A touch can say much more than a thousand words ever can. Now, one year into lockdown, the inability to hug distant family members, relatives and friends, is something many of us desperately yearn for. St Valentine’s Day has been and gone and, if you are a single autism parent, like me, you’re starting to believe you’ll never feel the warm embrace of a loving partner ever again.
Single parent dating, after a lengthy gap, can be a daunting at the best of times. Sprinkle in a few added complications, such as learning disability, language delay, and autism, and the task suddenly takes on seemingly insurmountable proportions.
Take it from me, a fledgling socially distanced dater, after a 12 year gap, it can be done. And, get this, it might even bring you and your eye-rolling, door-slamming spectrum teenager closer. Now that you have swallowed hard following your astonished gasps of wonderment and surprise, let me share with you a few pearls of wisdom I have accumulated on my quest for a somewhat belated romance.
1. Be 100% honest with your spectrum child about what you are doing.
Honesty and transparency has always been high on the agenda for my child and I, and it goes both ways. Speak to your child about what you want for yourself. Chances are, your kid will want the same for you too.
2. Agree non-negotiables.
We all have our non-negotiables, such as smoking and employment status, but for my daughter and I, if the PNB (potential new boyfriend, for the uninitiated) is not the kind that would gladly join us for our Saturday morning swim session, if the public swimming pools ever open up again, that is, then it’s a non starter.
If he prefers partying to kids, then swipe left please. If he can’t tell the difference between “the floss” and “the dab”, then swipe left please. If he looks like a rabbit caught in headlights at the mere mention of the words spectrum, autism, special, then . . . . he should know the drill by now.
3. Involve your kid.
Ask them their opinion on your outfits. Yes, going for a socially distanced stroll around the marina does have it’s fashion restrictions, but reminding your child of how much you value their opinion is vital for your relationship, so involve them as much as you can.
4. Make habits early.
Start early with rules about closed doors. These rules go both ways, so it is up to you to knock on your child’s closed bedroom door and wait until you are invited to enter. You want respect? You’ve got to earn it. Respect your child’s privacy too. It’s just as important as yours.
5. Does he make you laugh?
I’m talking full-on belly laughs here. You know, the moms-with-weak-pelvic-floor-muscles-you-have- been-warned, kind of laughs?
6. The hug test.
Does he give great big bear hugs or a just polite half-squeeze? Autism mom, you are a diamond amongst rhinestones. Heaven knows you deserve the best of hugs out there. If he can’t squeeze the living daylights out of you, leaving you gasping for air every time you snuggle, run for the hills, girl, and don’t look back!
7. The 99 Red Balloons Test.
When you kiss, do 99 red balloons float up into the summer sky? Does your stomach flip when he calls your name? No? You should have swiped left, child.
8. Don’t make introductions unless he’s a keeper.
Your child needs consistency, predictability and routine, so don’t compromise that, unless you are pretty sure about the long-term relationship potential. Ideally you will have met his kids and family by now and you will have already had “the talk”.
9. Is he worth it?
By now, you and your child are so close, it would be difficult to squeeze a sheet of paper between you both. You have a special bond and you have carved out a life for yourselves that just works. You have both been through a lot and come so far. Your child feels safe and confident at home and life is ticking over. Is this guy worth making drastic changes for? How does his inclusion within your family unit change both your lives for the better?
10. What does your gut say?
Yes, that old chestnut. Listen to your gut instinct. It is always right. It is your mom, your best friend, and Patti Stanger rolled into one. Listen up, and listen good.
Happy dating autism super parents! And don’t worry about finishing the date early so you can get home to your special little one. Cinderella did just that!
Author, Speaker, Coach, Supermom
Ruthangela Bernadette, author of “Special Kid to Super Kid” is a supermom whose passion is to inspire and empower parents to help their children make friends, gain confidence and thrive in school, but that’s only her day job. Her real job is raising her eye-rolling, door slamming, make-up wearing super daughter, and of course saving the universe before dinner time.