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Ready to start dating? Here’s a complete guide for people on the spectrum

Autism and dating: Guide for those on the spectrum

Updated: August 29, 2023 · 13 Minute Read

Marsha Stepensky, MS.Ed, BCBA

Written by:

Marsha Stepensky, MS.Ed, BCBA

Highlights

  • Don’t rush into anything. Feelings of like, lust, and love can be intense! Take your time when you’re getting to know someone.
  • Be yourself! People are usually on their “best behavior” when going out on a first, second, and third date. Even if you’re acting your “best,” you still should be your authentic self.
  • Remember — it’s your body, it’s your choice — be assertive in communicating if you want to be touched and how you want to be touched. Be respectful of other people’s boundaries and when they say “no” to you.
  • Have fun! Dating can, and should, be a fun experience. It’s an opportunity to meet new people and try new things.
  • Dating does not mean being in a relationship. Communication is really important, make sure you are open with your feelings and what type of relationship you want.

Autism and dating is a popular topic we've had many autistic individuals and parents ask about. Finding love and companionship can be a long and sometimes frustrating process, but the journey through it doesn’t have to be scary and intimidating. It can be a unique and fun opportunity to build connections with others while learning more about yourself. It may even lead to a long-term, loving relationship!

 

Where Do I Meet People?

Most single people will tell you they “go out” to meet people and this usually means going to a bar. The reality is not many couples find each other this way. Starting a conversation with a stranger at a bar can feel uncomfortable and if they are disinterested, can leave you feeling embarrassed. But fear not! There are other ways you can meet people beyond walking into a bar.

 

Social Activities and Clubs. This is an excellent way to meet new people, whether friendly or romantic, who share your interests.

 

  • Are you an animal lover? Volunteer at an animal shelter. You will meet a lot of other volunteers who also like animals and probably share other common interests with you.
  • A lot of restaurants or bars have weekly trivia nights. This is a fun way to meet people while testing your smarts.
  • Check the event calendar of your local library — you may be surprised to see cool activities and clubs happening throughout the month.
  • And, don’t forget to check out local organizations in your area that may offer social events, clubs, and activities.

 

Meetup.com. This is a website that connects people to others based on shared interests and hobbies. There are in-person events and online events to participate in!

 

School, Class, or Work. It is not uncommon for people to meet this way but you should be careful when dating classmates and coworkers. If your relationship ends, you may still need to see them and work alongside them. At work, some companies require employees to disclose if they start dating coworkers. You do not need to tell your teachers if you start dating a classmate.

 

Online Dating. This is a very popular way to date. There are a lot of perks to online dating. Most dating websites and apps like Hinge and Tinder allow people to make profiles so you can get to know someone a little before starting a conversation. You can also meet other autistic people on Hiki, a dating and friendship app made specifically for people on the autism spectrum. You can see their photos and read about their interests. If you decide to try out online dating, always use caution when talking to and meeting people from the internet.

 

  • Watch out for Catfish! Most of the people you’ll meet will be good people but there are scammers and “catfishers” out there. “Catfishing” is when someone creates a fake account to trick people looking for love. They are usually trying to take people’s money. Never share your personal information, like your address or bank information, with someone even if they are begging!

Wanna Go Out?

The first step to asking someone out is to make sure they like you. There are a couple of ways you can do that:

 

Flirting. This takes on many forms and can mean different things but it is one way we can show our crush we like them.

 

  • When someone is flirting with you they might smile or wink at you, move closer to you when talking, or use cute/sexy words in conversation with you like “hey, cutie!” or “you’re looking really good today!”
  • Sometimes people flirt in text messages by sending kiss emojis and hearts.
  • It can be tricky figuring out if someone is flirting with you, and even if they are it doesn’t mean they want to go out with you. Usually, when someone really likes you they will flirt with you in different ways during different interactions.
  • Not sure if someone likes you? Try flirting and see where it goes. If you notice the person isn’t flirting back with you or isn’t enjoying your interactions, it’s a good idea to stop. If a person doesn’t want it, it can be seen as harassing them.

 

Good Ol’ Fashioned Getting to Know You. If you’re not ready to flirt with someone, you can always get to know them as a friend and see where the relationship goes. Getting to know people can feel easier when there is no pressure for romance

 

  • Talk to them and find out if you share any common interests. You may discover you both like the same coffee shop and then you can ask them to meet for a cup of coffee.
  • You can also get to know someone by talking on the phone with them. It’s very important to ask your crush directly for their phone number. This way they are consenting to giving you their personal information.
  • Don’t force anyone to like you or hang out with you. If you suggest meeting up two or three times and the response is “no,” “I’m not sure,”or “I need to check my schedule,” then they probably aren’t interested in seeing you.
  • If you’re getting to know your crush through calls and text, it’s best to not call or text after 9pm or before 9am unless they tell you that’s OK.

 

Once you’ve established mutual interest, it’s time to make the ask. Finding the right words and right time to ask someone out on a date isn’t always easy. But there are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re ready:

 

Make sure your crush is in a good mood! If they are crying, if they look angry, or if they look really busy, wait and find a different time to ask them out.

 

  • Body language is a good way to tell how a person is feeling. If someone is frustrated, annoyed, or angry they might have tension in their face and eyebrows, a clenched jaw, or clenched fists. They may be sitting with their head in their hands or they have their arms crossed over their body with clenched fists.

 

Ask when you are in a casual, semi-private setting. Asking your crush out in the middle of class is not a good idea. Asking a co-worker out during a staff meeting is also not a good idea. It’s best to ask them out in a place where other people can’t hear you and you both can focus on the conversation.If you don’t feel comfortable making the ask in person, you can send a text, email, or call them instead.

 

Wear your favorite outfit. We all have an outfit that we feel really good wearing. If you’re ready to ask out your crush, take a shower, put on some deodorant, and wear something you really like. Feeling fresh, clean, and sexy will boost your confidence when asking someone out.

 

Plan out what to say ahead of time. Thinking about date ideas and activities beforehand can help you feel less nervous when the time comes to make the ask.

 

  • The most common first dates include going to the movies, going to a music show, meeting for coffee, or going to dinner.
  • Pick an activity that you will both enjoy. If you are someone sensitive to sound and crowded places then a music show is probably not a date you would enjoy. If you know your crush hates sports, a baseball game may not be the best idea.
  • Not sure what to talk about on the date? Plan a movie outing or a museum trip. These activities don’t require you to talk to the other person the entire time.
  • If you’re not sure what your crush will like, just ask! Unless you’re telepathic, it’s impossible to know what the other person likes or doesn’t like. You can offer a few options and then make a decision together.

 

Regardless of the activity you choose, your personal safety is most important. Your first few dates should be in public places like a coffee shop or museum. Once you know the person better and have established some trust with one another, then you can think about more private date ideas.

What Happens Next?

Congrats! You did it! You successfully asked out your crush and they said yes. This is really exciting. Now it’s time to prepare for your date.

 

Put it on your calendar. Once you agree on a day, time, and place make a note of it somewhere. Keeping track of all your appointments and obligations can be really tough. Writing things down is a good strategy for remembering your to-do’s.

 

Plan your day accordingly. If you’re meeting your crush at 5pm, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get ready. Rushing will only make you feel more nervous and being late on the first date is never a good impression.

 

  • Give yourself a couple of hours to shower, do your hair, put on deodorant, and pick out a good outfit.
  • Make sure your clothing and shoes are comfortable and appropriate for the date. Wearing a short dress and high heels is probably not the best outfit for bowling.
  • Are you driving? Taking an uber? Riding the bus? Give yourself extra travel time just in case there is traffic or delays with public transportation. If you’re running late, that’s OK! Send a quick text to your date to let them know.

 

Bring Some Money. The old dating tradition is when a man and a lady are out on a date, the man pays. Times have changed quite a bit and so did the rules for who pays. These days, usually the person who asked to go out on the date pays for the date. Sometimes a couple might decide to “go dutch,” or split the costs of the date evenly.

 

  • If you made the ask, it’s a polite gesture to offer to pay but make sure you have enough money to pay for yourself and your date.
  • It’s OK to share the costs of the date if you have a limited budget.
  • Even if someone asks you out, make sure to bring money with you in case you need to pay for yourself.

 

Remember — it’s your body, it’s your choice. You are never obligated to touch anyone and no one has a right to touch you unless you want them to. Sometimes people give hugs, hold hands, kiss, or have sex on a first date. You are not required to do any of those things and neither is your date. Be assertive when communicating your comfort with touch to the other person and be respectful of their boundaries. Consent is the best way to find out what type of touch people are comfortable with. If you’re in the movie theater waiting for the film to start and want to be closer with your date, you can ask “can I hold your hand?” If they say yes, that’s great! Now you’re holding hands and feeling happy. If they say no, that’s OK, too. Everyone has a different level of comfort with touch, especially when getting to know each other.

How Does the Date End?

A date can end in different ways:

 

Scheduled activity has ended. Activities like movies, sporting events, and music shows have a clear stop time, and this is one way you can decide if your date is over. Once the movie ends, you can say goodbye and go home. When going on a dinner or coffee date, it may not be as obvious when the date is supposed to end.

 

  • For dinner dates, it is over when both people have finished their meals and the bill has been paid.
  • On coffee dates, people usually spend one or two hours together before parting ways.
  • Sometimes a date might continue even after the activity ends. Your date may ask if you want ice cream after the movie ends. This is a good sign! It means the person is having fun and wants to spend more time with you. If you are having fun and want the date to keep going, you can ask too.

 

You want the date to end. There are many reasons you want the date to end.

 

  • You might be having a lot of fun but maybe you’re tired, you have to wake up early the next day, or you have somewhere else to be. You can let your date know that you have to leave but you had a lot of fun and hope to hang out again.
  • Sometimes you want to end the date because you are not having fun. If you find yourself in this situation, that is OK. When the activity ends, you can say, “Thank you for meeting me, it was cool getting to know you. I have to go but I hope you enjoy your day!” You don’t need to tell the person you’re not interested and don’t want to see them again unless they ask.
  • If you are feeling unsafe at any point during your date, you should leave immediately. Call a trusted adult to make a plan about getting home. Don’t worry about seeming rude, your safety is most important.

 

They want the date to end. Similar to you, they might be having a lot of fun but have to leave because they are tired, have to go to work, or need to be home by a certain time. It’s also possible that they want to leave because they’re not enjoying themselves. This can make us feel really bad but it’s not something you should take personally. Sometimes people aren’t compatible with each other and that’s OK. We’ll talk more about handling rejection a little later.

 

Kiss? To kiss or not to kiss…that is the question! There is no rule book for ending a date with a kiss. If you both had a really good time and enjoyed the date, it could be appropriate to ask consent for a hug or kiss. Just remember to respect your date’s boundaries if their response is “no.” Similarly, if your date asks you for a kiss and you’re not comfortable you should feel empowered to say “I really like you but I’m not ready for that yet.”

Is There a Second Date?

Sometimes, first dates go really well and lead to more dates. If you and your date had a lot of fun, had good conversation, and maybe some physical interactions (like holding hands, sitting closely together, or giving hugs) then chances are they want to go out with you again. If they mentioned specific activities they liked or wanted to try on your first date, consider suggesting one of those for your second date. For example, if your crush talked about enjoying art projects then maybe you plan a trip to Color Me Mine for your second date. When asking your crush out for a second date, mention that you had a lot of fun with them and want to see them again.

 

Other times, dates do not go well. If your crush did not look like they were having fun, if they did not seem interested in conversation, or if they ended the date early then it’s likely you will not have a second date with them. If that’s the case, it’s a big bummer but it’s ok — not all first dates lead to second dates.

What If They Don’t Like Me?

Rejection is rough and can feel embarrassing. If you want to enter the world of dating, you have to accept that you may be rejected…and it will probably happen more than once. Sometimes a person will tell you they aren’t interested and other times you’ll “get ghosted.” Getting ghosted is when someone stops speaking to you, returning your calls and texts, and basically disappears from your life. Ghosting can be a really hurtful experience but try to not take it personally. If a person can’t be honest about not being interested in you then that’s not someone you want in your life.

 

It’s natural to feel sad, upset, or confused when you’ve been turned down by someone but it’s important to be respectful of that person’s boundaries if they say “no.” If you get a negative response from someone you can say “Ok, no worries. I had a lot of fun. See you later.” Sometimes it’s hard to be around the person who turned you down and it may take a while to move past those feelings. This is totally normal. If you do see the person again, try to be courteous. You don’t have to talk to them if you’re not ready to — a smile and wave is a friendly alternative.

 

There will also be times where you lose interest first. It’s normal to go out with someone a few times and then not want to see them again. If you’re no longer interested in your crush, the best solution is to be honest. Nothing good comes from lying or trying to force yourself to like someone you aren’t compatible with. Be gentle and kind when telling someone you don’t want to see them again.

TL;DR

In the world of dating, you will experience moments of excitement and moments of sadness. The dating journey is a long one and includes having a crush (sometimes multiple at the same time!), going out on many good dates and bad dates, and eventually developing a healthy relationship with a partner. Remember, dating isn’t just about meeting the love of your life. It’s about making new connections and trying new things while learning more about yourself and the sort of relationship you want!

Dive Deeper

Article References

  1. Planned Parenthood Toronto. Boundary Basics. Teen Health Source. https://teenhealthsource.com/relationships/boundary-basics/
  2. Planned Parenthood Toronto. Flirting Fundamentals. Teen Health Source. https://teenhealthsource.com/relationships/flirting-fundamentals/
  3. Organization for Autism Research. Sex Ed Guide for Self Advocates. https://researchautism.org/sex-ed-guide/
  4. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Center for Autism Research. Romance 101: Dating for Autistic Adults. CAR Autism Roadmap. https://www.carautismroadmap.org/romance-101-dating-for-adults-with-asd/