For autistic youths entering adulthood, a new world of challenges awaits

Finding work, love, and independence can be especially difficult for those on the spectrum.

Luke Zenda, 19, caresses his cheek with a vacuum nozzle at Rising Tide Car Wash in Margate, Florida. Tom D’Eri started the business with his father to employ his brother and other autistic people. Family-run businesses that help autistic adults find work are increasingly common.

‘Guys! Remember: Above the neck! OK, go.’

We are practicing giving compliments at the PEERS Dating Boot Camp, a program for teens and adults with special needs who hope to find love. The participants, many with autism, are mostly in their mid to late 20s, but seem years younger. They come alone or with parents, caretakers, sometimes a sibling. Almost all live with their families. There’s lots of unfortunate facial hair, T-shirts from obscure bands (Radioactive Chicken Heads), noise-canceling headphones for the hearing-sensitive, plushy key rings hanging off backpacks.

Reading social cues is difficult for those on the spectrum, so everyone here wants to know the rules. And when it comes to dating, there are a lot of rules. Dating coaches, either doctoral students or administrators in the neuroscience program at the University of California, Los Angeles are trying to explain them.

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