Dating Someone With An Autistic Child
As I sit down to write this, wondering where to start, I look around my office and see the pictures on my desk and on the walls. There are pictures of me and my wife and of course family photos. One photo really stands out though. It’s a picture of me and my autistic step son. We are standing together, each with an arm around the other and one of his weighted blankets over our shoulders.
For me, dating someone with an autistic child can be summed up in this one photo. I see a kiddo (nearly the same height as me now lol) whose world I have helped shape, but just as importantly who has helped shape my world.
In this snapshot of our life, I see memories of some of the hardest challenges I have ever faced. I also see some of the greatest joys I have ever experienced. Do you know what I see more than anything else in this picture? I see my boy. My boy who has all of the traits of a neurotypical child; likes, dislikes, interests, feelings and dreams for a future life, but who also has autism.
An Objective Look At Dating Someone With An Autistic Child
Based on what I said above, you may think that this article is going to be about the joys of dating someone who has a child with autism. That’s not the case. The truth is, not everyone is cut out to handle the additional needs that an autistic child might require. And to be honest, not all autism parents can handle letting an adult role model get close enough to their child for a relationship to work!
What we will cover 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, the pros and the cons. We’ll also talk about what it takes to make a relationship with an autism parent work. I’m guessing you’re reading this because you’re interested in dating an autism parent so what good would it do if I didn’t explain how to be successful?!?!
My Child Comes First
Whether it’s an autism parent or a neurotypical parent, what nearly ALL single parents say most often is, ”My child comes first”. As it should be! This takes on a whole new meaning for single autism parents though.
Imagine being the parent of a child who has special needs. Who needs more direct attention and relies on a routine that may be disrupted if time is taken to go on a date. A child who may have numerous planned activities each week such as therapies or activities related to therapy like music class, swimming lessons, martial arts or other events to help them better relate to the world around them. Not to mention the challenges of finding a sitter for a special needs child.
Understand that the needs of an autistic child HAS to come first. They won’t just be disappointed if their routine is changed, their entire life at that moment might be affected! Mr or Miss autism parent may not be able to go on a date tonight because it’s chicken nugget and Thomas The Train night. This may sound ridiculous to you, but to them it’s their entire world.
Now that we understand dating someone with an autistic child means there will be very limited time, what do we do about it? I recommend learning about autism. Take this time to understand autism, and decide if the type of life your prospective boyfriend/girlfriend is living is the type of life you can handle.
It will seem enormously challenging and completely different at first. What I have found to be true though, is that as people’s understanding changes, so too does their perspective on life. If you think the person you are wanting to date might be worth it, learn more before judging.
Two simple words, understand autism, and yet there are countless books, blogs, and other material about the subject. Let me make it easy for you. No matter how much you read or how many videos you watch, you will never truly understand autism the way you are hoping until you experience it.
Every single person is unique and autism affects each person in a different way. When you take the uniqueness of an individual coupled with the uniqueness of the diagnosis, you truly appreciate it when they say that if you’ve met one person with autism you’ve met one person with autism!
Then What Can I Do?
You can learn and better understand the behaviors that make up an autism diagnosis. When you have a better understanding of the behaviors themselves, you can then take that knowledge and apply it to the individual.
A lot of the information out there covers what autism is like, but doesn’t explain the behaviors associated with the diagnosis itself. This leads you to assume all autistic people are just like the ones you read about. You then become confused when little Johnny isn’t the Rain Man you’ve studied.
Black or white thinking for example, is a behavior commonly associated with autism. The severity of black and white thinking though, as well as the person’s life experiences and frames of reference means that each autistic person will experience it differently. Some may not even exhibit this behavior at all! Here is a GREAT article about Autism Behaviors to get you started. I highly recommend you take the time to read it!
Understand Behaviors Associated With Autism, But Know The Person
The second part to all of this is to get to know the kiddo as a person! In most cases, an autism parent, or any parent for that matter, is not going to introduce you to their child right away. When you talk about their child though, try to get to know them as a person, not as someone with autism.
Just because someone has autism doesn’t make them any less human. Autism does not define who they are. Say for example you have a child who is blind. If you were dating someone, would you want all of the questions about your kiddo to be about their blindness? No! A kiddo with autism still has likes and dislikes. They have interests, hopes, fears, dreams and every emotion or feeling you would expect any other child to have.
Dating Someone With An Autistic Child Means YOU Are The Odd One
So you’ve dated other people before, great. Oh, and you have kids so you understand parenting. That’s awesome! AND you’ve been in serious relationships with other people who have children and adapted well to their kids? Impressive!
You don’t know jack crap about being an autism parent! When you step into an autistic kiddos world, YOU are the odd person, not them. What may seem weird to you might be normal for them.
This means you will have to take a back seat for a long period of time before you’re on equal footing. Don’t let this scare you though, because there are ways to overcome this.
It Takes Two To Date
I don’t know about you, but back when I was on the dating scene I was looking for the right person to spend my future with. I’m guessing you’re the same way or else you wouldn’t be taking the time to research this specific topic.
What better way to get to know who someone really is than by seeing how they treat you and their child? And what better way for an autism parent to get to know you than to see how serious you are and how well you adapt?
This does take effort from both of you though. You can’t put forth all the work while they sit back and expect the world out of you without ever giving you help or the chance to learn. At the same time, you can’t expect your prospective partner to keep their parenting life and their dating life separate forever.
Here are some tips for each of you.
Tips For You
As I stated above, take the time to learn all you can about autism and the associated behaviors.
Get to know the kiddo as a person, not just as an autistic.
Ask questions to gain a better understanding. Yes you want to know little Johnny as a person, but you might also want to know how much sensory intake is too much, or what to look for when a meltdown is coming on.
Do NOT offer advice right away no matter how much you’ve read! When you get to know little Jill at least as well as her teachers for example, then you can put in your two cents. Until then, trust that the person you’re dating has more experience and knows what they are doing. Watch and learn, and ask questions to clarify.
Be supportive and nonjudgmental. Being a single autism parent can be a lonely job. It often times feels extremely unrewarding. If a date has to be canceled due to junior, I can promise you it’s harder for them than it is for you. Believe me, they would love nothing more than to have some adult time out of the house.
Tips For The Autism Parent
Even though this article is written specifically for someone considering dating an autism parent, the following tips might be the most crucial! If things are going to progress, it has to be a two way street.
Set REASONABLE boundaries on what is acceptable and on what influence a new person can have on your child.
Allow the person you’re dating to make mistakes as long as it does not jeopardize the safety of your child. You’ve made mistakes too, and probably worse ones! That’s how you learned.
Teach the person you’re with about autism…when they ask.
You’re kiddo comes first, but don’t cling to that mantra to the point where you won’t let someone else in. Don’t set unreasonable standards.
Finally, don’t be jaded by past experiences. You may have tried dating 100 people in the past that didn’t work, but you’ve never dated THIS person!
Dating An Autism Parent Vs. Dating Any Other Parent
At the end of the day, dating someone with an autistic child isn’t much different than dating any other single parent. Yes there are additional time constraints which can be challenging. One of the biggest differences might be in how long it takes to be introduced to the child!
Many people on the autism spectrum do not handle change very well. You have to be worth the stress an autistic child may have over the change of you being around AND most autism parents want to feel secure that you will continue being around, or else they will have to face the stress of THAT change should you ever leave.
That’s a lot for someone to consider before introducing someone important into their kiddos life.
Looking Beyond Dating
What if things get more serious and go further than merely dating? I know before Bella and I became serious, and definitely before I met John, I gave careful consideration to 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 handle actually living with it day in and day out? Would John ever move out, or was I committing myself to a life of being 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. In fact, to be honest I asked myself many deeper questions. Questions that may not sound so nice, and were never voiced aloud. That’s OK though. To keep it real here, I’ll tell you that many autism parents secretly ask themselves questions too.
Here’s The Answer I Came Up With
It may not be right for everyone, but it’s what worked for me. My wife Bella is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met. Hands down, bar none, 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 about the friendship part though. I don’t want her thinking I actually like her or anything lol)
That left me to consider a future with her son John. Forget how shallow I would have to be to reject someone simply because of a diagnosis their child has. We already discussed the private questions and considerations we all have, so we’re not going to have a morality discussion too.
I looked at John as a person first. We share many of the same interests. His interests might be more intense. He might be able to tell you that the mosquito is the most dangerous animal on earth, and recite everything about mosquitoes to you by memory from page 237 in his book about animals, but you know what? That’s OK. He’s a cool kid.
He’s a cool kid who also has autism. It’s not that I can “deal” with him in order to be with Bella. 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’ll come to a place where you are no longer the “odd one” I described earlier. You are THE one…or at least one of the one’s. You are family.
I would have never known all of this, would have never even gotten the chance to find out had I not started dating Bella.
What Did Dating Someone With An Autistic Child Look Like For Me?
The first part of our relationship started with mostly phone calls, texts and emails. In the beginning Bella and I only got to see each other once a month or so. We went out on three or four dates, and talked a ton before Bella arranged it to where she found someone to watch John once every two weeks so we could see one another on a regular basis.
This lasted for a few more months until we were to the point where she was ready to introduce me to John and I was ready to meet him. By that point we both knew we wanted to move forward as a couple. I had answered my questions regarding a potential future with John, and she had answered her own questions about our future together.
It was still a few months before I was allowed to watch John alone, but the rest is history. Nearly a decade later and we are still together!
If you want more on that story, you really should check out my early videos where I describe dating Bella, first meeting John and how I began learning about autism. The first one, is My Introduction To Autism. This link will open my YouTube channel in a new tab. Lot’s of info there!
You’re never truly going to know what dating someone with an autistic child is like until you do it. More importantly, you’ll never know if the person you are interested in is the right person for you if you don’t take that step.
The fears you have about dating an autism parent are often way worse than you make them out to be. By the same token, the challenges will often times be bigger than you had imagined. It’s a lot like anything else in life isn’t it?
Once you move forward beyond your fears, gain a deeper understanding of how things truly are, you find that your life is simply…normal.