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Bad Advice for Autistic Dating

Some relationship problems are universal.

by
Hannah Sternberg

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August 8, 2013 - 9:00 am
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From The Atlantic this week:

The aspects of autism that can make everyday life challenging—reading social cues, understanding another’s perspectives, making small talk and exchanging niceties—can be seriously magnified when it comes to dating. Though the American Psychiatric Association defines autism as a spectrum disorder—some people do not speak at all and have disabilities that make traditional relationships (let alone romantic ones) largely unfeasible, but there are also many who are on the “high-functioning” end and do have a clear desire for dating and romance. …

Certain characteristics associated with the autism spectrum inherently go against typical dating norms. For example, while a “neuro-typical” person might think a bar is great place for a first date, it could be one of the worst spots for someone on the spectrum. Dorsey Massey, a social worker who helps run dating and social programs for adults with various intellectual disabilities, explained, “If it’s a loud, crowded place, an individual on the spectrum may be uncomfortable or distracted.” Sensory issues may also make certain lights and noises especially unpleasant.

Confession: I’m fascinated with the unique lives and challenges of people with Asperger’s autism spectrum disorders. I’m drawn to articles like this one because one of the characters in the adventure YA novel I’m working on right now shows Aspergian traits. He falls in love with a princess, and must endure all sorts of upsetting and routine-destroying adventures. To try and understand and portray how he would interact with his princess and other adventure companions, I’ve read a lot of articles and books about dating advice for people with Asperger’s Syndrome (which according to the APA doesn’t exist anymore, but that’s a different blog post). I love Penelope Trunk’s ruthlessly honest writing about her life with Asperger’s. And I love how people with Asperger’s have gained new mainstream attention (and widespread acceptance) through portrayals in shows like The Big Bang Theory (Sheldon Cooper) and Community (Abed Nadir).

So, what’s wrong with this article? It doesn’t really delve into the challenges that are very thoroughly specific to relationship-seekers with Asperger’s. In fact, most of the challenges the article describes just sound like the foibles anyone puts up with when dating. I don’t doubt that people with Asperger’s suffer them to a higher degree, and possibly have less wiggle room to adapt their personal outlook to overcome them. I just think that: 1) There could have been a much more in-depth article written about the truly unique dating challenges that only people with Asperger’s face; and 2) an article like this perpetuates the myth that anyone who experiences the challenges it describes, when dating, is “weird” and very different from the rest of the dating masses, and that they’re doing it all wrong.

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