This Valentine’s Day, Brig sat down with Chair of The Disabled Students Association of Stirling University, Sonny Bailey, to talk about the differences people on the autistic spectrum can come across when dating.
There are many misconceptions that surround people on the autistic spectrum and relationships. The characteristics of autism can make aspects of everyday life challenging such as casual conversations, picking up social cues and making small talk. These can all be magnified when it comes to dating.
Some characteristics associated with the autism spectrum need to be thought through, especially when planning a date. For instance, the location must be taken into account, as well as sensory issues. But this does not necessarily mean that people on the spectrum don’t like dating or that there is any truth in any of the misconceptions.
Brig: How do you feel about dating in general?
Sonny: I find dating can be quite challenging, specifically online dating; there’s a psychological barrier between trying to understand people’s tone on text and stuff.
So, there is a difficulty in that. But also in person it can be challenging as it’s hard to read peoples facial expressions and body language; and you don’t know how they are feeling until they tell you.
So social cues can be quite difficult, knowing what to do and what not to do.
Brig: Do you online date?
Sonny: I did, previously I met my last date online. I met her when I travelled to America, so it was a long-distance relationship.
Brig: Did you meet her here or in the states?
Sonny: I met her online whilst I was running an anime page on Facebook, I have met a lot of people through there. Particularly through an appreciation for pop culture.
Brig: Are there positives to dating?
Sonny: I like the affection part of it, the endearment, the thought of being hugged, being embraced stuff like that. A lot of people won’t hug autistic people because they have this misconception that they don’t want to be touched. It depends on the person, but for me I feel like I haven’t had affection very much, so I look forward to that when I’m dating.
Brig: Have you had any memorable dates?
Sonny: Probably one of my most memorable dates was when we went to one of my favourite American restaurants. I just enjoy eating out so it’s more of a traditional date that anything else.
Brig: Do you prefer online dating or meeting people the old-fashioned way?
Sonny: I would actually prefer if I met them in person and then started talking online. That way I know they are not a stranger. When you start online you don’t know anything about them, it’s so much easier to gauge someone in person than it is just from looking at a Facebook profile.
Brig: When you are dating, is being on the autism spectrum something you are quite upfront about?
Sonny: For me personally, I’m quite open, I’m a very open person. I need people to be able to understand exactly what my needs are, it’s important to be open about it and not closed. If something happens and you didn’t tell them about it before it can be really difficult to then have that conversation.
Brig: Do you have a type?
Sonny: I’m not necessarily one to go for looks. Personality for sure, people you can relate to, someone outgoing and open, someone with good ambition and self-confidence. Because if you have self-confidence it’s easier to help each other and get along dating wise.
I wouldn’t say appearance is that important to me, it’s more what is on the inside that counts. I’m not really one to go out drinking or clubbing so I probably just want someone who’s able to adapt to my needs and issues, understand I prefer not to go out clubbing and drinking.
Brig: A lot of people meet their partners on the nightlife scene, do you find this is a barrier when it comes to dating?
Sonny: It’s possible to meet people other ways. The problem with me is I am not very good at initiating conversation so at parties I’m really quiet, at social events I’m not really active. I find it difficult to express myself that’s where my social media has helped me out.
A combination for autistic people is really good.
Brig: Another misconception people think is that people on the spectrum only date other people on the spectrum?
Sonny: That’s not true at all! In fact, none of my dates have been autistic, they don’t have to be. Good advice for people dating someone autistic is to find out about their needs, and things that relate to them. What makes them feel comfortable, building up that trust is a big foundation [to a good relationship].
I broke up with my ex for disagreements on really petty things. She wanted to do different activities and wouldn’t accept that I didn’t want to go on electric scooters due to issues with hand-eye coordination.
We had differences, like I’m not very clued up on sex education and stuff. When she took me into a sex shop, I was just like what even is this? Those sorts of things led to the end of our relationship.
Brig: What about the misconception that a lot of people on the spectrum are asexual?
Sonny: Some people are, some people aren’t. There’s definitely a neurodiversity in autism. Most people on the autistic spectrum might also have LGBT+ stances.
Brig: Are there any other misconceptions you want people to understand?
Sonny: There are two misconceptions, one is autistic people are incapable of showing any emotion such as empathy. Obviously, that’s not true, I am one of the most empathetic people out there because it’s easier for me to relate to people’s problems and try to help them that way.
Secondly, that people on the spectrum are unable to love, again that goes into the whole psychological aspect of the emotions and stuff. It is not true. We just have different additional needs, but we are still the same humans, the same as everyone else when it comes to dating. I don’t think we should be singled out for that.
To find out more check out the Disabled Students Association of Stirling University’s Facebook page.