The pandemic complicated everyone’s social life, but Valentine’s Day was already complicated for many people interested in dating relationships, including self-advocates. Speaking of complicated, has a parent ever taken you on a date with them? What was that like for you? One holiday we went to a restaurant for dinner and trivia night and I asked for a table for three: myself, my daughter, and my partner. My daughter can tell you what it was like in her own words: “I don’t want to be a third wheel*. I want to go on my own date with my own friend…like you.”
It is likely that you are reading this blog because you:
- are interested in dating,
- tried to date and want to get better at dating,
- have never dated and have questions,
- or you want to know how to support someone who is interested in dating.
It took a lot for my daughter to say that she did not want to come along on my dates. That was important for me to hear. Parents and those supporting you sometimes are figuring it out as we go. While well-meaning, we can make mistakes. Likewise, we may invite you to spend time with us because we do not want you to be by yourself and we would rather have a table for three than you have a table for one. We worry about you meeting people, being safe, and we want you to enjoy life and make memories. We also intentionally model life and are interacting as mentors and parents when you are present, with the hope that we are setting examples you will follow.
That said, it makes sense that you do not want to be a third wheel. It makes sense when you desire a companion or want to have your own text or phone conversation with someone you are dating or interested in dating. It makes sense to desire a dating relationship, or no dating relationship at all. What you want in relationships can change over time. Knowing your relationship preferences and conveying them to others is part of self-awareness and self-advocacy.
Dating means different things to different people. Simply put, “dating is two people in an intimate* relationship.” Dating is part of American culture with origins dating back to the 1920’s. However, dating resources are somewhat newer to us and dating resources for individuals on the autism spectrum newer than that. At one time, there was not much information for dating on the autism spectrum. Now, you can use a search engine and find articles, books, and videos focused on providing awareness, so people who date on the autism spectrum are understood and have successful casual and intimate partner relationships. A list of some of these resources is at the end of this blog.
For eight years my role was to teach people how to experience healthy relationships including dating relationships. The basics for healthy dating relationships are the same for everyone. Being on the spectrum, an individualized approach to learning these basics is helpful.
Self-advocates who are interested in dating report experiencing challenges like:
- Limited dating invitations from peers
- Unfamiliar language or inexperience with social cues
- Limited social networks to identify potential people to date
- Lacking autonomy in their relationship choices
Knowing these challenges provides an advantage. We can work to build skills and increase our dating opportunities to prepare ourselves for dating. So, how do people prepare to date? Honestly, other than a few lessons in Health class or guest presentations at school, most people do not take time to understand dating before they attempt it. If more people studied how to have healthy relationships and identified challenges to dating, they would be more successful.
So, before we get to the romantic stuff and how to interact on a date, let’s review these 6 Dating Basics (pdf). You can use this resource to learn more about yourself and relationships and communicate your dating goals with others. Like learning to drive, first we study as much as we can about operating a vehicle, then we hit the road* or drive a vehicle! Likewise, we can learn about dating before we even have an actual date, or we can study for future dates.
*Figurative language in the blog:
Table for Two: when dining out, the number indicates how many people need to be seated
Third Wheel: the third person in a group who may feel they should not be part of that group because of the relationship between the two other individuals
Intimate: a warm friendship developing through long association
Hit the Road: to leave or begin a journey
If you would like to learn more, contact:
Courtney Chavis, Triage Specialist
Webinar on Feb. 17: The Basics of Sexuality Education in Autism/ Fundamentos de la Educacion Sexual en el Autismo (offered in English and Spanish)
Register for the Webinar
What is Dating (pdf)
Teen Dating Violence Awareness, from D’Amore Mental Health
Note to reader: This blog is for educational purposes only.
The information provided in this blog is not intended as a recommendation, referral, or endorsement of any resource or to verify the credentials, qualifications, or abilities of any organization, product or provider. The Autism Society of North Carolina urges you to investigate and request references when considering any treatment method, resource, or service provider.
Courtney Chavis, ASNC Triage Specialist and mom to a daughter with autism, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tags: Asperger's Syndrome, autism, autism acceptance, autism advocacy, autism communication, autism dating, autism relationships, autism self-advocate, autism social skills, Autism Spectrum Disorder