Surfing Safely: An Examination of Online Dating Skills in Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Thursday, May 12, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
M. E. Roth1,2 and J. Gillis3, (1)Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The Child Study Center at New York University Langone Medical Center, New York, NY, (2)Department of Psychology, Auburn University, Auburn University, AL, (3)Department of Psychology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY
Background:  Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulty forming romantic relationships, despite having motivation to establish them. The lack of success through traditional, face-to-face dating may lead adults with ASD to pursue relationships through other modalities, such as online dating. There are a number of advantages offered by online dating for adults with ASD; however, there are also a number of disadvantages to online dating for the population, including potential victimization. Although it has been thought that adults with ASD are at a higher risk for victimization, compared to other clinical populations, only one study to date has examined victimization risk in a sample of adults with ASD (Brown-Lavoie et al., 2014). In addition, it is thought that the core deficits of ASD put adults with ASD at risk for inappropriate courting, also known as “stalking,” which was demonstrated by Stokes and colleagues (2007). With regards to online dating, one survey study (Roth & Gillis, 2014) revealed that adults with ASD use online dating, however safety was a primary concern. The victimization risk of adults with ASD, and risk of inappropriate courtship, in online settings has yet to be examined empirically.

Objectives:  To date there has not been an empirical examination of online safety skills or online dating skills in adults with ASD, which was the aim of the current study.

Methods:  Participants included 30 adults with ASD and 57 typically developing adults, whom were compared on a number of variables including ASD symptoms, dating history, online dating history, sources of learning about dating, online victimization history, inappropriate courtship behaviors, online dating safety knowledge, online dating safety skills, and motivation to remain safe while online dating. Participants completed measures online. 

Results:  The results revealed that adults with ASD had fewer previous relationships, sources to learn about relationships, and behavioral skills in online dating. Conversely, the ASD group had more online dating experience, previous online victimization, and inappropriate methods of courting. The two groups had equal knowledge of online dating and motivation to remain safe.

Conclusions: Although adults with ASD are interested in, and are using, online dating services, they are less successful in dating compared to same aged peers. In addition, safety concerns may be interfering with adults' ability to enjoy the benefits of online dating. Given that the current study indicates that adults with ASD have poor knowledge regarding online dating safety, fewer sources to learn about dating safety, more online victimization history, more history engaging in inappropriate courting, and less behavior safety skills, it is important for the field to capitalize on the population's motivation to remain safe while online and help adults with ASD lead safe and productive social and romantic lives.