know what is hard for you and what you can handle. Every autistic person has different ways of stimming, and different things that can be overwhelming. A good partner will take that into account and go out of their way to avoid triggers.
Find and Propose Alternatives to Typical Situations That Are Hard for You
Sometimes “normal” situations can be some of the most triggering and frustrating encounters for people with autism. Some people can’t handle small talk, while others will have a meltdown if someone raises their voice.
Whatever the circumstance, knowing what is too hard for you to handle is important in relationships. If typical methods of conversation are hard for you, find and propose alternatives. This will help your partner see that you want to make it work, while still needing to put up strong boundaries.
Determine Expectations from Future Partners
Sometimes after you’ve been talking to someone for a while, you find that you want to try a more serious relationship. Before you do, make sure you know what your partner expects from you. Do they want to move in with you? How often do they expect to see you? Do they want you to meet their family?
Ask potential partners what they expect from the relationship. If any of those things make you uncomfortable, let them know. Establishing where you both hope the relationship is going before it gets there will help you navigate potential sources of contention. This is also a great way to make sure the two of you will work out before committing to something you may not be ready to handle.
Connect with Other Autistic People for Advice
Reach out to other autistic singles and see what has worked and fallen apart for them. Maybe they have horror stories you can learn from, or maybe they have figured out how to make and keep a healthy relationship. There is excellent community support at the National Autistic Society and from suitable Facebook groups.
Talking to other people who know what you’ve been through can be a great way to see how they’ve tried to work through it. They can give you tips on how to talk to people who don’t have autism, and how to make sure you’re protected when going into the dating world.
If you only take one thing from this article, it’s that communication is key. Navigating relationships is hard in any circumstance. Find out what works best for you, and then find someone who will respect your limits and work with you to have a relationship that supports the both of you.
David Miller M.Sc.
Webmaster at www.disabilitymatch.co.uk