Dating, with its unpredictable outcomes and unspoken language of social cues, can be difficult enough – but when you have a condition such as Autism or Asperger Syndrome, you add on a whole new level of complexity. It’s the reason why many people with both conditions have been turning to online dating.
Tom Morgan, who is on the autistic spectrum and appeared on C4 TV’s The Undateables, in the hope of finding a partner, explained the dilemmas he found when attempting to date face-to-face: “The whole process is much harder for people on the spectrum. Sometimes it feels like it might be easier to be alone.”
Tom who is 28, pointed out how uncomfortable he felt when meeting girls for a date in a bar, restaurant or cinema. The lights, noise and tastes that he encountered in such ‘standard’ first date venues could, he said, prove unbearable due to his difficulties with hyper-sensitivity and need to move around.
Another difficulty he found was the whole issue of how much to reveal about his condition, and at what stage.
In an interview in the Guardian newspaper he said: “It feels like catch-22. If you tell them straight away it might scare them off, but then if you wait it looks as if you’ve been hiding something. I want people to know I have a condition but also to get to know me as a person.”
The need for patience and understanding is a key to dating for individuals – of both sexes – with Autism or Aspergers.
It’s not that they don’t feel strong emotions such as love and attraction, but rather that they’re not quite sure how to express them and when it’s appropriate to do so.
My website Disabilitymatch.co.uk has seen many individuals with autism joining up. Now in its sixth year there are around 9,000 subscribers (three times more males than females) who have chosen to register in this category – that’s around 25 per cent of the website’s total subscriber count.
As a website owner and dating coach I notice that Individuals come to the site because they’ve had problems with conventional dating sites, usually in terms of misinterpreting emails or not being able to ‘see’ what’s behind someone’s words.
If you know you’re writing to someone with autism or who is on the autistic spectrum then you can tailor emails in the hope of preventing any misunderstandings.
Niche sites are about not just lessening ambiguity, but also proving a ‘safe space’ in which individuals with autism can hopefully build up a good relationship.
Speaking as an experienced one-to-one dating coach and life transition consultant for disabled individuals, specialist sites could also prove very useful when it comes to people meeting up for the first time.
Because it’s often difficult for someone with autism or Aspergers to read another person’s body language, it can become confusing to tell whether or not a romantic relationship is on the cards.
Then there is the physical aspect – a spontaneous cuddle from someone not familiar with autism can prove extremely uncomfortable for the recipient.
Certainly, subscribers have acknowledged that knowing all this about each other before meeting – if subscribers choose to do so – takes a lot of pressure off that potentially nerve-wracking first date.
Judith.B, who is on the spectrum revealed to me how much easier she found it to talk online. She met her husband that way and they now have a son.
“I can't tell when someone is interested in a person,” she said. “Also, I can't talk to people in person unless they talk to me first and even then it can still be very awkward.
“Anyhow, we chatted online for a long time on a site. Then we talked on the phone before meeting in person. The site allowed us to be friends without meeting then be better friends after meeting. In my opinion you are definitely more comfortable meeting someone after you get to know them a bit online.”
Meanwhile, a Los Angeles-based speech language coach who works with individuals with autism said she believed her clients were nicer to date than the general population due to the fact they were “well-planned and more organized”
She added: “They are often honest, clear, less manipulative, loyal and sincere in relationships - all qualities often lacking in today’s dating world.”
Tips for Online dating for those with Autism
· Don’t give away personal information online such as your address, bank/credit card details or passwords.
· Don’t say when you’re not going to be at home ie if you’re away for the weekend, out at work etc.
· Make sure your photographs aren’t indecent or indicate where you live or work etc.
· Be aware that whatever you type and send online can’t be erased.
· Make sure you have strong anti-virus software on your computer.
Guest post written by dating coach and owner of the site Disability Match David Miller.