I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome) in 2020. My specific diagnosis is high-functioning autism, “classic” autism, or atypical autism – which are all the same thing. Before I got my diagnosis, I did not know that I was Neurodivergent. After a failed suicide attempt and ending up in a psychiatric hospital, my life changed.
The biggest area of difficulty for me seems to be recognizing social cues and understanding gestures, verbal tones of voice, facial expressions, etc., along with body language.
I was formally diagnosed when I was 41 years old – but these things have been the norm for me since childhood… because I am a classic example of someone who is ” high-functioning .” Like many people with autism, I had no idea that anything was wrong with me. Autism isn’t a disease or a disorder – it’s a neurological variant. A disability, sure – but not an illness.
When I went looking for information about how to manage the challenges of my Asperger’s Syndrome as a partner, I found zilch. And by zilch, I mean almost nothing even close to any kind of practical advice that might help me handle dating and relationships.
So then what happened? Well, I decided that if there weren’t other guys like me out there talking about their experiences regarding this topic (finding dates, relationships), then maybe I should write about them.
I’ve had my share of dating, and I’ve seen things go well – and badly. I’m not married, but I have had two, one for less than two years. My last relationship was broken off by the other person because of reasons I do not share to still be respectful of their honor. Also, she is the mother of my child.
If you are thinking about dating someone who is high-functioning on the Autism spectrum, here are some points to consider:
They won’t do well if you’re looking for a quick hookup or something purely casual where there’s no emotional involvement involved. They need love and affection as everyone else does – it just takes them longer to recognize when they’re feeling that way.
They might not be able to read your non-verbal cues or gestures, so it’s important for you to use their language (autistic symptoms/traits) in order for them to understand what you mean. For example, if it makes you uncomfortable when someone stands too close, then let the person know by saying something like: “Hey, I feel uncomfortable when people stand this close… please give me some space.” And vice versa – if you want more affection and physical contact, tell them directly: “Hey, I really enjoy this… can we do __?” If it’s OK with them, then great! If not, then at least you tried.
They can have trouble expressing their needs and desires… so it’s important for you to learn the things that matter most to them. What does a particular topic or activity mean to them? A lot of times, they’ll get upset if you don’t understand what one thing means to them. It’s important for you to realize that their issues shouldn’t be ignored or discounted. Their problems are real, even though they might look like yours. Their feelings are real.
Be willing to work with them on their issues. Set a goal for yourself of being a lifelong student about Asperger’s Syndrome and autism in general. It will help you understand your significant other, and it will help them feel more accepted if they have someone who is trying to learn from them.
Not everyone with autism is the same. The best way I can describe this is that there are many points on an “autism spectrum” – just like how “tall” or “short” represent two ends of a physical spectrum…. while height is only one aspect of a person. Someone might be short, but they could also be intelligent, athletic, funny, etc… it goes beyond height.
And some people with autism are more high-functioning than others. For example, I have high-functioning Autistic Savant syndrome with co-morbid ADHD and OCPD. Someone else might be so severely affected by autism that they cannot hold down a job or take care of themselves.
Everyone is unique and will react to things differently. Just because one thing works for me does not mean it’ll work for everyone on the spectrum. With this in mind, you shouldn’t assume that all people with autism think and feel exactly like you do (and vice versa).
Be willing to be patient. It takes time for them to learn how to function in different situations, and it won’t happen overnight – especially if they’ve never had anyone teach them how.
Take things one step at a time. Don’t expect to learn everything all at once. Just because you know a few things about autism doesn’t mean that you can take care of your significant other all on your own – this is a team effort. It’s important for them to have friends and family members who are willing to help out from time to time, so don’t try and do everything yourself.
Keep an open mind. Keep in mind that “autistic” doesn’t mean less human or inferior in any way. In fact, I’m proud to be autistic because it makes me uniquely me. There’s nothing wrong with being different – it just takes some people longer than others to realize this!
Remember that there might be things that are important to them, but you might not understand. For example, some people on the spectrum have an intense obsession with a particular TV show or character. While this might seem silly or trivial to you, it’s an aspect of who they are and must be respected regardless of whether you understand it or not.
Be willing to get creative when trying to communicate needs. My fiance once wrote out her preferences in pictures because she has a hard time reading emotions that aren’t explicitly written down (for example, if someone is smiling while they’re talking, then she’ll often assume whatever they’re saying is positive even if it isn’t). It took me forever to figure out what she meant by “I want __” – in fact, I didn’t figure out what she wanted until after she let me read her journal about it! So I surprise her with my creativity every now and then.
If you’re patient, willing to learn, open-minded, willing to get creative (and honestly, that should be the bare minimum), then your relationship will flourish. If you both constantly try to bend over backwards for each other, then things will go much better than if one of you is constantly trying to “fix” the other person because they don’t understand where their significant other is coming from… or worse yet – constantly criticizing them instead of offering suggestions for how they can improve themselves.
I am far from an expert and still figuring it out, but what I do know is that we allow each other to be ourselves unless when it is detrimental to the other person or our relationship. Also, don’t believe everything you think…