Asperger’s Syndrome and Dating Part 1: growing relationships on the Autism Spectrum

Every single person is unique and different in their own special way. People speak different languages, have different cultures, skin colours and come from different countries. These distinctions should never be and usually are not a reason to stop one from being open to embracing a relationship. Relationships also all have their own challenges and each person brings their own emotional baggage to a relationship. Dating someone who is on the Autism Spectrum and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome can be viewed in a similar way. Dating always presents its own usual challenges to the partners involved and this can be seen as one of a relationship’s challenges to navigate, rather than an insurmountable obstacle.

There can be misunderstanding and uncertainty engaging in a relationship with an individual who has Asperger’s Syndrome, however it is just another title, like the many we all carry. It requires understanding and knowledge to successfully build a relationship, just as dating anyone with a varied background from yourself, and just as in dating across all relationships as every person is different. As a life coach and relationship specialist, I take a closer look and offer some advice on dating in this area.

Asperger’s Syndrome

It is important to understand what it means to have Asperger’s Syndrome. As the National Autistic Society[1] explains Asperger’s Syndrome is on the Autism Spectrum and is now referred to as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). To simplify the definition, ASD[2] is a form of high functioning Autism, and characteristics include social awkwardness, intense interest or preoccupation with certain topics, and difficulty reading cues, facial expressions or body language. The severity and characteristics differ from person to person, and it is a lifelong condition, not an environmental response. Although this can affect social interaction, emotional expression and physical contact, people with ASD are frequently highly intelligent and very successful in their particular field, and handle this unique brain wiring in practical and efficient ways. When perceiving from your own viewpoint, bear in mind that labelling is a dangerous and divisive mechanism and the best way to bridge a divide between two people is to take a step of understanding forward. People with ASD are simply people who think, process and communicate in a unique way.

Building Positive Relationships

Whether you are in a relationship with someone who has ASD or considering dating someone who is, here is some useful guidance on how to proceed in a positive way for you and your partner.

· Learn each other’s love language: In dating learning each other’s love language is a powerful way to grow your relationship. With someone who has ASD this presents an opportunity to understand that the way he or she understands and expresses love can be different to your own, as in any relationships. Individuals with ASD[3] can find it difficult to express love and affection or know the frequency which their partner would like this affirmation. Have a frank and clear conversation about what kinds of affection is important to you and how you would both like this to be expressed. You can learn more about your partner’s love language in the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Dr Gary Chapman.

· Communication coaching or counselling: A very useful experience for any couple can be going to a relationship coach or expert therapist to learn more about each other and relationship tools in a safe space. This can be particular helpful to do with an ASD partner to build social skills and understanding of the relationship for both partners under professional guidance.

· Apply logical directness: An individual with ASD thinks in a very logical and practical way[4], in your communication style one should not take expected emotional responses for granted. Instead take a direct communication approach, and outline what you would like, has upset you or makes you happy in a situation. Apply a logical (thinking) rather than emotional (feeling) perspective to one’s circumstances before taking offense at a misunderstanding and use open communications as your tool to overcome differences in perceptive. Write things down and create flow charts or guidelines to navigate recurring issues, create security and find a way forward.

· Focus on the positive: Look at what attracted you to your partner in the first place and focus on their positive attributes. This is an important attitude to maintain in relationships. It is easy to complain or become frustrated with the negative aspects in your relationship, however all relationships have challenges and no two people are exactly the same. Remember that on your journey together. Individuals with ASD are often highly intelligent, successful, extremely loyal and attentive partners. Appreciate their strengths, rather than looking for their weakness and from that viewpoint healthy relationships can flourish.

It is a misconception that people with ASD cannot be in fulfilling adult relationships[5]. As research in the field is growing, it has become apparent that with the correct strategies, an open heart and mind and commitment from both partners, intimate relationships can be as strong and successful with an individual with ASD, as with anyone else.

In conclusion, at the end of the day we are all human. ASD may be viewed as a disability; but it is also just another person who may be different to what you are familiar with and presents a great opportunity for personal and relational growth. We all need to give and receive love, and in our diversity, we are all the same. Sharing the truth about ASD opens the way for greater connection and understanding, within your relationships and your greater community. Mental health challenges have long carried a stigma, but as society, our understanding and research expands this is fortunately decreasing. You would have no problem telling your doctor or partner that you have flu, so do not let outdated attitudes hold you back from being open and sharing with your doctor, partner or friends that you have ASD or that your partner does, and use its unique strengths to build a beautiful relationship together.

Stay in touch with me more more dating & relationships tips.

[1] The National Autistic Society. (2017). Asperger Syndrome. Retrieved from: http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asperger.aspx

[2] Standford, A. (2015). Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and Long-Term Relationships: Fully Revised and Updated with DSM-5® Criteria Second Edition. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

[3] Attwood, T. (2006). Romantic relationships for young adults with asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism. Retrieved from: https://www.iancommunity.org/cs/articles/relationships.

[4]Aston. M.C (2012) Asperger Syndrome in the Bedroom‘Sexual and Relationship Therapy: International Perspectives on Theory, Research and Practice’ 27(1) 73–79.

[5]Aston, M. (2012). What Men with Asperger Syndrome Want to Know About Women, Dating and Relationships. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.