A recent event in Tel Aviv adapted speed dating for people with Asperger's syndrome:
For someone in the know, there were some indications that this wasn't quite your everyday speed dating. For instance, the Tel Aviv event had only seven rounds of seven minutes each instead of the usual 10 rounds, and there were counselors on hand to help the participants, most of them aged 25-30, navigate the rough waters of social relationships.
There were also tip sheets that advised the approximately 15 juice-sipping and cookie-nibbling daters in attendance that "this is not the time to talk about your problems" and that they should show an interest in the people they meet, but not subject them to the third degree. And the MCs prepared participants for disappointment, saying the evening was a valuable exercise in social interaction even if it doesn't lead to long-lasting love.
This focus on dating for autistic people reflects a change in how we understand autism itself:
"For years, people diagnosed with conditions on the autistic spectrum were thought to have no interest in finding love," said Ofer Golan, an Asperger's syndrome specialist and a senior lecturer in the psychology department at Bar-Ilan University. "Today we know that they actually very much desire romantic relationships, but their abilities in this aspect of life are limited. They have a hard time reading the other person, they're very direct, and are often perceived as annoying. On a first date, for example, they're capable of talking about marriage."
Watch Alex Plank learn how to flirt and ask someone out on a date in the first episode of a news series from Autism Talk TV that will focus on social skills for people with Asperger's syndrome. Alex gets some advice from Dr. Liz Laugeson of UCLA's PEERS Program, then puts it into practice with "a real girl." Cute and the advice is good.
"having a child with autism can be, in the eyes of some men, the dating equivalent of being an H.I.V.-positive crack addict with 30 cats"Submitted by Landon Bryce on Thu, 04/19/2012 - 12:54
I'm really sorry that Hannah Brown is still so upset about her divorce.
And I'd sad that she can't find a guy to date who will accept her autistic teenage son. But I'm guessing her need to complain nonstop about that son, her ex-husband, and every other male on the planet would probably make it hard for her to get a second date even if she followed her friend's advice and lied about her son's age.
Imagine you're a guy out on a date with someone who thinks of guys in general like this:
But as my friend said, having a child with autism can be, in the eyes of some men, the dating equivalent of being an H.I.V.-positive crack addict with 30 cats. The men around my age have children of their own to worry about, or, if they’ve never had children, it may be because they aren’t comfortable with even the best-behaved kids. No matter what I say, they will be afraid that they’ll end up having to deal with my son, and a kid like him is the last thing they want to add to their already complicated lives.
Middle-aged men in the dating pool are realists. They’ve got to make their child-support payments. They had enough trouble dealing with their own divorces. A difficult child is not welcome in their universe.
Would you be eager for a second evening with someone who sees you in those terms?
I would not.
No matter how many children of whatever type that person has or does not have.
I am sad for Hannah Brown, but I am disappointed in The New York Times for publishing this, especially since they often do such great autism coverage.
At least they didn't let her lie about autism and divorce.
In my last post, I shared the reactions of some disability activists to a new TV show called "The Undateables." You can decide for yourself whether or not the show is offensive by watching the segments that focus on Richard, a 37-year-old man who has Asperger's syndrome (video at the end of this piece).
It's a mixed bag. Richard's a handsome guy who is into amateur radios and, prior to the show, had only had one date in the last twenty years. It only lasted twenty minutes, and you'll understand why. He goes on two dates here. In one, he does not order dinner for himself, and the date leaves soon after he starts eating hers. In the other, he sits in a tea shop and flexes his very nice biceps for a very uncomfortably long time.
It's hard to know if Richard is actually as annoying as he seems or if the producers have come in with ideas about people with Asperger's ("they are inflexible") and looked for footage that supports it (Richard is nervous about driving and does not want to date anyone who lives far away.)
There are good ideas, like going for a dress rehearsal before a date, but there's a lot more of Richard being sad or frustrated.
Amelia McDonell-Parry has written a piece which is painful in its honesty about what it is like for people with autism in the dating world. As angry as parts of it make me, I am grateful that she has been so bravely open about what the experience of dating a man with autism taught her about herself. The whole thing is worth reading. I'm going to focus on a few ugly truths that she reveals about autism and the world of dating.
1) Many NT people think they deserve things that people with autism cannot give them.
Amelia begins by describing herself on Facebook, upset about the active life her ex Paul is leading, then thinking:
You’re over him. You realized you deserved way better than what he could possibly give. There’s no point in being angry.
Lucky Paul. Many people feel, legitimately or not, that being with a romantic partner who has autism means settling for less than their birthright. If you feel victimized by your partner's neurology, you need to break things off, as Amelia very wisely did.
2) Because of our immaturity, people with autism often attract other immature people. This is a recipe for disaster.
Amelia is attracted to Paul because of his poetry and the way he dresses. She loves the way he sees past her and lets her be herself. This is the material of high school crushes, not the sort of real relationship that would make moving to new city to support it a good idea. Neither Paul nor Amelia has the maturity to recognize just how premature it is for both of them to be talking like this, midway through a relationship that lasted only three months:
At first, we had shared visions for what he called “Us-ness.” He was going to move to New York, something he had already been sort of considering, but my being there made his decision to relocate from rural Connecticut a done deal. He was going to live with a friend for a few months, but more than once, he mentioned us living together sooner rather than later. He brought me to meet his family, which, in my book, is a major indication of trust in a relationship. This was heightened by the fact that his mom was recently paralyzed and bedridden; by inviting me to meet her, a woman who means more to him than anyone, I felt moved and honored.
“They’re really happy,” he told me one night. “My mom, especially, is happy to know I’ve got someone to watch over me.” I knew how important that was. After all, if not for his mother’s constant attention when he was a child first exhibiting signs of autism, he might not have ever made eye contact, let alone been confident reading in public. I felt a happiness I hadn’t experienced in a long time knowing that he wanted me to meet the woman who helped him become the wonderful, competent man I was rapidly falling in love with.
3) Just because NT people are willing to put up with autistic behavior early in a relationship, that does not mean they do not resent it. Those resentments will need to be worked through later.
I didn’t care that his sensitivity to taste and smell left 99 percent of the foods I loved to cook off the menu; I didn’t mind that his lack of social graces made it so he didn’t think to ask other people questions about themselves; I didn’t even get too irritated when his lack of tact—difficult for him to be aware of, let alone control—caused him to say things that would otherwise be considered rude. I liked him, loved him just the way he was.
Lots of people with autism are so literal that if someone tells us they don't mind something, we fail to pick up on the correct message, which is that they actually mind it very much. None of the things Amelia mentions are unreasonable things to complain about and require some sort of compromise regarding. But all of them are things that she clearly resented and pretended, even to herself, that she didn't.
If you are going to be in a relationship with someone who has autism, it will sometimes be a battle to get your needs met. Make that battle explicit. Say when your feelings are hurt. Make your needs as visible as possible, and insist that the autistic person you love take them seriously.
4) Maybe he's just not that into you. Even if he's autistic.
I miss you and I can’t wait to see you! I would often text him, thinking I was showing my excitement, my appreciation that he was moving to be with me. The thought that someone would do such a thing was strangely astounding and it made me glow. But our actual verbal conversations became less frequent. Paul had told me that he viewed phone, email, text, and IM communication to be on the same level, that he felt just as connected to me virtually—by getting a text or having an IM conversation—as he did by hearing my voice over the phone. I would remind myself of that as finding time to chat became more difficult and I felt insecurity creeping over me. I was so focused on understanding Paul’s perspective on communication that I forgot about prioritizing my own, which was that these types of communication were not on the same level for me. That I needed to hear his voice more often. That his not sharing that need was making me feel even more alone.
Paul is communicating to Amelia that he needs more distance by using more distant forms of communication-- preferring texting over talking. Because he uses his autism to explain this away, she does not understand that it is an act of communication that she should pay attention to.
And, again, Paul needs to be challenged on his bad behavior and asked to compromise regarding it. If you're dating someone, he should consider the communication that you need as well as the communication that is comfortable for you. If you let someone with autism get away with things like this early in a relationship, he will be puzzled if you want to "change the rules" later.
5) People with autism often shut down when faced with overwhelming emotional need.
Amelia first becomes very angry with Paul because he backs out of a large trip with her at the last minute. She's right to be mad, but the argument she describes indicates to me that she didn't really understand the issue. He says that her desire to see him is so great that it is all he feels from her. She interprets this as selfishness:
The concept of fulfilling my desires—particularly my desire to him—because they were so strongly mine, felt disingenuous to him. In addition to not going to the wedding—which I had decided to skip as well—he didn’t think we should see each other for a few days. I felt like he was withholding contact, almost as a punishment for wanting to see him so badly. He said he hated disappointing me, but I got the sense that he didn’t understand what was so disappointing. In turn, I felt like the disappointment.
Understanding that your love and need for someone else can be so intense that it becomes painful for hard. But it's the same reason we can't look you in the eye: there is so much emotion, so much need, so much you there, that we sometimes just can't handle it. It's humiliating to be unable to meet the needs of someone who you love. It's humiliating to be unable to face to rigors of travel.
I certainly understand why Amelia felt punished when Paul withdrew from her. But she really seems not to take seriously at all the idea that her intense emotion could cause him pain.
6) People with autism can be total jerks.
Amelia ends the relationship over something completely appropriate. Her father is seriously injured, and Paul doesn't even respond to her emails. If he cannot rise to the occasion in a situation where she needs major support, even when given several days to do so, he's not boyfriend material. Maybe he could have done better, maybe not. From Amelia's perspective, I'm not sure that should matter.
7) Neurotypical people think that autistic people could really behave ourselves if we just tried harder.
Amelia cannot admit to herself that being in a relationship with someone with Paul's level of disability is beyond her. So she blames him, saying:
Paul’s autism may make it hard for him to empathize with the needs of others, but he has demonstrated throughout his life that his intelligence at least allows him to understand that those needs exist. Having autism has made so many “normal” things not come naturally to him and he, in order to thrive in the world, had to learn to do the unnatural. Autism wasn’t stopping him from doing the very simple things that I needed to feel respected and cared for —being selfish was.
I can't know if Paul was being selfish in ways that he could help or not. And, again, I'm not sure that should matter to Amelia.
But this is what NT failure to take autism seriously looks and sounds like. "If he's smart enough to do this, he must be able to to do that." No. That's not the way it works. I don't know what my autism will let me do tomorrow. And that's enormously frustrating, for both me and people who count on me. But it's not selfishness.