I know quite a number of people with high-functioning autism including several in my own family. I get asked what it would be like to date someone on the spectrum.
The short answer is that it can vary wildly. Autism is not just one thing with one presentation. It can be incredibly different from person to person and even from week to week with the same person. So I can offer a guideline, but your experience will depend on the specific person you are with and their specific issues.
The longer version.
People with high-functioning autism often have challenges in social situations. Even just going out for ice cream at a crowded ice cream building can be like drip-drip-drip water torture to have that many people jostling around. And screaming children. The person might make it through the experience or they might need to go back to the car and have quiet time. Or, if they’re younger and haven’t learned coping mechanisms yet, they might melt down.
Often people with these challenges are just not good at reading other people’s reactions. They might start talking about their favorite topic. Let’s say it’s trains. The listener might say something non-committal like “That’s nice.” The person with autism might take this as a sign the person is interested and start in full bore about all the details of the trains. It’s not that they’re trying to monopolize the conversation. It’s that they are thrilled someone else likes trains and want to be helpful and share.
I know someone who is with an autistic man and if the man starts into a monologue like that, she gives him a gentle nudge. It alerts him that it’s time to pause and let others talk. He smiles and stops. It’s a way they have of helping each other.
Many high-functioning autistic people are quite intelligent. This comes with its own challenges. They can understand connections that others don’t see and get baffled why others don’t see those connections. Again, depending on how much experience they have handling this situation, they can either get overbearing or quite awesome at explaining.
So again a lot of it comes down to how old this person is and how much experience they’ve had in dealing with the challenges. If someone was a freshman in high school and had unsupportive parents they could be quite challenging in a variety of situations. They’d need a really patient partner to help them through that learning curve. If someone was older and had learned a variety of coping skills, they could be absolutely awesome. They’d be smart and able to understand things. Able to talk about things. Able to listen. Yes, they’d have challenges in social situations. You learn to take those slow. Not to go to a movie on opening night. Not to go to a zoo on the busiest day of the summer. There are always options out there and it’s well worth it to figure those out.
Image of two people holding hands sourced from Pexels / artist NEOSiAM2021