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Love Beyond Neurotypicality: How to support young adults on the spectrum in the dating world

Navigating the dating world is not easy. Swiping right, communication, social cues, body language, dating etiquette – it can be overwhelming at times. Layer that with entering the dating scene as someone with an autism diagnosis, it can be very challenging for both the individual and, for young people, their parents or caregivers as well.

There are many misconceptions around autism and relationships. The most common being; that people with autism are not interested in forming relationships, that people with autism don’t have a full range of emotions, or that people with autism are not able to have meaningful relationships or friendships. All of these couldn’t be further from the truth. For autistic youth who are interested in forming relationships, both romantic and platonic, encouragement and support can go a long way and set the stage for dating success.

There are several aspects that can present distinctive challenges in dating for individuals on the autism spectrum including differences in social and communication skills, sensory sensitivities, and an inclination for routine. The hit reality show Love on the Spectrum returned for its second season earlier this year. The show is a fan favourite as it follows the trials and tribulations of seven young autistic adults exploring the world of dating and relationships. The show utilizes a highly reputable, internationally acclaimed social skills curriculum called PEERS® to help guide the show’s participants ahead of their dates so that they feel better prepared and can confidently enter the dating world. This program is proven to enhance relational skills overall and is implemented in over 35 countries.

Shelly Lamain is a Consultant at Kinark Child and Family Services (Kinark) who provides this evidence-based PEERS® program. We recently spoke with her about how parents can support their child, the specific skills and strategies that can be developed, and answers other common questions around dating with autism.


How can a parent support the social development of their autistic child to foster meaningful relationships throughout their life?

This is one of the most common questions we receive from parents interested in the PEERS® program for their child, along with where can my teen meet others with similar interests? The Kinark team recommends that caregivers provide support by enrolling them in different events, groups, and community activities based on their areas of strength and interest. Kids and young adults will be more motivated to attend social events if they know they can focus on a topic they are interested in. Doing this will allow them an increased opportunity to practice the skills they have learned, and they are more likely to meet others with common shared interests.

How else can caregivers support the young people in their lives?

Whenever possible, it’s important that caregivers work in collaboration with their child’s school by sharing goals and social skills your teen is working on. Ask about a social skill group at school, a club, or other social opportunities to work on a similar goal in a specific setting. Role play, create scenarios and act them out, talk about how they would respond, or watch videos that model the skill. Ultimately, be sure to practice the skills taught in group to support the transfer of these skills from the group program to home, school, and the community.

Are there specific strategies or interventions that have been found effective in helping individuals with autism build and maintain meaningful connections with others?

Role play and practice are incredibly effective! In group we create scenarios of common social skill interactions or situations (e.g., you want to join a group of peers talking, you want to ask someone out on a date, someone is teasing you about what you are wearing, etc.) and role play and act the scenarios out. We encourage parents to do the same at home, talking about and practicing the steps for how their teen could respond, or what they might do in various social situations. Behaviour Skills Training (BST) is a strategy that is commonly used in our groups. It is a process that involves giving an instruction, modeling what they need to do, having them practice the skill, and then providing feedback on how they did. Kinark also runs virtual parent education sessions on BST, if you want to learn more.

In what ways can technology be used to assist individuals with autism in navigating social interactions and relationships?  

Technology and virtual groups allow teens to participate from the comfort of their home, alleviating some of the social pressures that may come with in-person groups. Participants are able to listen to lessons, watch videos that model the skills, and then break out into smaller breakout rooms to practice the skills. For some that live in more isolated areas, virtual programming allows them increased access to group options, as well as to social events, such as our Kinark Teen Socials, to interact with other teens and practice the skills they are learning in group.

What kinds of skills and strategies can someone expect to take away from the internationally acclaimed PEERS® program?

In PEERS® for Adolescents and Young Adults, participants will leave with a better understanding of how to make friends, the importance of finding a common interest, and how to start, maintain, and leave a conversation. They will also learn how to handle teasing and bullying, how to change a bad reputation, how to handle disagreements, and more! In the PEERS® Dating group, participants will learn about flirting, how to ask someone on a date, consent and dating safety, and what to do before, during, and after a date.


While each autistic person experiences autism differently, the skills learned in this program are universal. To learn more about the friendship and dating program offerings available at Kinark Child and Family Services, visit

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