Falling in Love with Autism: Understanding Romantic Signals

For many, including myself, romance is a foreign and often incomprehensible language. Meeting, understanding, and igniting the spark with another individual is a daunting and complicated task. However, for the neurodiverse community, finding a romantic partner is a much more difficult, and sometimes near-impossible undertaking. The differences in their neurological makeups mean that ASD individuals have significantly more hurdles to jump when it comes to romance. Impaired social cognition often makes it difficult for such individuals to pick up on small social cues that hint at attraction—contributing to the difficulties autistic people have in finding love.

The process of building attraction between two people relies heavily upon

Romance is a tricky concept. The process of building mutual attraction relies heavily on body language, eye contact, and vocal intonations.

unspoken signals. Body language, eye contact, and vocal intonations are all important aspects of cultivating a relationship. Being able to convey one’s thoughts and emotions is pivotal in any relationship. In fact, several dating websites list communication as one of the most important parts of romance.

However, autistic individuals often have trouble interpreting romantic signals, and therefore have trouble telling whether or not an individual is interested in them. Furthermore, people of the neurodiverse community have much difficulty maintaining eye contact and making small talk—both of which are critical parts of finding a partner.

Societal norms, especially surrounding romance, create a set of expectations that people expect to be met. However, straying outside that box often leads to trouble–boding poorly for the neurodiverse.

In addition to the struggles that ASD individuals have in detecting attraction from another person, they also have trouble expressing their own feelings in socially ‘appropriate’ ways. Autistic individuals often convey their thoughts in ways that seem strange, or even rude, to neurotypical individuals. Given the nuance of romance, this trait often serves the neurodiverse community negatively when it comes to that field.

The reason for such difficulties lies in the neurological contrasts between neurotypical and neurodiverse individuals. Studies have shown that ASD individuals have decreased social cognition due to differences in executive function, theory of mind, and central coherence. Executive function refers to higher order functions such as cognitive flexibility, working memory, goal setting, and inhibition. Theory of mind is the capacity to identify, attribute, and manipulate ones own beliefs and desires. Both of these abilities contribute significantly to the field of romance, and because of their different neurological makeups, neurodiverse individuals are at a disadvantage when it comes to traditional aspects of romance.


Love may be more difficult to find for the neurodiverse community, but it is not impossible. Here, Jack Robison and his girlfriend, Kristen, sit happily together. Both are ASD individuals. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times.

However, just because ASD individuals have more obstacles to clear in the field of romance, does not mean that they are incapable of succeeding. In today’s society, love should be universal—no matter your neurological makeup. Everyone can be successful in finding love. Sometimes, it just has to be achieved in a different way.


Sources Consulted:

Neurodiversity, Social Cognition Lecture Notes, 02/21/18

Neurodiversity, Executive Function Lecture Notes, 01/29/18

Neurodiversity, Peer Relationship Lecture Notes, 02/15/18

Neurodiversity, Social Blindeness Lecture Notes, 02/19/18

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