The dating world can be a confusing and frustrating place. Trying to merge two lives can be tricky. And in todays world, a lot of times it’s more than just two lives with the extremely high rate of single parents. Everyone comes from different backgrounds, spiritual beliefs…some come with a lot of baggage, good and bad. There are so many different pieces to the puzzle to try to fit together. So imagine the added stress of being a single parent to a child with Autism or any other special needs for that fact. Before you even go on the first date, you practice how you will even TELL the other person that your child is special. I did this for the longest time.
Sometimes I even avoided telling them for awhile so they could get to know me first. Why would I do this? Because I had several bad responses. Men would hear, “My son is Autistic,” and you could watch them try to hide a multitude of feelings. The date would turn awkward usually and I wouldn’t hear from them again. I knew that if they got to know me AND my son, they would love us. So, I decided to stop telling them so early. Some may find this entrapment, I call it being a good saleswoman.
Look, people who are not familiar with Autism hear you say your child is Autistic and they think they’re going to be dealing with Rainman. You’re really not going to convince them otherwise over a 2 hour dinner. In the same token, I personally do not want to become attached to a man who is going to flake out on me because my child being disabled makes him uncomfortable. So, here is my rule of thumb…I like to go out on 2-3 dates with a guy and get to know each other pretty well. By this point, I know if I’m interested in taking things further and if he is too. Then I ask him along to a trip to the zoo or the water park with my kids and I. Chose something fun, active. During the course of the “date” my son will usually cover his ears frantically over a sound that over stimulates him. My date will give a curious look and after I have taken care of my son, I softly explain that he is Autistic. Not yet has anyone reacted in the way that some did on that first date.
Several have sympathetically nodded and said they know another Autistic child and we’ve went on to compare therapies and treatments. My son has even ended up with some wonderful play dates this way! Others are always very curious, politely ask questions and almost always say, “I would have never guessed. I thought he just had a speech delay.” Almost every one has made some sort of comment that they thought Autistic child were out of control and behaved poorly. Those who do not know Autism have very warped ideas of just what Autism is. I’ve always believed that it is my job as a parent of Autism to educate the world for him.
At this point, if the relationship continues to develop, I give them an easy read book on Autism so they can learn more and understand just what my sons world is like. And honestly, this is a little test on my part. Most read it and come back with questions and a discussion. Some act put out that I’m asking them to put a little time and effort into learning and understanding Autism so that they can fully understand what not only my sons world is like, but mine also. Those are the men I swiftly show the door. I’ve also found that Autism Expo’s and Conventions are a great way to give your mate a hands on approach to not only learning about Autism but also how to manage and help your child overcome it.
Another area of stress that can then develop is the meeting of the children. Personally, this has been the most stressful, aggravating and disheartening part for me. To the point that it’s become hard for me not to be a little discriminatory about dating men with children in certain age ranges. Children preschool age and younger don’t seem to notice differences in another child and if they do, they don’t mind. Teenagers are often sympathetic and find the little quirks “cute” and always want to be my sons “buddy.” Several other single mothers in my Autism support group have had the same experience generally. Unless there is a child within their immediate family that is disabled. We all speculate this happens because children of grade school age are just realizing that people are different and different makes them uncomfortable. Teenagers have been exposed to it much longer in schools, if they haven’t been personally touched by Autism (which seems rare these days)…they often seem to really embrace the chance to be a role model, a “buddy.
No matter what, I think the whole situation needs to be handled with care. Your mate should sit down and talk to their children before they meet your child. Even better, I think you should be a part of that discussion if everyone is comfortable with it. Deciding on where to have the children meet is important also. Picking a location that all the children enjoy and a place that will cause the least amount of meltdowns or over stimulations for your child as possible is very important. An activity that allows you, the parents, to be involved at all times so that you can monitor and diffuse any possible problems. If your child becomes overstimulated and melts down, explain why or have him explain why while you are soothing your child.
No matter what, I think the biggest thing to always keep in mind is that the person you are truly meant to be with will be more than happy to do whatever is needed to join his life with yours. Someone who truly loves you and your child wants the very best for you and will be more than willing to help you both obtain your needs.
I wish you luck on your journey…