Dating and Relationships: A review of tips and resources for a need that affects us all

It’s difficult to escape the idea of love and romance in February. This month is known for the holiday that is Valentine’s Day, and we’re made to see that almost everywhere we go. Stores being filled with candy and decorations, holiday specials in restaurants, a push on romantic themed movies in our streaming services…the list could go on. 

Seeing the idea of dating and relationships in our world more often, doesn’t always help us in understanding some of the skills needed in getting to that point. Meeting new people, going on dates…these are tough things to practice, unless you’re actually doing it. For many of us, we need the opportunity to not only know and review the steps needed in connecting with others, but also how to improve at them (and it’s not ideal to use someone we genuinely like as our practice). 

The items below review some of the common steps we encounter as we move towards connecting with others. We hope this will act as an additional resource for our adult population, as well as families with adolescents, as this becomes a much more relevant need. 


Where to meet people

In your typical routine. Think about the places you visit on a regular basis (coffee shop, taking the bus, restaurant, stores, etc.). Are there opportunities in these places for you to connect with someone? Is there a person in those places you feel interested in?

Online/Dating apps. This will allow you to get to know a person through messaging and potentially phone calls before meeting them in person. This can be an appropriate option if you don’t feel you encounter those you’re interested in regularly. 

  • Remember to always meet in a public place when meeting someone in person for the first time. 
  • Never agree to send anyone money or allow them to send you money or gift cards.
  • Don’t share personal information such as your address, social security number, credit card and  bank account details, or any other private information. If someone is asking you for any of that, they may be planning to take advantage of you. 
  • Before meeting in person, ask the person to do a video call with you. If they are not willing to be on video, this could be a warning sign that they are not who they claim to be. 

Social groups and clubs. This can take the pressure off because you are with a group of people, and you can get to know someone in the group before asking them out on a date. Check out the Community Calendar on the AAoM website to find opportunities for this resource in your area!


Asking someone on a date

Assess if there’s an interest. Although you can’t always know someone’s interest from body language, you can get clues. If someone makes every effort to be around you, that is a good sign. On the other hand, if they are passing on opportunities to spend time with you, they may not be interested. Sometimes a person may be busy. If you’re unsure, it’s beneficial to be direct and simply ask if the person is interested in a date with you. 

Show your interest in appropriate ways. Be cautious with touch, especially for someone you don’t know well. Some people don’t like being touched. It is good to get consent before touching someone. 

Flirting can be difficult, and some people don’t like certain styles of flirting. Another strategy, if you would like to avoid potentially awkward flirting, is to show interest in the person by asking them about things they enjoy. Attempt to take interest in their life, and even offer to help with something they are working on. 


Preparing for the date

Practicing with someone you trust. Watching romantic movies to learn about how to act on a date is an option, but keep in mind that movies are fiction and not always a good depiction of reality. Have a trusted friend or family member with you so you can talk about things that don’t make sense and build your understanding of different responses. 

Be sure to practice good hygiene and grooming. Remember to shower, put on clean clothes, use deodorant, brush your teeth, and groom your hair. Even someone who likes you will not want to spend time with you if you smell or look bad.  

Sensory issues. Think about the environment you will be in during the date and plan ahead for how you will cope with sensory overwhelm.  

Small talk. Practice your conversational skills with a trusted person. Learn how to express interest in what the other person is saying, even if you aren’t that interested. You should also know how to tell if someone is getting bored with the conversation. 

Potential topics. Plan ahead for conversation topics that are “safe” and not controversial. Avoid politics and religion until you get to know someone better. 

Be yourself! Autistic people tend to mask. While you don’t need to tell someone everything about you right in the beginning, don’t deliberately hide things or lie about things you like or dislike. You want to date someone who likes you for who you are, not who you are pretending to be. 

Intimacy. Remember that both people have to consent to physical intimacy like hugging, kissing, and sexual activity. Consent means that an individual says “yes” and the “yes” is given freely. If a person is pressured, persuaded, or manipulated to get them to say yes, it is not consent. 

Consider these items to ensure neither person is pressuring or being pressured to say yes when they don’t want to:

  • If someone says “No”, accept that “No” without question and do not ask again. 
  • If someone says something that is not “Yes” or “No”, such as “Maybe,” “I’m not sure,” or “I don’t know about that,” you should accept that they are not ready for that next step. Your response might be something like, “That’s okay, we can wait.”
  • Remember that consent can be withdrawn at any time. 


Additional Resources:

  • Elevatus Training – Sexuality Education for People with I/DD has content on navigating healthy relationships and is offered free in many regions of Michigan through an initiative from Michigan Developmental Disability Council.