If people with autism struggle with relational skills, such as emotional connectedness, can they hope to be successful in finding a romantic relationship? The answer cannot be a blanket statement, and much of the answer depends on the individual with autism. Some people on the severer end of the autism spectrum, who cannot speak or function independently, may or may not come to the point of experiencing a romantic relationship later in life.
The common misconception of men and women with autism is that they are not interested in dating and exploring love. But this perception is based on the fact that relating socially and picking up on social cues is a source of anxiety for people with autism. These relational struggles, however, do not equate with disinterest, even though the stress and sense of self-defeat may dissuade an autistic person from even attempting romance. In a study done by Toronto’s Redpath Centre, just 32.1 percent of people with autism had had a partner and only 9 percent were married. This contrasts with the statistics of the general population where about 50 percent of adults are married.
The statistics reveal a lack of transitional support from childhood intervention programs to adult programs that address areas like romantic relationships. A diagnosis of autism does not eradicate the essential desire in people to need intimacy. The desire is present, even if the means to achieve the desire – such as confident eye contact, an appropriate smile, looking and not staring – requires intervention by sources that understand autism. The main problem reported for the current lack of tools to help autistic people romantically is funds.
Underlying the lack of funds is the lack of awareness that autistic people do want romance and can be successful in it with some help. Since childhood, expressing emotions and showing care and affection were challenging for autistic individuals.
The example of perseverance and courage of one man with autism, Todd Simkover, is inspiring at the same time full of pathos. To reach the goal of finding love that comes much more naturally to neurotypicals, such as flirting, people on the autism spectrum must go against what is natural for them and risk high rates of rejection because of their disorder.
Simkover, desires a romantic relationship and prepares for the dating situation with painstaking care. He tells himself not to do all the talking, to give the girl her space, and to find a place without too much noise. He reminds himself of what nonverbal cues to watch for. He’s even gone so far as to initiate bold, spontaneous icebreakers, like going to a diamond shop instead of what’s most natural to him – sticking to a plan.
But no matter how much preparation someone with autism does for a date to conduct oneself well, most people with autism cannot sense if the other person is interested in them or not.
Autism Daily Newscast reported on resources for teenagers and dating earlier this year. We also reported on the documentary film Autism In Love, currently under production. More on this topic will be discussed in the next article.