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Depression and anxiety tend to ebb in women with satisfying relationships.

Scientists say these same benefits apply to people with autism—and when romantic relationships are lacking, a key piece of social and emotional health goes missing, too.

That doesn’t necessarily mean relationships are easy for people on the spectrum.

Some features of autism, such as inflexibility, anxiety, sensory overload, difficulty communicating one’s own—and sensing others’—personal needs and limits, would seem to lend themselves to relationship disasters.

Another complication is that most people tend to have a certain ‘type,’ whether it’s men with beards, for example, or tall women.

Having identified some problems, researchers are still grappling with how best to help people with autism achieve lasting relationships.In the United States, for example, dates typically unfold in noisy bars, busy restaurants or loud movie theatres.These environments can worsen anxiety and even be painful for people with sensory sensitivities.Until this decade, many adults with autism went undiagnosed, and those who had the social prowess to forge romantic relationships were considered “vanishingly rare,” says Matthew Lerner, assistant professor of psychology, psychiatry and pediatrics at Stony Brook University in New York.As that stereotype falls away, researchers are scrambling to piece together a realistic portrait of romance and sexuality in people with autism.

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