I was invited to write this article because I’ve been happily married to an autistic person since 2010. And I’ve learned a few things that could make dating someone with autism a little bit easier for everyone.
1. Be Direct
If you don’t like something – an activity or food or whatever else – say so. An autistic person is more likely to take you at your word, and might not catch unspoken hints of your displeasure or your pleasure. Be open and honest about your preferences.
2. Listen and Engage
Be prepared to listen. An autistic person’s love language might be sharing details of whatever they are passionate about. It may be dogs, architecture, mystery novels, baking, tech, anything. They aren’t trying to win you over to their passion or tell you things you don’t need to know.
They want to share their joy with you. Listen. Ask questions. Be interested. Engage in a way that connects back to you in a healthy way. (See also this post on info-dumping.)
3. Ask About Activities
If you are choosing the place to go or the activity to engage in together, keep in mind that many autistic people don’t enjoy places with too much sensory stimulation – i.e. bright lights, lots of sounds. Ask them whether they like these kinds of places before you plan an outing.
4. Be Clear about Your Feelings and Where They Come From
If you are going to a date one particular day you are irritable or frustrated or in a bad mood because you’ve had a stressful, horrible day, tell your person this clearly. You get to have bad days and be in a bad mood, but make sure to communicate that your bad mood is not their fault.
Autistic people can be very sensitive to emotions, and can potentially react as if your mood is their fault. You can avoid this by naming a bad mood up front, and linking it to its cause.
You will want to be very clear that your bad mood has nothing to do with them. You’re allowed to be in a bad mood, or to have whatever feelings you have, you just don’t want your date to feel like your bad mood is about them. (See also this post about alexithymia.)
5. Verbalize More than You Think
Don’t just smile and nod or shrug something off. Use your words. You enjoyed the story or you didn’t. You are having fun or you are not. Your autistic date will appreciate you verbalizing your responses to questions.
They may also ask you frequently if you are having fun or if you like what you are doing. This isn’t because they are insecure or they don’t listen to you. It’s because body language and non-verbal cues can be hard to interpret. Verbal responses are usually the better responses.