Life as a single parent is challenging enough. Throw autism into the picture and every limitation is magnified. Try to date and you may decide to just NOT for a while. When your kids are younger, you have to deal with finding someone to watch them so you can GO on a date, and then when your date arrives to pick you up, your echolalic five-year-old son greets him at the door with a shout of “Balto!” because he had just watched that movie. Then when you can’t find someone to watch the kids and your date gallantly albeit naively suggests taking them to the Chinese restaurant with you, you try to sound spontaneous by saying “Sure!” inwardly cringing because you know it’s a bad idea. And then within five minutes of being seated at the restaurant, your five-year-old goes into a sensory overload meltdown as you feared he would and is writhing on the floor screaming and so you leave, and a week later the date tells you he can’t deal with the “extended family.” And since this is not the first time a love interest has ended a fledgling romance in this manner, you think to hell with it, why should I bother?
And then your kids get older, and by some miracle and a good response to therapy, they begin talking more and have learned to filter some of their sensory issues and can actually sit in a restaurant for a bit, so you think maybe you’ll give it another shot. And you get someone to watch the kids, and when the date comes over to pick you up, your now-verbal eleven-year-old son decides to suggest to the date that he should marry you. But the date decides to stick around for a few months anyway (after lecturing you about the inappropriateness of your son’s suggestion, just in case you hadn’t sensed it, even though he himself does not have any autistic children, nor any children whatsoever). And on one outing with your kids that you were apprehensive about doing (but did anyway to seem spontaneous), your autistic eleven-year-old gets lost and you spend half an hour looking for him, and then your SPD nine-year-old vomits all over the back seat of the fledgling boyfriend’s new car that everybody was excited to ride in, and then he tells you that he’s really not sure he can “take on” the “responsibility” of your children. And you think, Really? This again? Still?
And now your kids are adolescents and can actually stay home by themselves for a limited time so getting someone to watch them is no longer an issue. And you take an objective look at the situation and realize that getting someone to watch the kids was actually the smallest issue of all. It was getting someone to understand the kids, to accept them, that was the issue. It was getting someone who not only acknowledged the “package deal” nature of your situation, but who actually wanted to take it on. Those have always been the real issues, you realize, not getting someone to watch the kids or seeming spontaneous enough. And so you go on a lot of lunch dates until you meet someone who you think can understand your life and accept your kids and not be bothered by one son who warns against being seated too close together and still gets lost and the other son who only eats four things and occasionally still vomits in the car.
And you realize that as much as you worry about your autistic teen finding someone kind enough and understanding enough to date him and appreciate him and possibly have a relationship with him, you realize that deep down, you’ve also been just as concerned about finding someone like that for yourself. And when you do find someone willing to fill that role, after over a decade of looking, you realize that only now are you able to truly appreciate that person. Only now do you know what you needed all this time.