Dating Someone With an Autistic Child
As I sit down to write this, wondering where to start, I look around my office and see pictures on my desk and on the walls.
There are pictures of me and my wife and, of course, family pictures.
However, one photo really stands out. This is a picture of me and my autistic stepson. We stand together, hugging each other, and one of his weighted blankets is on our shoulders.
For me, knowing someone with an autistic child can be summed up in this photo. I see a child (almost the same height as I am now, lol) whose world I helped shape, but not least, who helped shape my world.
In this snapshot of our lives, I see memories of some of the most difficult problems I have ever faced. I also see some of the greatest joys I have ever experienced.
You know what else I see in this picture?
I see my boy.
My boy, who has all the characteristics of a neurotypical child; likes, dislikes, interests, feelings and dreams of a later life, but who also has autism
I was also reminded that I was in your shoes once. Not so long ago, I was the one who was going to date a parent with autism. Now I want to transfer that knowledge and experience to you.
An Objective View of Meeting Someone with an Autistic Child
Based on what I said above, you might think that this article would be about the joys of knowing someone who has a child with autism.
That is not the case.
The truth is that not everyone is ready to meet the additional needs that a child with autism may need. And, to be honest, not all parents with autism are willing to let an adult role model approach their child to make the relationship work!
What we’re going to look at in this article is a realistic look at what it’s like to date someone with an autistic child.
We’ll look at what’s hard, what’s easy, pros and cons.
We’ll also talk about what it takes to make relationships with parents with autism work.
I assume you’re reading this because you’re interested in dating an autistic parent, so what’s the point if I don’t explain how to succeed!!!?
My Child Comes First.
Whether you are a parent with autism or a parent with a neurotype, almost every single parent usually says, “My child comes first. “As it should!
This takes on a whole new meaning for single parents with autism, especially when they are dating.
Imagine yourself as a parent of a child with special needs.
A child who needs more attention and depends on a daily routine that can be disrupted if you spend time on a date.
A child who may have many activities planned each week, such as therapy or therapy-related activities such as music lessons, swimming lessons, martial arts, or other activities that will help him relate better to the world around him.
Not to mention the difficulties of finding a babysitter for a special needs child to go on a date!
Image of the Thomas Train Locomotive
Understand that an autistic child’s needs must come first.
They will not be disappointed if their daily routine changes. Their whole life may be affected at this point!
Mr. or Mrs. parents with autism may not be able to go out today because chicken nugget and Thomas are on the train today. It may sound funny to you, but to a child it is his world.
Now that we understand that dating someone with an autistic child means that we will have very limited time, what should we do about it?
I recommend learning more about autism.
Take this time to understand autism and decide if the kind of life your future boyfriend/girlfriend leads is right for you.
At first, it will seem extremely complicated and completely different.
However, what I have found to be true is that as people’s understanding changes, their point of view changes as well. When your point of view changes, things that seemed unbearable suddenly become acceptable.
If you think the person you want to date is worth it, find out more before you judge.
Two simple words: understand autism, and there are still countless books, blogs, and other materials on this topic. Let me make it easy for you.
No matter how much you read or how many videos you watch, you will never really understand autism the way you expect until you experience it for yourself.
Each individual is unique, and autism affects each person differently.
When you accept the uniqueness of the personality combined with the uniqueness of the diagnosis, you really appreciate when they say that if you’ve met a person with autism, you’ve met a person with autism!
So What Can I Do?
You can study and better understand the behaviors that determine the autism diagnosis.
When you better understand the behaviors themselves, you will be able to use this knowledge and apply it to a specific person.
Most of the information available describes what autism is, but does not explain the behaviors associated with the diagnosis itself.
This leads you to think that all autistic people are the same as the ones you read about. Then you get confused when little Johnny is not the rain man you were studying.
For example, black-and-white thinking is a behavior commonly associated with autism.
However, the seriousness of black-and-white thinking, as well as a person’s life experience and frame of reference means that each autistic person will experience it differently.
Some may not show this behavior at all! Here is a great article on autistic behavior to get you started. I highly recommend you take the time to read it!
Understanding Autism-Related Behavior, But Knowing the Person
The second part of all this is getting to know the child as a person!
In most cases, a parent with autism, or any parent for that matter, will not introduce you to your child immediately. However, when you talk about your child, try to get to know them as a person, not as a person with autism.
Just because someone has autism does not make them any less human.
Autism does not define who they are.
Let’s say, for example, you have a blind child. If you were dating someone, would you want all the questions about your son to be about his blindness?
No! A kid with autism still likes and dislikes. They have interests, hopes, fears, dreams, and all the emotions or feelings you would expect any other child to have.
Dating someone with an autistic child means that you are the outsider.
So you’ve dated other people before, great. And you have kids so you understand how to be a parent. That’s great! And you’ve had serious relationships with other people who have kids and have adjusted well to their kids? Impressive!
You don’t understand autism at all!
I’m not being mean, I’m speaking from experience. I was a parent myself. I had dated other people with children and had done well with them. And I still knew nothing about being an autistic parent!
When you enter an autistic world of children, you are the odd person out, not them. What may seem strange to you may be normal to them.
This means that you will have to take a back seat for a period of time before you are on equal footing. But don’t let this scare you, because there are ways to get through this.
It Takes Two To Date.
I don’t know about you, but when I was in the dating scene, I was looking for the right person to spend my future with. I suppose it’s the same way or else I wouldn’t be taking the time to research this particular topic.
What better way to get to know who someone is than to see how they treat you and their child? And what better way for an autistic parent to get to know you than to see how serious you are and how well you adapt?
But this requires effort from both of you.
You can’t do all the work while they sit and wait the world out of you without ever giving you help, or the chance to learn.
At the same time, you can’t expect your potential partner to keep their parenting and dating life separate forever.
Here are some tips for each of you.
Tips For You
As I said above, take the time to learn all you can about autism and the associated behaviors.
Get to know the kid as a person, not as an autistic person.
Ask questions to get a better understanding. Yes, you want to get to know little Johnny as a person, but you may also want to know how much sensory intake is too much, or what to look for when a breakdown is happening.
Don’t give advice right away, no matter how much you’ve read! When you know little Jill, at least, as well as the teachers, for example, you can give your opinion. Until then, believe that the person you are dating has more experience and knows what they are doing. Watch and learn, and ask questions to clarify.
Be supportive and don’t judge. Being a single autistic parent can be a lonely job. Often it feels extremely hopeless. If an appointment has to be cancelled due to junior, I can promise you that it is harder on them than it is on you. Believe me, they would love nothing more than to have some adult time away from home.
Tips for the Autistic Parent
Even though this article is written specifically for someone considering dating an autistic parent, the following tips may be the most crucial!
If things are going to progress, it has to be a two-way street. You should consider sharing these things with your potential partner.
Set reasonable boundaries about what is acceptable, and about the influence a new person can have on your child.
Allow the person you’re dating to make mistakes, as long as it doesn’t compromise your child’s safety. You’ve made mistakes too, and probably worse! That’s how you’ve learned.
Teach the person you are with about autism…when they ask.
Your child comes first, but don’t hold onto the mantra to the point that you won’t let anyone else in. Don’t set unreasonable standards.
Finally, don’t get carried away by past experiences. You may have tried dating 100 people in the past that didn’t work out, but you’ve never dated that person!
Dating An Autistic Parent Versus Any Other Parent
Ultimately, dating someone with an autistic child is not much different than dating any other single parent.
Yes, there are additional time constraints that can be challenging. One of the biggest differences may be How long it takes to be introduced to the child!
Many people on the autism spectrum don’t handle change very well.
You have to be worth the stress that an autistic child may have about the change of you being around, and most autistic parents want to feel secure that you will continue to be around, or else they will have to face the stress of that change if you never leave.
That is a lot for someone to consider before introducing someone important into their child’s life.
Looking Beyond Dating
What if things get more serious and go further than just dating?
I know that before my wife and I became serious, and definitely before I met her son, I thought carefully about what my life would be like if we were together.
I had questions like, would I be able to do more than just experience autism occasionally? Could I live with it day in and day out? Would John ever move out, or was I committing to a life as a full-time parent? Did I want most of my free time spent doing things for someone else, or simply doing what I wanted to do?
I asked myself those questions and many more.
Actually, to be honest, I asked myself many deeper questions. Questions that may not sound so good, and have never been expressed out loud.
But that’s okay.
To be honest, I will tell you that many autistic parents ask themselves hard questions too.
Here’s the answer that came to my mind.
It may not be right for everyone, but it’s what worked for me.
My wife is one of the best people I have ever met. Hands down, without exception, and not blinded by love I knew she was a person I wanted in my life forever, whether in friendship or a deeper relationship. Don’t tell her the friendship part. I don’t want her to think I really like her or anything lol)
That left me wondering about a future with her son.
Never mind how shallow you would have to be to reject someone simply because of a diagnosis your child has. We’ve already discussed the private issues and considerations we all have, so let’s not have a discussion of morality either.
I looked at John as a person first.
We share many of the same interests. I admit that his interests may be more intense.
He may be able to tell you that the mosquito is the most dangerous animal on earth, and recite all about mosquitoes to you from the memory of page 237 of his book on animals, but you know what? It’s okay. He’s a cool kid.
He’s a cool kid who also has autism.
It’s not that I can “handle” him to be with my wife. It’s that I can except him for who he is.
I don’t” tolerate” him, I embrace him.
Is my life more challenging because he is in it? Sort of, but not really.
You adapt. You get to a place where you are no longer the “stranger” I described before. You are the one…or at least one of one.
I never would have known all this, never would have had the opportunity to find out if I hadn’t started dating my wife, and learned and experienced all the things that brought us to this point.
What Is Dating Someone With an Autistic Child Like for Me?
The first part of our relationship started mostly with phone calls, messages, and E-mails.
In the beginning, we only saw each other once a month.
We went out three or four times and talked a lot before she got a nanny to watch John once every two weeks so we could see each other regularly.
This went on for a few more months until we got to the point where she was ready to introduce me to her son and I was ready to meet him.
At that point, we both knew that we wanted to move forward as a couple.
I had answered my questions about a potential future with her and her son, and she had answered her own questions about our future together.
It was still a few months before I could see her son alone, but the rest is history. Almost a decade later and we are still together!
If you want more on this story, you really should check out my first videos where I describe dating Bella, first meeting John, and how I started learning about autism.
The first one, is my introduction to autism. This link will open my YouTube channel in a new page. There is a lot of information there!
You’ll never know what it’s like to date someone with an autistic child until you do it.
More importantly, you’ll never know if the person you’re interested in is the right person for you if you don’t take that step.
The fears you have about dating an autistic parent are often worse than what you think they are.
Likewise, the challenges will often be greater than you had imagined. It’s a lot like anything else in life, isn’t it?
Once you move beyond your fears, gain a deeper understanding of how things really are, you will find that your life is just…normal.
Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.