This is a reposting of an article originally published on this site February 14, 2017.
Valentine’s Day can mean cute cards and fun (or stressful) holiday parties for young kids as well as bring a mixed bag of emotions for teens and adults on the spectrum. There has been a lot of media buzz about autism and relationships recently, even more so since the release of the documentary Autism in Love. Here are some suggestions from people on the spectrum about things to consider around Valentine’s Day or with romantic relationships.
Autism and Love
5 Considerations for Spectrum Romance
Some People on the Spectrum Need More Time.
In “Ten Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Autism and Romantic Relationships,” Gwen Greenwood describes the autistic individual as a “late bloomer” in the ability to navigate a romantic relationship. This doesn’t mean they will never be able to handle one, but because there are so many environmental influences to date in the teen years, it may be important to prepare for how you or your child might address them. For some, the social and emotional maturity required for a romantic relationship may not come until their 20s, 30s, or even 40s. They shouldn’t be pressured to date because it is an “age-appropriate behavior.” Greenwood explains, “It can take autistic people a long time to develop the confidence and social skills we need to maintain meaningful relationships. But that does not mean meaningful relationships are impossible.”
Difficulty Interpreting Social Skills Doesn’t Mean a Lack of Interest in Socializing
Many on the spectrum find socialization stressful and exhausting. But this doesn’t mean they want to avoid it all costs. Not all people on the spectrum want to be alone. In fact, for many, the opposite is true. They are looking for ways to connect. Unfortunately, the neurotypical world isn’t always welcoming of people whose social skills aren’t in line with their own, and many on the spectrum are ignored or ostracized for their differences.
In an interview I had with Amy Gravino, she discussed this problem, explaining, “Without question, one of the most important sexuality issues people on the spectrum face is neurotypical people (parents, therapists, professionals) believing that we don’t have sex and/or are not interested in sex.” Amy is working on a book on autism and sexuality, and shared her opinion on a variety of issues related to this issue. You can read more about what she had to say here.
They May Have Unique Ways of Expressing Love.
Some people prefer to be cuddly. Others are extremely sensitive to touch. Some people need their space and alone time more than others. Communicating both what their behaviors mean and how they can interpret the behaviors of others is important in any relationship. Rudy Simone, founder of the International Aspergirl Society, discussed her tendency to both criticize her partner as well as be especially sensitive to criticism herself. But she insists that “both of these things can be navigated or reduced. Knowing about them is half the battle.”
Routines are Important.
Many people understand the need individuals on the spectrum tend to have for routine. This is important within romantic relationships as well. New routines might need to be established so those involved can feel safe and comfortable. Gwen Greenwood suggests picking a regular date night. Old routines also might need to be adhered to. One example might include respecting an early curfew that allows plenty of time to return home to a typical bedtime routine. Another example might be to frequent public spaces that are familiar and comfortable.
It’s Okay to Need Space.
People on the spectrum often need breaks from socializing. This need may follow them into a romantic relationship. But the need to be alone might be misinterpreted as irritation, anger, or a lack of care. It’s important to communicate your needs in a relationship and how those needs translate into behaviors. In “Falling in Love on the Autism Spectrum,” Phil Martin explains his struggle to communicate in his relationship. “Most times, I just didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to cuddle, I didn’t want her around to be honest. It had nothing to do with her, but I just wanted to be alone.” Martin explains he is still learning how to love and that he has learned a lot from his past relationship.
Do you or your child have experience with romantic relationships on the spectrum? Feel free to comment about things you’ve learned and would like to share!
Curious what people on the spectrum think about Valentine’s Day? Check out this article from Autism Daily Newscast.
Additional Reading/Viewing About Autism and Romantic Relationships
Ten Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Autism and Romantic Relationships by Gwen Greenwood
Helping Your Child With Autism Understand Valentine’s Day by Kelsey Cannamela
Falling in Love on The Autism Spectrum by Phil Martin
Love on the Spectrum by Sean Patrick Farrell
Autism in Love by Matt Fuller