Dating Success: Strategies for Those on the Spectrum And With NVLD
It is well-know that young adults on the autism spectrum and with Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) often struggle with understanding nonverbal body language and social nuances such as humor, figures of speech, and sarcasm. The difficulties of dating for those with NVLD and on the spectrum have been documented, with blog posts stating that due to deficits in understanding body language and emotional reciprocity, young adults will often struggle to establish and maintain relationships.[i] Less well-known are the strategies that young adults on the spectrum and with NVLD can use to build on their strengths and ultimately find a long-term partner. I outline some of them below.
Before specifying strategies for dating success, it is important to recognize the many strengths that these young adults have. Tony Atwood, the world-renowned expert on Asperger Syndrome, asserts that many young people with Asperger have attractive qualities, such as openness and honesty, loyalty, and attentiveness.[ii] These qualities are shared by many young adults with NVLD.
Practice Won’t Make Perfect, But It Helps a Lot If it’s Fun.
When a young person practices his or her dating techniques through role-playing, the fear of judgement can create significant discomfort. However, when the process is fun, involves laughter and excitement, and affords creativity, young adults on the spectrum and with NVLD can learn to develop what is known as a “theory of mind,” or an understanding of how others think and feel. Dr. Lana Pena Morgans writes not only does she allow the teenagers she works with to lead social skill building activities, but she also helps them by having them engage in dramatic performances, building their understanding of characters and the audience. Furthermore, she states that “it is so much safer getting directions as an actor, than receiving direction on your own personal social skills!”[iii]
If young adults can also imagine dating as a play, during which they act out different dating situations, learning skills and supporting one another in the process, this can be an effective strategy for acquiring skills while having fun.
Try Places To Meet Like-Minded Individuals
It is also important to point out that online dating, although an increasingly popular resource, may not work well for young adults on the spectrum or with NVLD, especially if it requires them to understand nuanced social rules. As stated by the New York City dating coach Jeremy Hamburg in The Atlantic, “Online dating is its own world. How can you expect someone with autism, who is already poor at picking up on rules, to succeed in a world that has a totally separate set of rules?”[iv] However, some young adults may prefer this dating method, especially if it allows them to avoid immediate face-to-face interaction. Also, it is important to note that there are websites available for those who wish to date on the spectrum, such as Aspie-Singles and AutisticDating.Net.
Practice and Take Pride in the Small Steps
Work on Accepting Yourself
Perhaps one of the most painful challenges for any young adult on the spectrum is a history of past rejection. Therefore, one of the areas that is important to work on is self-acceptance. For many, this is easier said than done, especially after multiple rejections. It has also been my experience that many individuals with NVLD and on the spectrum need not only to be reminded of their strengths, but also to consider how they can use them while dating. At times, this process may be facilitated by working with a therapist or somebody who is trained to work with NVLD or those on the spectrum and who understands the specific challenges that this population faces. There are a variety of organizations that work with this population, including the group practice I am affiliated with, Spectrum Services of New York, and the Asperger Autism Network, AANE.
[i]Weaver, Rheyanne (2016) Tips for Being in A Relationship With a Man Who has Asperger’s or Autism.[blog post] Retrieved from http://www.empowher.com/mental-health/content/tips-being-relationship-man-who-has-aspergers-or-autism.
[ii] Atwood, T (2009). Romantic Relationships for Young Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism. Interactive Autism Network: Linking the Autism Community and Researchers. Retrieved from https://iancommunity.org/cs/articles/relationships.
[iii] Pena Morgens, L (2014). Not Another Role Play! Asperger/Autism Network.
[iv] Al-Nasrawi, R (2013, November). Online Dating, on the Autism Spectrum. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/online-dating-on-the-autism-spectrum/281710/
[v] Atwood, T (2009). Romantic Relationships for Young Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism. Interactive Autism Network: Linking the Autism Community and Researchers. Retrieved from https://iancommunity.org/cs/articles/relationships.