Dating someone with an autistic child poses challenges, but here are five tips to help you make this experience easier.
- What to know about dating an autism parent
- 1. Accept that their child comes first.
- 2. Understand that their child communicates differently
- 3. The autistic child won’t always be able to attend social events
- 4. Ask questions about autism and their child’s individual needs
- 5. Be empathetic towards the challenges of raising an autistic child
What to know about dating an autism parent
1. Accept that their child comes first.
As with many parents, children come first. You might see this is more common in parents of autistic children. Don’t expect them to put you first, because there is no comparison and you won’t win.
a. Understand that their time is often limited.
Dating someone with an autistic kid means they don’t have a lot of free time. Last-minute changes and cancellations are a norm, because anything can happen.
This does not mean they are spoiling their child. Rather, autistic children have particular needs that differ from non-autistic children. If the parent is typically home when child wakes up to potty, that predictable behavior is perceived as “safety”. Routines and structure are often incredibly important to the child’s wellbeing and ability to cope with life.
b. Have patience
Patience is required. Parents of autistic children may require more time to get ready or settle their children down to leave. While this is expected for parents in general, autistic children may require more time.
Additionally, your date might take longer to warm up to you and come across as “reserved” or “too private”. Respect this boundary now, because it’s not going anywhere.
Society pushes so much stigma about autism that it’s no wonder people are still hush-hush about it. Parents of autistic kids frequently apologize to me in the grocery store when their obviously autistic child is stimming “too much”. (Click here to learn more about what stimming is and why autistic people engage in it.)
Not being patient with autism parents only adds to that shame, which furthers the stigma.
c. Don’t take it personally if they cancel plans.
You will probably be hit with last-minute cancellations. Autistic people love routine, but anything can cause us to behave unpredictably.
Canceling plans doesn’t mean they don’t want to see you. It means they need to stay home with their child.
2. Understand that their child communicates differently
Autistic people communicate differently from non-autistic people. If you have the privilege of meeting their child, the initial meeting or conversation may leave you feeling confused.
The most important thing to know about meeting an autistic kid for the first time is that you are not the direct problem. We’re just direct. While we are thinking about you, it’s not in the way you think.
While you are trying to get in the autistic child’s good graces, they are considering how you might fit into their future routine. They’re gauging how disruptive you will be to the general flow of their current environment. They’re seeking signs that you are safe, or whether they will have to mask around you.
Directly speaking, it has nothing to do with you in the sense of taking it personally. From the autistic perspective, this is more or less a logical calculation. Some people simply do not mesh well together.
In other words, don’t jump to conclusions about whether their child likes you. If a child has you feeling insecure, you’re not prepared to date someone with an autistic child.
When interacting with their autistic child
Here’s some helpful guidance for communication.
- Aim to be as clear and precise as possible. Autistic people generally understand exact context.
- Be patient. Be okay with random or long pauses.
- Accept non-speaking communication as valid communication.
- Treat them like people, not science experiments. Don’t be shocked at things autistic kids do just because you read on a site that one autistic kid never did such-and-such. That is stereotyping.
3. The autistic child won’t always be able to attend social events
When dating someone who has an autistic child, accept that the child won’t always be able to attend social events. You can still go out and enjoy yourselves, but your partner’s child won’t always be able to join you.
A multitude of reasons can prevent autistic children from going out, but it commonly boils down to two:
- Overstimulation — Too much external/internal stimuli builds up despite ability to stim, which causes meltdowns or shutdowns, extreme exhaustion, and general irritability.
- Executive dysfunction — The inability to “even”. Remember that “I can’t even” meme? That meme is the epitome of this behavior. It is the inability to function or do anything. The emotional battery has run out.
That said, you might run into the complete opposite situation, wherein your partner’s autistic child wants to be involved in everything. (This is usually a good thing.)
Having back-up plans for these two situations is great, but being flexible is better. Ultimately, what works for you and your partner depends on your likes. While I would love going to an aquarium or Build-a-Bear regardless of children, the caregiver of an autistic child might want something a bit fancier on occasion.
4. Ask questions about autism and their child’s individual needs
If you meet one autistic person, you’ve met ONE autistic person. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning we’re all different. It’s a circle — not a straight line.
Ask about their special interests and stims. If you’re the type to bring a gift to your partner’s child on occasion, these are key. One neurodivergent love language is “penguin pebbling”, which is basically, “I saw this and thought of you.” But with legitimate reason — none of that “same eye/hair color”, “you wore a red shirt”, or other shallow reasons that don’t show you really know us.
Buying autistic children (and adults) meaningful gifts is about truly listening. When someone gifts me something random that I know is mostly a regift of things they didn’t want, I feel more disconnected. I think, “They don’t know me at all, and they clearly don’t listen.”
Despite being asked for my Christmas wishlists every year, I hardly ever received anything on it because people thought the items were dumb: RUBIX cubes, Midliner Double-Ended Highlighters, bubbles, peppermint Chapstick, silicone beaded necklaces and bracelets, and cat treats are some of my favorite gift requests.
It doesn’t matter if you think it’s stupid. Special interests are an autistic person’s world. It is the literal key to connecting with us.
5. Be empathetic towards the challenges of raising an autistic child
Parents of autistic children need more empathy going their way. If you’re reading this article and worry you can’t do it, take a deep breath. Chill.
All of this “crazy” you think you’re about to be faced with is anxiety. It might fade, or it might not, but everyone deserves a chance.
Behind every stressed caregiver of an autistic child is a human being craving adult interaction. If they are in the dating scene, it means they are ready, and are willing to help their autistic child get ready, too.
Are there challenges? Yes. But challenges exist with any child. Undiagnosed autistic children are still autistic, you just don’t know it yet. So, you’ve probably already met one.
Parents often have to fight for the services, support and accommodations for their child’s needs. This behavior may show up as defensiveness in the relationship. Be someone they don’t have to advocate the rights of their child to — be on their team.
Dating someone with an autistic child shouldn’t be viewed as a strange, mystical experience. But it does require patience, communication and presenting yourself as part of the overall support system.
Are you dating someone with an autistic child and you have questions? Share them below in the comments.