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15 Feb

Dating safely on the autism spectrum

Content Warning: this post explores topics of abuse and violence.

For many autistic and non-autistic people alike, dating, sexuality and forming relationships is exciting and empowering. Dating can be a particularly exciting experience when you’re new to it, but it also can be nerve-wracking as well!

When getting caught up in the excitement of dating, we can sometimes forget or find it difficult to prioritise our safety, which can have serious consequences. You have the right to be safe and happy while exploring the dating world, regardless of who you are and what you want out of the experience.

In this post, we’ll take you through some tips for staying safe while dating and in different stages of a relationship. We’ll also share links to further support if you or someone you know needs it.

  • First dates and early days
  • Online safety
  • Relationship red flags
  • Further support

First dates and early days

First dates are both exciting and daunting all at once. Whether it’s your first date with a new person or your first date ever, the nervous butterflies can feel all-consuming, sometimes causing us to overlook red flags that could pose risks to our safety. By learning and reminding yourself of the important safety considerations of a first date, you can focus your energy on getting to know the other person and actually enjoying yourself!

Here are some things to consider when it comes to staying safe on a first date:

  • Identify and establish boundaries early on. For example, you might not want to be hugged or touched on a first date, and that’s totally okay! Communicate your boundaries with your date so they can avoid doing or saying anything to make you uncomfortable.
  • Try to organise the date in a public place. This doesn’t have to be somewhere busy, just a place where you’re not completely alone (e.g., a museum, café or park).
  • Tell someone where you’re going, who you’re going out with and how long you think the date will go for. This could be a friend or family member, as long as they’re someone you trust and that you can get in contact with easily. Agree on a time you’ll contact that person to let them know when the date is over and that you’re okay, and create a plan on what to do if they don’t hear from you or you contact them needing their help.
  • Keep an eye on your food and drinks and don’t consume them if they’ve been out of your sight for a while. If your meal suddenly looks or tastes different or you begin to feel unwell, it may have been spiked. You can learn more about what to do if your drink has been spiked and how to prevent it happening here.
  • Check in with yourself every now and again to see how you’re feeling. Is your date interacting with you appropriately and showing a genuine interest in you? Is your date engaging in conversation and asking questions respectfully? If you feel disrespected or unsafe, it’s important not to ignore that feeling, even if it’s more of a ‘gut feeling’ rather than something you can explicitly identify.
  • If you feel unsafe and cannot get in touch with someone you trust via your phone, speak to someone nearby as soon as you can. This could be a staff member at the location you’re having your date in or a member of the public. Most hospitality and entertainment venues have policies to discreetly assist individuals in unsafe situations or remove individuals displaying aggressive or anti-social behaviour.

The early days of a relationship are often a whirlwind of excitement (sometimes referred to as the ‘honeymoon phase’). It’s important that your boundaries and safety remain the top priority while you continue to get to know someone, regardless of whether you want a long-term relationship or are just looking to date casually.

Below are some ‘red flags’ or things to be wary of in the early stages of a relationship:

  • Frequent arguments
  • Put-downs and insults, even if the person says they’re joking
  • Doing or saying things that make you question your reality (gaslighting)
  • Not listening to you or not being there for you if you need help, comfort or support
  • Becoming dependent on you to do things for them or support them with serious mental health concerns or past trauma
  • Jealousy or possessive/controlling behaviour (e.g., trying to tell you who you can and can’t talk to, reacting badly when you spend time with other people)
  • ‘Love bombing’ – being given extreme attention and affection right away in order to manipulate you later on. For example, being given lots of compliments or expensive gifts while being shamed for spending time away from them.
  • Lying about things they like and have done. It’s nice when someone wants to appear impressive, but that shouldn’t involve them being dishonest.
  • Disregarding your boundaries. Of course, people can make mistakes, but if someone crosses your boundaries multiple times or seems uninterested in them, this is not a good sign.
  • Speaking poorly about or being rude to other people. For example, if they are nice to you but rude to your waiter on a first date, this might be a sign their niceness isn’t genuine.
  • Your family and friends don’t like them. Sometimes, people can make a bad first impression, but if your loved ones have expressed doubts about your partner or their intentions, it’s worth considering them. Remember, your support network is there to help you and has your best interests in mind.  

Online safety

Many people, both neurodivergent and neurotypical, use apps, social media or other online services for dating, forming relationships and exploring their sexuality. There can be many positive aspects to online dating, especially for the neurodivergent community, as it’s often easier to find like-minded people and eliminates some of the pressures associated with face-to-face interaction.

However, there are also some risks with online dating and relationships that everyone should be aware of. By understanding the following issues and how to spot them, you can ensure your personal information and safety aren’t compromised.  


Catfishing is where an individual creates a fake online identity in order to deceive and control others. They may use this fake identity to create relationships that are platonic, romantic or sexual in nature. Once these relationships have been formed, the offender will often trick, coerce or force someone to share sensitive information or materials, such as money, passwords, personal information or sexually explicit photos or videos.

Here are some signs a person you’ve only met online might be trying to catfish you:

  • They quickly try to become friends with you on all of your accounts
  • Their account has very few photos, videos or tags or seems inactive
  • They try to move your conversation to a private channel or direct messaging/chat app where activity is harder to track and report
  • They make excuses for not showing their face, calling or video chatting with you or meeting in person
  • They want to know lots about you and progress your relationship very quickly (e.g., asking very personal questions, wanting to do sexual things)
  • What they say sounds too good to be true (e.g., they claim to be someone famous or your dream partner/friend)

If you think you’re being catfished, here are some actions you should take straight away:

  • Stop communicating with the person
  • Check your online accounts and bank account to ensure they haven’t been hacked. You might need to change your passwords, hide information or report suspicious activity to ensure your accounts remain secure.
  • Screenshot the account and your conversations and report them to the relevant app/s.
  • Block or restrict the account

If someone is trying to blackmail you, do NOT give them money, intimate content or sensitive information. You can seek help via the links below:

Image-based abuse or ‘revenge porn’

Image-based abuse (often called ‘revenge porn’) refers to sexually explicit images or videos of a person being shared without their consent. This can occur with or without the person’s knowledge, as the person may be unaware the photos or videos were even taken of them. It can also involve images and photos that are altered or faked to appear like a person.

Often in the case of image-based abuse, a person will be blackmailed into giving perpetrators money or personal information to prevent the content from being distributed. This is called ‘sextortion.’ If you are experiencing image-based abuse, you should NEVER give the perpetrator what they are asking for – it rarely stops the abuse.

Perpetrators use revenge porn to control, threaten and humiliate their victims by impacting their safety and reputation. Even though you may feel differently, it’s important to remember that image-based abuse is never your fault and you can seek help. Tell someone you trust straight away and visit this guide to report the abuse and get further support.

Relationship red flags

Whether you’ve been in a relationship for six months or sixty years, the signs of an unhealthy relationship are more or less the same. Here are some ‘red flags’ that might appear in an established romantic or sexual relationship:

  • Lying and broken promises
  • Disrespect, insults and humiliation, either public or private
  • Ableism (being excluded, patronised, harassed or discriminated against on the basis of your disability/disabilities)
  • Manipulation and controlling behaviour – being forced to do or not do things against your will
  • Gaslighting (being manipulated to question your own memory and sanity)
  • Frequent criticism of your appearance, intelligence, opinions or behaviour
  • Unequal workloads (e.g., doing much more housework than your partner)
  • Social isolation (being discouraged or not allowed to see or contact others)
  • Fearing your partner or being afraid to do things around them
  • Ignoring your boundaries or giving in to your partner to keep the peace – being punished for standing up for yourself

If you and your partner need support to address issues in your relationship, you’re not alone. Seeking help will only benefit you as individuals and a couple and is never something to be ashamed of. You can find a list of support services here:

  • Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia (PACFA) - (03) 9486 3077 (family and relationship therapy)
  • Relationships Australia - 1300 364 277 (counselling, mediation, dispute resolution, relationship and parenting skills education, community support, employee assistance programs and professional training)
  • 1800 RESPECT - 1800 737 732 (national sexual assault and family violence counselling service)
  • Beyond Blue - 1300 22 4636 (telephone and online support for depression, anxiety, and related disorders, as well as online resources and information)
  • Counselling Online - free online alcohol and other drug counselling
  • DirectLine - 1800 888 236 (confidential counselling for people of all ages and backgrounds who are affected by alcohol or drugs)
  • Family Relationship Advice Line - 1800 050 321
  • Self Help Addition Resource Centre (SHARC) - 1300 660 068 (family drug and gambling help, information and support)
  • Gambling Help Online - 1800 858 858 (free, anonymous, 24/7 online support, telephone support, self-help tools and information for identifying and dealing with problem gambling)
  • Men's Referral Service - 1300 766 491 (free, confidential telephone helpline that offers counselling, advice and support to men who have anger, relationship or parenting issues)
  • MensLine Australia - 1300 78 99 78 (telephone and online support, information and referrals for men with family and relationship concerns)
  • QLife - 1800 184 527 (telephone and online support to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities work towards better health, including mental health)

Abusive and unsafe relationships

Sometimes, a relationship can become abusive. Abuse doesn’t just involve being hit or hurt; it takes many forms and can happen to anyone at any time.

  • Physical abuse: being deliberately hurt or having control of your body taken away.
  • Verbal abuse: being yelled or sworn at, called names, insulted, patronised, or manipulated. This also involves being given the ‘silent treatment,’ where someone refuses to talk to someone and blames the other person for their silence.   
  • Emotional abuse: being threatened, manipulated, isolated or intimidated. It can also look like excessive jealousy or having your whereabouts monitored.
  • Financial abuse: controlling your spending, preventing you from accessing your money, excluding you from financial decisions or stealing money from you.
  • Sexual abuse: being threatened, deceived, or forced into sexual behaviour or a sexual act without consent.

Remember that abuse is NEVER your fault, regardless of what the perpetrator or others may try to suggest. You deserve to be safe and respected in all your relationships and to have access to help when you need it.

If you believe your relationship is unsafe or abusive, it’s vital that you tell someone. This could be someone in your support network, such as a family member or friend or someone else you trust, such as a mentor or colleague. If you are unable to reach out to someone you know, visit this page for a full list of national and state/territory-based support services. In an emergency, always call 000.  

Further support

Dating should be a fun and exciting experience for everyone. By knowing how to keep yourself safe and what to do if you need help, you’ll be able to enjoy the positive aspects of dating, sexuality and forming relationships without compromising your well-being.

Keeping ourselves safe and ensuring our needs and wishes are respected requires knowing how to advocate for ourselves. Learning to self-advocate takes time and practice, but it’s incredibly important in the long term. You can learn more about resilience and self-advocacy here.

For more information about dating as an autistic person, you can check out the following articles:

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