People with autism crave loving, stable relationships, just like neurotypical people do.
Relationships come in many forms, and people with autism form satisfying, lasting relationships with family members, friends, and partners. The path to quality relationships might simply look different for a person with autism.
Relationship Tips for People With Autism
It can be tough to find people you connect with in life. Meeting new people can seem overwhelming for people with autism. Honestly, it can be overwhelming for neurotypicals too.
Following a few important steps could help.
How to Meet People
In an ideal world, we easily meet people who end up being our friends for life. But the truth is that it can be hard to meet people in today’s tech-focused world.
If you don’t organically meet people in your day-to-day life, options exist.
- Build on shared interests. People with ASD often have narrow, focused passions. You might love astronomy or dinosaurs or French cooking. You’re in luck. Plenty of clubs form around interests just like this, and there, you could find a friend or partner who shares your focus.
You already have something in common with this person. That could be the foundation upon which you build a relationship.
- Look for meet-ups. Head to sites like Eventbrite or Meetup and search for “autism groups.” Many communities host events that cater to the autism community.
You gather with a group of others looking for companionship, and you enjoy fun activities together. If you find someone you like, ask to spend more time together.
- Try an app. Various apps help people connect with others who share their interests. One in particular, Making Authentic Friendships, is designed to help teens with special needs find meaningful friendships. You have to be 13 years old to sign up. Once you enter your name, age, diagnosis, and location, you can create an avatar and view other users on an interactive map.
If you do use an app, remember to watch for fraudulent activity. Many relationship apps are frequented by people who ask for money or otherwise look to steal from vulnerable people searching for companionship. When in doubt, ask a trusted friend or family member if something is helpful or harmful. A second set of eyes can be valuable.
How to Continue a Relationship
You’ve found someone you like, and you want to get to know them better. Nervousness is natural, but don’t let it keep you from enjoying your new friend’s company.
Try these communication tips:
- Practice with a mentor. Look for a friend who communicates clearly and gives feedback you can trust, experts recommend. Try out conversation topics, work through tricky moments, and otherwise get ready.
A bit of practice could help to reduce nervousness when the hangout day arrives.
- Communicate clearly. If you’re comfortable with the idea, tell your new friend about your diagnosis and how it might change the way you interact. Give them the option to tell you what they like and dislike as you spend more time together.
Remind them that feedback is important to you. The more they can tell you, the better.
- Listen closely. Don’t worry about telling your friend everything about you and your history. Let the other person talk to you.
- Remember to have fun. You’re not on a job interview. You’re spending time with someone you like and feel connected to. Focus on the fun you’re having, not the pressure you’re feeling.
Brush Up Your Skills
If you’ve struggled to make friends, a professional might be helpful. Therapists could pinpoint missing skills and help you feel more confident in social situations.
The Interactive Autism Network says autism-related therapies may help you while you make new friends. The work you did with a speech pathologist helped you learn to express yourself with words. Your teachers and therapists helped you learn to socialize. As an adolescent or adult, you may need even more help to develop strong relationships.
Some therapy programs, including one held at UCLA, help people with autism build dating skills. For example, people learn how to use nonverbal cues like smiling to express comfort while on a date.
Tips for Neurotypical Friends & Partners
People with autism are much the same as everyone else. They want companionship, they have hopes, they dream big. But sensitivity to the diagnosis and the challenges that commonly come with it can help friendships to grow.
If your friend is autistic:
- Take things slowly. Autism rigidity is real, and it can impact new friendships. Before you plan a surprise dinner or switch up dinner plans, talk with your friend. Some people with autism need time to process decisions, even when they’re small. Respect that tendency.
- Be generous with space. Some people with ASD describe feeling overwhelmed at work or school and exhausted at home. They spend all day trying to keep symptoms in check and keep coworkers comfortable. When they arrive at home, they need time to decompress.
Don’t intervene with repeated calls, visits, or chatter unless the person invites you to do so.
- Be explicit. Some people with autism struggle with nonverbal communication, and you might interpret their silence as indifference. If you’ve had a hard day and need support, explain that need in clear terms.
Talk about what you need and when you need it. Don’t expect the person to read your mind.
- Ask questions. Some people with autism explain that they need to stim (flap their hands, jump up and down, or otherwise move their bodies) after hard days. This may seem unusual to you, but it may be soothing to them.
If you see behaviors you don’t understand, ask about them. Listen to the answers without judgment. You could develop a deeper understanding of the person.
- Understand the spectrum. Each person with autism is different, and so is every relationship. Don’t assume that the lessons you’ve learned about autism from movies and television shows automatically pertain to the person in your life.
Read first-person narratives written by people with autism, and you’ll see that diversity in action. Remember that your friend is a person, not a diagnosis.
All friendships need time and nourishment to blossom. Approach each friendship with curiosity and compassion, whether your partner has autism or not, and you’re in a great position to develop a relationship that lasts.
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