“The look away makes it known you're safe, but the common error someone with autism can make is to stare, which can seem predatory and scare a person.” People with autism are also specifically instructed how to smile and for how long, since “another common mistake is to smile really big rather than giving a slight smile,” said Laugeson.
“A big smile can also be frightening.”Neuro-typical people often take flirting for granted as a fairly organic, coy, and even fun back-and-forth, but for someone with autism, it is really a complex, nonsensical interaction. It seems like a waste of time,” said Plank, who worked on with Laugeson to teach his Wrong Planet community members how to flirt.
In heterosexual courtships where men are still often expected to pursue women, males with autism are at a distinct disadvantage to their female counterpart.
“Early intervention can significantly improve the outcome, but kids grow up, and we don't have the proper services,” said Laugeson, who serves as director of UCLA PEERS, a program that teaches social, including romantic, interaction skills to teens and young adults on the spectrum.
Central to PEERS is the promotion of “ecologically valid” social skills, traits humans have been shown to exhibit in reality, rather than what we think we're “supposed” to do.
“If you think about it logically, you say things you wouldn’t normally say, so it's harder.
There are a whole other set of things you have to deal with.”While he didn't have PEERS to guide him, in college, Plank studied guys who were always successful at picking up girls and started mimicking their behaviors.
Autism diagnosis rates have increased dramatically over the last two decades (the latest CDC reports show one in 50 children are diagnosed), and while much attention has been paid to early-intervention programs for toddlers and younger children, teens and adults with autism have largely been overlooked—especially when it comes to building romantic relationships.