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Shore, now 55, recalls his classmates dating in middle and high school, but at the time he didn’t understand love’s allure. Society teaches people with autism from a young age that they are incapable of love, says Jessica Penwell Barnett, assistant professor of sexuality studies in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.Barnett leads sexual education sessions for college students with autism.Shore was diagnosed with autism around age 3, about a year after he lost his few words and began throwing tantrums.Doctors advised his parents to place him in an institution.The stereotype of children with autism as cold, emotionless robots is painful, pervasive and entirely misleading, she says.“Some are very aware of this social representation—it’s like a cloud that hovers over all of their thinking about whether they can be in a relationship or whether another person is going to want to be with them.” In fact, many people with autism both desire and sustain lasting relationships.That doesn’t necessarily mean relationships are easy for people on the spectrum.
These environments can worsen anxiety and even be painful for people with sensory sensitivities.
She embraced him, then held his hand as they looked out at the sea.
“Based on my research,” he says, “I knew that if a woman hugs you, kisses you and holds your hand all at the same time, she wants to be your girlfriend; you better have an answer right away.” The couple married a year later, on a sunny afternoon in June 1990.
Depression and anxiety tend to ebb in women with satisfying relationships.
Scientists say these same benefits apply to people with autism—and when romantic relationships are lacking, a key piece of social and emotional health goes missing, too.