Navigating the Dating Scene with Autism

"Awareness simply means to acknowledge that Autism exists; Acceptance is to acknowledge its value."

Dating on the Spectrum

So today I found the most beautiful video that went viral online about a teenage boy asking a teen girl to the prom and I thought this blog would be the perfect complement to it. The video had a few similarities to one of my favorite 80’s films, “Say Anything” where John Cusack holds his boombox in front of the girl’s house while blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”…so romantic! Come on, that movie is timeless and I know you’re remembering that scene! And sadly, I have just revealed that I’m old enough to remember that movie as a teenager *ahem*…

Navigating the dating world can be pretty rough for people, regardless of whether or not you have an Autism diagnosis. There are so many unspoken social rules: engaging in conversation; (or that awkward silence that often goes with not knowing what to say); harmless jokes for giggles; body language; body orientation; that first kiss – yikes! We often take for granted these unspoken social rules of engagement, and I am the first to admit that I have struggled with several of these for most of my teenage and adult life. After all, a lot of what we consider ‘social norms’ don’t always come with a book of instructions and we often learn by trial & error on what works, and what to chuck in the trash.

So, what can be done to help navigate the dating scene with Autism? Here are a few simple tricks for parents to prepare for the inevitable when our babies grow up into functioning adults:

Role Play: while this may sound like an archaic strategy, it actually works really well! This would be the perfect time to grab a sibling or your child’s friend so you can cash in on a teenager’s perspective. For example, teens (both neurotypical and those with special needs) know what is considered ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’ with their peers. So, grabbing a teen to help with roleplay is perfect for getting your son/daughter to master such concepts as: conversation, appropriate jokes or quibbles, when (or if) to hold hands, how to understand another person’s body language and what it represents, etc.

Bust out the 80’s Rom-Com’s: Keeping in line with the example of “Say Anything” above, let’s face it: the 80’s produced some pretty epic romance-comedy movies: Say Anything, Sixteen Candles, The Princess Bride, Splash, The Pick-up Artist, Pretty in Pink, and Can’t Buy Me Love – to just name a few (and I just had the ultimate flashback to my childhood!) These movies that are flooded with romance, and romantic plots can be used as a serious educational tool to help promote better understanding of both spoken and unspoken language that occurs with them. Parents: you are the ultimate judge on what shows you find appropriate for your child. I suggest watching the show(s) with your child to ensure that your son/daughter is understanding the nuances of the spoken and unspoken social cues. Using a simple Q&A strategy, with open-ended questions such as “Why did she…” or “How come he…” can help secure their understanding of both spoken and unspoken language.

Ouch, this hurts: No parent wants to hear of their kiddo going through heartbreak or feeling rejected, but it is a natural and often unavoidable part of growing up. Try roleplaying with your child to help them understand the difference between acceptance and rejection, including ways in which they can respond if rejected (i.e., “Ok, no worries. Maybe I’ll see you around school”).

Sensory Awareness: sensory issues are a concern for many teens/young adults with ASD. Having a squishy ball, or other small sensory item accessible, that is socially appropriate, can help with sensory issues, should they arise. Also, if you know your child has sensory issues regarding touch, work with your child on touch alternatives that can be less aversive, such as holding hands instead of a hug, or a kiss on the cheek instead of on the lips.

Time for Small Talk: The inevitable ‘small talk’ is often seen as an ice-breaker when on a date, but can be tough for kids with ASD. Two books that come highly recommended for asking cool and casual questions about pretty much anything and everything are: The Book of Questions, and 4000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone. Check them out!

Make sure to tell your friends about the fastest growing online parent support community at: and stay tuned for some exciting giveaways, seminars and e-books!

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The Autism Analyst