Welcome to the latest installment of my blog series: Dating on the Autism Spectrum. I have shared dating tips for autistic individuals, talked about how to handle conflict, and offered tips for neurotypical partners. Today, I want to talk about the unique challenges neurodiverse women have when dating on the autism spectrum.
As an autism therapist, I am passionate about helping neurodiverse women thrive.
One of the most common things women with autism bring up about dating is their wish that their partners would be direct. They say: “I just wish they would tell me what they actually mean.” Although many autistic women are very empathetic and have a remarkable capacity for love, social nuances may still allude them. Ultimately, what may make a relationship very challenging and stressful for a woman with autism is indirect communication and sarcasm.
Likewise, their desire to communicate in a direct way may make their partners uncomfortable. Often autistic teens and adults say what comes to their mind. They may be so direct, that this makes neurotypicals uncomfortable. For example, if a woman with autism wants to recharge her social battery and spend time with her special interest, she may simply say, “I don’t want to hang out with you.” This statement can really hurt her partner if they don’t fully understand why she needs alone time.
Neurodiversity puts women at a greater risk of abuse or assault
Unfortunately, their need for direct cues can cause them to miss cues of manipulation or inappropriate sexual advances. This may lead to many women with autism being taken advantage of by their partners. In fact, a recent study shows that autistic women report being much more likely to fall victim to abuse because they prefer direct communication, lack understanding of social norms such a flirting, and they have a general lack of sexual knowledge.
Women who are dating on the autism spectrum may take on extreme roles in their relationships
Autistic women frequently wind up being a caretaker in their relationships
Another challenge many women on the autism spectrum have while dating is falling into the role of a caregiver to an extremely dependent partner. In my experience women with high-functioning autism find partners that have various mental or physical health concerns. This means that they become fixated on helping their partner versus attending to their own needs. Because of their amazing research skills, autistic women may read everything they can to help their partner. Unfortunately, they might be victimized by partners who prey upon their caregiving tendencies and their obsessive love for them. For example, some autistic women financially care for a needy partner because they care so deeply for them.
On the other hand, the belief that women (with or without autism) should assume the role of a caregiver can overwhelm a woman with autism. Many women with autism need alone time to focus on their special interests or recharge their social battery. Their need for alone time may alienate their partner and make their partner feel unloved or unwanted. And, this can cause major challenges in a romantic relationship.
Autistic women may use their relationship to shield them from the world
Being autistic can mean sensory overwhelm and feeling wiped out from social interactions. For some autistic women, they look for a partner who can create security and take care of everyday tasks, like grocery shopping or calling about bills. Working and dealing with these errands can be incredibly stressful for a woman with autism. It might take all day for her to muster up the courage to make a phone call due to an inherent uneasiness around talking on the phone. What can seem like a little task to others, can be extraordinarily challenging for a person on the spectrum. Unfortunately, many autistic women have few supports in life to help them navigate the social world and their overwhelm. They might seek refuge in their relationship, to shield against the world.
Women with autism often make their partner uncomfortable when their relationship is their special interest
Lastly, many women with autism struggle with becoming desperately attached to their partners. They may even feel like their partner is their anchor that helps them manage their anxiety, stress, or sensory overload. In some cases, their partner becomes their special interest. They may also obsess about their relationship. And, they often become upset when something doesn’t align with their vision for their relationship. This can ultimately end a relationship if the other person becomes uncomfortable with the level of attention their partner is giving them.
Learning about yourself is an important part of successfully dating on the autism spectrum
If you’re a woman with ASD who is struggling with dating on the autism spectrum, then learning more about yourself and how you function in a relationship is important. It will help you identify any areas that you struggle in, where you excel as a partner, and what you want your ideal relationship to look like. This will help you find a partner who complements you and your unique needs.
Another important thing you need to consider is how you want to self-disclose your autism and self-advocate to ensure your needs are met. Being upfront and clear about your neurodiversity can help you manage your partner or potential partner’s expectations. It will help them understand your needs and reduce miscommunications and misunderstandings.
Things to Know About Yourself Before Dating
Take a moment to write down your answers to the following questions:
- What are your sensory sensitivities (sounds, touch, smells, taste, visual)?
- What does it feel like inside when you have sensory overload?
- What sensations do you feel inside your body?
- How does it impact your mood?
- How does it impact your ability to listen, think and talk?
- What can you and your partner do to help alleviate your sensory overload?
- What is your social battery like?
- What kinds of social interactions exhaust you?
- What do you need to do to recharge?
- Which daily tasks can overwhelm you?
Share these answers with your partner. Have multiple conversations around it because they might not have the same internal experiences as you, so it might be hard for them to understand at first. Discussing your needs and how your partner can meet your needs is important. Relationships do involve give and take. You might decide to go to a party with your partner because that particular party means a lot to them. You have to weigh the value the events have for both you and your partner. And you may need to negotiate, such as agree to attend the party for two hours only, and then you can return home.
Online autism therapy can help!
If you already have a partner you still need to be self-aware. Take a moment and think about what you would like your relationship to look like and what you want in a partner. Furthermore, if you’re experiencing conflict or noticing that you can’t think of much else other than your partner, then it may be time to consider autism therapy or autism group therapy. Autism therapy allows you to learn new tools to cope with emotional distress, sensory overload and anxiety, social skills, and how to advocate for your needs.
I offer a variety of autism therapy services at my autism therapy clinic based in Palo Alto. Right now, I am offering online therapy in California. I want to meet your needs when it’s not possible to come to my counseling clinic. I offer individual autism therapy and parent support. But, I also offer social skills groups. These groups provide you with a unique opportunity to meet other high-functioning individuals with ASD who share similar struggles.
Open Doors Therapy is offering the following social skills group:
- Autistic Women Group
- Neurodiverse Working Professionals Group
- Neurodiverse College Group
- Neurodivergent Young Adults Group (Post-College)
Begin online therapy in California:
If you’re an autistic woman struggling to date on the autism spectrum and living in California, I would love to help you. I offer several therapy options at my online therapy clinic that’s based in Palo Alto. Please follow these steps to begin online autism therapy in California: