The author and her partner wearing shirts that say [love] with the o as a puzzle piece

Autism and Dating

As an adult with autism, I do everything a bit differently than most, so it should come as no surprise that I have a partner who is different than most.

He is kind, intelligent and compassionate. It sounds cliché, but before he and I began dating, some of his good friends were autistic! He is knowledgeable about autism, and what he can’t relate to, he tries to understand.

I believe the key to autism and dating is understanding and open communication. Dating can be complex and difficult, and when you add autism to the mix, it can bring a new set of unique challenges. Often, those of us on the spectrum have difficulties carrying out social norms in romantic relationships. It can be difficult for us to sit through a long meal and “appropriately” converse with our partner’s family members for various reasons. Many on the spectrum also have different needs when it comes to sensory input, touch specifically. Sometimes we might crave more touch than average; other times, even though we care deeply for our partner, we may not want to be touched by them. It’s not necessarily anything personal having to do with the other person; it’s just different sensory needs/perception.

Most autistic individuals prefer to have a schedule or a plan for upcoming activities. They may become upset if that schedule or plan is altered in some way, especially without a timely warning. Adapting to or working around another person’s routine can be challenging.

Every relationship has its difficulties, and every one is unique to the involved individuals. In my experience, autism has a way of altering these difficulties. It is always important to have open communication! Both people need to be able to honestly speak their minds about a given situation or activity. When dating someone with autism, it is important to know how that person’s autism affects them. In doing that, it’s advisable to create a plan for working through and or preventing meltdowns. To someone who’s not used to it, helping an autistic person through a meltdown might be stressful and upsetting. No one wants to see their loved one hurting. That’s why it’s important to openly discuss what is helpful and what’s not for a particular individual.

Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. We have the same feelings and urges as anyone else. We just tend to express them differently. The right partner is understanding of that. The right person will be accepting of an autism diagnosis, and both people will seek to grow together. Each person should support the other, even if it looks different than “normal.”

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woman covering face with hands looking down

The Different Types of Meltdowns I Experience

As someone on the autism spectrum, I’ve had my share of meltdowns. But not all meltdowns are created equally. In fact, I could even say there are different types of meltdowns, ranging from being slightly upset to what I’d consider to be a full-blown meltdown.

In my life, being slightly upset is very common. It’s a state I’m in almost every day. I may feel a little stressed out over some plans that fell through. I’ll be mad, try to hold back tears, take a few deep breaths, and then reassess the situation. It typically doesn’t last much longer than a few minutes.

Next, there’s what I might call a “mini-meltdown.” This is where I can feel it coming, and while I may cry a little bit out of frustration, I can prevent it from escalating with my coping skills. Mini-meltdowns tend to come in groups. So I’ll get upset, prevent it from getting worse, and then get upset again. This process can go on for longer because of the time it takes to cycle through each one.

Then I could have a meltdown. I’m upset, and I’m crying. I have either tried to prevent this meltdown and was unsuccessful, or it was very sudden and unexpected. For this reason, it is the kind of meltdown I personally might be seen having in public. I’m not flying off the handle, however.

Finally, I may have a full-blown meltdown. This is a more intense version of a meltdown. Besides feeling extremely frustrated and crying hysterically, I might scream. I also usually end up self-stimming, where I’ll rock myself or flap my hands to try and self-regulate. These full-blown meltdowns are very strong, and can last for as little as 30 minutes or as long as a few hours. While most meltdowns can make me physically and mentally tired, these full-blown meltdowns are beyond exhausting. After one is over, I’m usually unable to fully function for the rest of the day. Thankfully, they are not as common for me now as they used to be. This may be due to people understanding me more since my diagnosis.

While I wouldn’t wish a meltdown on anyone, I feel they are also important. They allow me to express emotions built up for long periods of time. If I don’t have a meltdown, I will eventually shut down mentally. That’s when I am so overwhelmed that I can’t process the world, so my brain just won’t let me think about what’s bothering me. That being said, meltdowns, no matter what type, can be hard to handle.

Image via Thinkstock.

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