Autism Spectrum News: Three Ways You Can Help Your Child Date Smarter and Feel Less Frustrated

Autism Spectrum News:  Three Ways You Can Help Your Child Date Smarter and Feel Less Frustrated

Reprinted from the Autism Spectrum News, Fall 2014, p.24.

Autism Spectrum News Dating and Relationship Issue

My former client beckoned me over to his table as I sat down for dinner with professor Stephen Shore, who had been a guest at my class. Before I could say, “great to see you,” my former client grabbed the hand of the young lady next to him, held it up high, and proudly showed off the engagement ring she was wearing.

My former client was no shoe-in for relationship success. He struggled with speech problems, motor skills and lack of self-confidence. Nevertheless, he forayed into the dating world. First, he started attending singles events but was too shy to approach strangers. Then, he signed up for an online dating site but did not know how to use it effectively. In short, he was long on frustration and short on progress.

So how did my former client end up engaged?

With the help of his support network, he focused his sights on a strategy of creating friendships that he could transition into romantic relationships.

As a dating coach, workshop leader and blogger specializing in singles on the spectrum, I am privileged to collect success stories in the autism dating world and I am happy to report that there are countless people, like my former client, who found their special someone using the same strategy. So, what follows is a roadmap to help you leverage the same strategy for your son or daughter.

Start with Your Son or Daughter’s Interests

At a recent ASPEN conference, Dr. Temple Grandin told a story about how a young couple with autism fell in love. In one respect, the couple was like any other: they shared a passion around which they bonded.

Beyond having autism, what justified including this story in a keynote speech?

Their common interest wasn’t traveling the globe or trying new restaurants or running in the park. They bonded over computer data storage systems.

“Find your child’s interests,” said Professor Shore. “Then find others with that same interest and use that as a point of connection. For example, I made many friends via my interest in bicycles. I joined bicycling clubs and went on rides.”

Uncovering your child’s interest may require a little more plumbing than simply asking. I have met with many clients who, when asked about their interests, list anime, video games, science fiction, computers and not much else. I agree with Dr. Grandin that those passions are non-starters because they are solitary pursuits. Luckily, in my experience, when presented with a long list of social activities many clients express a surprising willingness to expand their horizons.

You should be prepared to help your child begin the process of finding social pursuits. There are a host of internet resources – my favorite being Meetup.com – that list local social events and specific interest groups. You will be surprised at the diversity of meet-ups in your area.

Start Friendships Online and Move Them Offline

For all the downsides of the social media, there is a certain beauty to it for people on the spectrum. For one thing, it is a tool for two people with esoteric interests to find each other. For another, it requires less proficiency in the “hidden curriculum” of interpersonal interaction than meeting strangers offline.

The key to effectively using social media is to focus on making friends that can transition into an off-line friendship.

One woman who shared her story with my readers at Hitchcraft Dating met her husband on Facebook. They shared a mutual friend and she was touched by a comment her now-husband left on their friend’s Facebook wall. She sent him an email and they progressed from there.

Another woman who shared her story with my readers met her boyfriend on reddit.com (what that means is still a mystery to me).

If those two options are too daunting or too public, there are also online autism bulletin boards on which fellow spectrumites can share experiences and connect with one another. Some of my clients report feeling less judged in those communities than in unregulated social media, which boost their willingness to reach out to like-minded strangers.

Your child should always keep in mind that online friends should be vetted before meeting in person.

Increase His or Her Exposure to Mixed Disability Groups

Lynette Louise, author of Miracles Are Made, is the mother of a married son who is on the spectrum. She says, two people with autism may be a “recipe for intense and immediate connection or revulsion.” However, people on the spectrum may “do well with other very different disorders.”

Though I share her opinion, it is not always welcomed by parents. Recently, for example, a mother contacted me because her son’s struggles with social skills contributed to his consistent dating failures. She became irate as I explained that my strategy would be to broaden her son’s search beyond neurotypical women. She demanded to know why I thought her college-educated son was incapable of dating “normal” women.

He is not, of course, incapable of dating “normal” women. The world is replete with couples in which only one partner is on the spectrum. More often, however, singles on the spectrum are rejected by neurotypical potential partners, which contributes to a cycle of frustration and hopelessness. Experiencing small victories goes a long way towards breaking that cycle.

I want your child to develop friendships with potential partners who are complementary, understanding, and supportive. For that reason, I am an unapologetic fan of developing friendships with people in different special needs communities.

If your child is a member of an autism-only organization, encourage its leaders to host events with other special needs groups. If that is not an option, consider organizing a regular social gathering for local singles with varying special needs.

In sum, there are an infinite number of paths two people can take to go from strangers to partners, and the most prevalent in the autism community appears to be friendship first. So, support your child in his or her friendship development and counsel him or her on transitioning the most promising ones into something more. And then spread the word that finding love on the spectrum is eminently possible.

Jeremy Hamburgh is Coordinator of the Adaptations, Dating and Relationship Group. He conducts one-on-one coaching sessions in person and via Skype and also leads customer-tailored workshops for special needs organizations. For more information, please visit www.hitchcraftdating.com or email Jeremy at Jeremy@HitchcraftDating.com.

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