How Do I Tell a Date I'm Autistic?
No two people on the Autism spectrum are exactly the same: it’s called a spectrum expressly because everybody on it is different. Particular forms of Autism manifest in diverse behaviors and personality attributes. The widespread idiosyncrasies of individual members of the Autistic community include how Autistic individuals approach the topic of how they talk about their Autism to other people, including people they want to date or have already started dating.
Personally, I’m usually extremely open about being on the Autism spectrum in general social interactions. That may be a byproduct of me being a boisterous person in general, but whatever the reason, I’m usually quite upfront about being on the Autism spectrum. It’s the kind of thing I put in my bio on social media profile, bring up in casual social situations with friends and talk about in conversations openly. That particular pattern of behavior fits me just fine, but it usually occurs in more casual social spaces where I’m familiar with the people I’m interacting with.
Such casual familiarity might feel like it runs against the entire concept of a typical dating scenario where you’re meeting someone for the first time or engaging in dates to get to know them better, and might only be sharing small, shallower bits of information about one another as you test the waters with someone new. Such a process is no picnic for anybody, but for individuals on the Autism spectrum, it can be a tricky one to navigate for a multitude of reasons, one of the most noticeable being how to first tell someone that you’re dating or romantically interested in that you’re on the Autism spectrum. Even in the meager few forays I’ve had into the daunting world of dating, I’ve still had to encounter that social pressure myself and can vouch for just how intimidating that can be.
I’ve certainly myself felt like the prospect of telling another person you’re on the Autism spectrum — whether it’s to a potential romantic partner or to any type of human being — is daunting, and, alas, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all exact process for tackling the topic. But I can certainly offer a little help so you can figure out some concrete ways of scaling what can feel like an immense social mountain.
How, Where and When to Tell
Whether it’s in a phone call, an online dating profile or in a face-to-face conversation, I think it’s best to just be open and easygoing about this part of yourself. Don’t forget that your Autism is nothing to be ashamed of! Openness about this can be a boon for both yourself and whoever you’re divulging that information to. For you, it means you don’t have to come up with some big dog-and-pony show to reveal yourself as being on the Autism spectrum. For the other person, this delivery can let them know how to treat your Autism: like it’s normal, because it is. This method is one that’s taken me years to grasp and I’m still fine-tuning it. But now, whether I’m talking to someone I’m romantically interested in or just introducing myself to people in general, I’m able to talk about my Autism like it should be ideally discussed: not as a bug, not as a disease, but just as another part of myself, one that I’m able to communicate about clearly and casually. I am a person on the Autism spectrum, hear me roar, and all that.
One of the other benefits of introducing your Autism in a casual manner is the bonuses it presents to someone you’re dating. Following your lead, they can treat it in a similarly casual manner which can help them get to know a crucial part of you better, and also let them feel more comfortable with something they might not yet know how to be comfortable with. Instead of sealing a part of yourself off from them, you’ve opened up about a core part of who you are as a person to someone you care about. Dating is all about getting to know one another better and this is a crucial way to accomplish that tenant of dating another human being.
Being on the Autism spectrum is a part of who you are like your hair color, sexuality or any other aspect of yourself that’s out of your control and ingrained into your DNA. People are generally easy and open with someone they’re dating about what their eye color or favorite food: why shouldn’t people be similarly open about their Autism? Plus, conveying this information in a clear yet casual manner early on like this allows for you to clearly know if the person you’re dating is willing to accept you for who you are. If you find out they’re not, this lets you move on before you’ve invested a lot of time, energy and heart.
There’s another way to approach this if you’re engaging in online dating, specifically. From personal experience, including that I’m on the Autism spectrum as part of my bio page alongside other personality traits can put that information right out in the open to potentially interested parties from the start. To boot, that openness about being on the Autism spectrum is placed right alongside other aspects of who you are as a person. This way, one has a better chance of defining their own personality instead of letting another persons perception of what people on the Autism spectrum are like cloud such a definition. This also helps normalize Autism.
We can also talk about Autism with people in person. You might have to work a little harder to integrate it organically into a conversation than you would just posting it on a profile. After all, one doesn’t want to interrupt someone’s story about a vacation they recently took to abruptly talk about their own Autism. When there's a point in the conversation that does manage to swing back to your own personal life or even a real-world news story/famous person related to the world of Autism, that can be an ideal time to casually reveal this part of yourself. It’s also good to do this in a location that feels comfortable for both of you, where your date can feel free to ask any follow-up questions they might have, and where you feel comfortable potentially answering some really personal questions.
Of course, depending on your own social discomforts, you don’t have to talk to someone in person to reveal your Autism if that’s not what works best for you. I’m someone who’s always nervous about talking to someone face-to-face when it comes time to talk about me or ask for something for me. I can certainly relate to the idea of finding the specific circumstance of revealing your Autism to another person face-to-face too overwhelming to execute.
If that specific scenario is too daunting, you can also divulge this information through a casual phone call. The same conversational rules (namely, just incorporating your own style of telling in an organic way in the conversation) apply to a telephone conversation as they do to a face-to-face conversation but here, you can focus less on a person’s facial expressions or cues and more on words.
A text message is also fine if that’s the form of communication you feel most comfortable using. Whatever format of communication you most prefer to interact with other people in can be the same format you use to reveal this part of yourself.
As for when to tell, well, that’s the simplest part of this at all. I think you should make this part of your identity as clear as possible as early on in your interactions as you can.
What to Tell
Revealing your Autism to someone is not usually a brief one-and-done type of deal. Autism, your own experiences and your needs with it, are all often complex. Beyond the introduction of your Autism, it’s good to further engage with the principle of openness regarding other, deeper or more detailed facets of your Autism. After all, openness, ideally, should define any relationship between people, romantic or otherwise. Real human connections are built upon a bedrock about openness, and by being upfront about the traits of your particular form of Autism, you can establish the kind of openness that’s necessary to connect with someone you care about.
As for what should be specifically talked about, well, that’s where things get a little more complicated. Let’s break this down:
What Are You Sensitive To?
A frequent trait for people on the Autism spectrum is a particularly extreme sensitivity to certain types of noises, environments or textures. For myself, I get anxiety being surrounded by large crowds or loud noises while rough textures (like the surface of chalk) tend to send my skin crawling. Be upfront about the specific things in life that your form of Autism makes you particularly anxious around. This way, you and the person you’re date can make sure you’re interacting at locations and in other ways that work for you and aren’t sending your anxiety through the roof!
A System of Awareness For Anxiety
Building off of the point regarding elements of everyday life you might be extra sensitive to, it’s good to use this discussion as a chance to implement a simple way to alert the person you’re dating if you’re anxious in a certain situation. If, for instance, you’re like me, and your form of Autism makes you prone to anxiety in social situations involving lots of people, you can try to create a hand gesture or even a code word with the person you’re dating or interested in to alert them that you’re anxious in this space.
How Socially Conscious Are You?
Frequently struggling in social situations is another hallmark of being on the Autism spectrum: to what degree you struggle or what parts of the social experience you may struggle with vary. It’s taken me years to become reasonably solid in social interactions, yet I still struggle with understanding sarcasm or some subtle cues in in-person conversations. Those are the kind of struggles stemming from my Autism I’d relay to someone I was dating so that they can be more fully aware of why you might be, say, confused by a sarcastic remark you just made, and so they can know how to best communicate with you.
Life Experience With Autism
If the person you’re dating has inquiries regarding how your Autism has impacted you throughout your life, be open with them about it. There’s a point where these kind of inquiries can become overbearing and feel like they turn the past of a person on the Autism spectrum into some kind of zoo exhibit. (If that happens, you’re certainly allowed to create, state and hold some limits and boundaries.) However, in healthy doses, exploring how your Autism has affected you can be a great way to explore solutions for the future. Certainly I’ve managed to find plenty of ways to improve myself socially by taking an unflinching look at the my past social snafus. It can also give the person you’re dating a real sense of what day-to-day life is like for you as a person with Autism.
Ideally, someone you’re romantically interested in should be able to be understanding when and as you share this information. It may be a lot to process, but it’s worth mentioning (including to the person you’re dating) that so many people not only live with Autism on a daily life, but live with someone who has Autism.
However, goodness knows, life is not an ideal experience and people don’t always behave well. If someone behaves in a boorish or condescending manner when learning you have Autism, it’s best to just excuse yourself as soon as you can and then not see that person in the future, if possible. You can just calmly tell them you’re sorry they feel that way and wrap up your conversation with them. It’s not an easy thing to do, but a person refusing to accept your Autism and how it impacts you isn’t a small thing, in fact, it’s the total opposite of that.
That’s the kind of barrier a healthy, affirming relationship cannot overcome. It’s important to remember that a hang-up about specifically dating a person of the Autism spectrum is a hang-up with that person, rather than yourself. The prospect of that being the outcome of this conversation is one of many reasons why it’s so daunting to consider telling someone you’re dating that you’re on the Autism spectrum. But just because it’s daunting doesn’t mean us people on the Autism spectrum shouldn’t be open about our Autism, especially since the modern world provides so many ways in which we can divulge that important information to other people. We can do this, and it can go well! As said earlier, I am Autistic, hear me roar!