Posted by Kate Leon

Last week, JF&CS co-sponsored the screening of the film Autism in Love as part of the ReelAbilities Film Festival in Boston. The ReelAbilites Film Festival is a national event that shows films by and about people with disabilities. The Autism in Love showing took place at the Leventhal-Sidman JCC in Newton and included a prescreening reception and a panel discussion with a couple on the autism spectrum and a professional that works with individuals with autism (me!).

As a social worker that provides outpatient therapy to individuals on the autism spectrum, I was struck by how the individual stories chronicled in this film captured the experiences of so many people I have worked with as well as the universality of the difficulties associated with dating and cultivating long-lasting relationships. For those without disabilities and those on the spectrum alike, dating is fraught with risks and uncertainty. These uncertainties combined with the hallmarks of autism, difficulty with social interactions, reading nonverbal communication, and restricted interests and behavioral rigidity can make the prospect of finding a partner feel hopeless.

I often encounter individuals who want a romantic partner but do not know how to pursue this type of relationship. We spend time identifying exactly what they are looking for in a relationship and in a partner and reviewing what is reasonable to expect of another person. Often, quite a bit of time is spent explicitly teaching skills around social communication including reading (and monitoring their own) nonverbal communication, understanding the perspective of others, practicing the exchange of pleasantries, and asking questions of the other person. I have seen individuals gain experience, insight, and confidence in their pursuit of a romantic relationship as well as make meaningful connections with other people.

If you are interested in the ReelAbilities Film Festival and in another film that explores dating and autism, the screening of How to Dance in Ohio is Thursday, April 14, at 7:00 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

Kate Leon, LCSW is the Director of Clinical Services for People with Disabilities at Jewish Family & Children's Service. In this role she oversees two case management programs, Autism Care Coordination and Coaching and Stabilization and Recovery Services. The Autism Care Coordination and Coaching program is designed to support adults on the autism spectrum in accessing public benefits and increasing independent living and social skills and Stabilization and Recovery Services provides case management to adults with mental illness. Kate also provides outpatient therapy to adults on the autism spectrum and individuals with complex presentations including developmental and intellectual disabilities with co-occurring or mental health needs.