It’s Autism Awareness Week and most advice articles out there are aimed at autism sufferers. In his new book, Look Into My Eyes, Dan Jones give an honest and frank look at the ups and downs of living with autism, as well as tips and advice for parents, loved ones, carers, teachers, friends and employers. The book also includes a chapter written by Dan’s wife Abbie about her experiences of being in a relationship with someone with autism. "Whenever I talk about my experiences living with autism the question I get asked most is what is it like for my wife to be married to me?” says Dan. "As autism involves social communication difficulties, challenges with understanding the emotions of others and a desire for routine and structure, people are interested in how that works in practice."
Here, Dan shares 7 things you need to know about dating someone with autism.
They are likely to be brutally honest
Most people with autism are brutally honest; they will say things which could hurt your feelings, but they aren’t saying those things to hurt you, they are saying those things because they believe them to be true. If you go clothes shopping with them, try something on and ask for their opinion - they will honestly give it! They won’t tell you something looks good on you if they don’t think it does. If you cook a meal for them and they don’t like it, they will tell you it was disgusting. Their responses can hurt your feelings, but when they give you praise, or say they like something, it means so much because you know they mean it. If they tell you they love you, then they truly, honestly love you, because if they didn’t they would tell you this, and wouldn’t be with you.
They are likely to suddenly get angry about things which seem insignificant to you
Because they live in a world where the sensitivity of their senses is dialled up to the max, things that don’t bother you can be overwhelming and painful for them. You could be in a restaurant with them and suddenly they get angry and feel they need to leave because the noise level is too high, or because waiting staff keep talking to them, or being in a shop which is too busy can make them feel they need to escape and if they can’t do this easily they can become angry.
They are likely to take what you say literally
Those with autism often take things literally, so if you have an argument with them and tell them to go away (meaning to perhaps go to another room so that you stop arguing with each other) they may walk out of the home with no intention of ever returning. You have to be clear with how you explain things to them, even saying that some food you are eating is sharp can make them think you have just eaten some food which was physically sharp which may have hurt you. Or if you tell them to wait a minute, they will assume you literally mean wait for one minute.
They are likely to have black and white, catastrophic thinking
For many with autism they see things as being black and white; things are either good or bad and they can overreact to things going to extremes. So if you tell them to go away they may think you mean go away for good and never return and that this is the end of the relationship. If they are talking too loudly and you tell them to talk quieter they may stop talking altogether. They may think unrealistic catastrophic outcomes to things, like thinking that if they pull their bankcard out of a chip and pin machine before the notification to remove the card is showing on screen they will wipe their bank balance and bring down the whole system in the shop, making everything crash. But the black and white thinking will also mean they either love you or they don’t, so whereas you may have doubts and ask them whether they love you or not, they will see it as black and white, you are with the person you love, and if you don’t love them you aren’t with them.
They will expect you to instigate most of the affection
Those with autism want love and affection as much as anyone else, but they don’t necessarily have the social skills to know what to do in a relationship, so they are either likely to try to do what they want to do, and at times may behave inappropriately or misread signals, or they are likely to want you to take control in the relationship and instigate love and affection. This, for them, is the safe option. Some things may not cross their mind; they can focus on their interests so much that they forget to pay you attention, so you need to get their attention and instigate the affection. Most people with autism don’t instinctively think to give hugs or kisses, tell you they love you, or give other signs of affection, so you often have to instigate these. Often as they learn, they get better at consciously deciding to do these things. Just because they don’t do these things doesn’t mean they don’t love you. From their perspective, if they didn’t love you they wouldn’t be with you, so because they have chosen to be with you, they expect you to see this as evidence of their love.
They will want to spend most of their time focusing on what interests them
Most people with autism develop intense interests. Most of their time will be spent focused on what they are interested in and when they talk to people they want to talk about their interest, often for many hours expecting everyone to be as interested in the subject as they are. They often have very little time for talking about anything else and can be blunt with people about how they are boring them when others start talking about a different topic. One of the advantages of them being in a relationship is that they have to learn to listen to another person and you can help them to understand when to focus on others and why this is helpful, helping them learn to vary their conversation.
They don’t like change
Most people with autism don’t like change, they like things to stay the same. They often keep the same interests and tastes over decades, perhaps even for life, whereas other people may have their taste in music for example, change over time. They may wear the same clothes every day, year after year, rather than update their wardrobe. They may have the same haircut year after year, with no change in style. Once they have a routine they often want that routine to remain in place and aren’t usually good at doing things spontaneously. Once they fall in love they are often a devoted and loyal partner. When change happens, they can get angry or anxious. For example, if you have made plans to go somewhere and then don’t feel up to it on the day, they will expect that because it was planned you should still do what was planned.
Dan Jones has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism spectrum disorder. He has almost 20 years of professional experience working with people with autism and their parents and carers. His new book Look Into My Eyes: Asperger’s, Hypnosis, and Me is available from Amazon and other retailers in paperback and eBook formats, priced from £4.99. The book takes you on a journey into the mind of someone with autism, letting you see the world through autistic eyes, as well as sharing tips and strategies for those living and working with an autism sufferer. It has been described as the book 'everyone should read’.