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“We know people with autism think very concretely,” said Laugeson.“Social skills can be abstract behavior that's difficult to describe, but we try to break it into concrete steps.”For example, PEERS will take the seemingly mundane, but actually complex act of flirting and translate it into a step-by-step lesson.A common trait of people on the spectrum is being extremely logical and straightforward.
The former Miss America system contestant and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music-trained opera singer knew she had a different conception of romance than her previous boyfriends had and, for that matter, everyone else.“People tend to think of romance as spur of the moment and exciting,” she told me.
“I think of romance as things that make sense and are logical.” However, she didn't know why until this year when, at the age of 31, when she was diagnosed with autism.
Autism diagnosis rates have increased dramatically over the last two decades (the latest CDC reports show one in 50 children are diagnosed), and while much attention has been paid to early-intervention programs for toddlers and younger children, teens and adults with autism have largely been overlooked—especially when it comes to building romantic relationships.
Certain characteristics associated with the autism spectrum inherently go against typical dating norms.
“Yet those feelings may be invisible to outsiders because we don't show them.
Because we don’t show them or the expected response, people make the wrong assumption about our depth of feeling about other people.”It’s not that individuals on the spectrum do not have the same desire for love; they just may not know how to find it. Elizabeth Laugeson, an Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA said, “If you asked a person with autism if they wanted a romantic relationship, they would probably say yes, but they would probably also say they don’t know how to.”Partially from the emphasis on early intervention treatments, there's a dearth of dating skills programs, or, rather, effective ones for people on the spectrum.
A constant complaint among the individuals interviewed for this piece is the misconception that people with autism can't express love or care for others.
“I think a lot of times someone will go out on a date with someone on the spectrum and think they’re a robot,” said Alex Plank, founder of Wrong Planet.net, a popular online autism community.
“First, a couple notices each other across the room.
They make eye contact and look away, and they look again and they look away,” said Laugeson.
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