Love on the Spectrum

An intuitive card game that provides agency to people while they navigate a first date. A study on women’s experiences on the autism spectrum and how it impacts their experiences of dating and forming connections, emotional and physical. The game acts as a translator of love languages, emotional and physical intimacy is merged to create shared gestures of love. The project is the result of a research assignment for a psychology class and a gestural project for a human factors class.

Completion: 13 December 2021
Duration: 8 weeks

Research Question
In what ways are gestures linked to the portrayal of love? Are these gestures safe and easy to understand? How can gestures be aided to distribute equal agency between giver and receiver?


1. Gestural Studies 
A series of observations were conducted in order to understand the different responses of the body in a social space and a personal space. Participants were observed over a period of time and then asked a few questions pertaining to their outward physical expressions. The key insight drawn from this research was that in social situations, people were often playing with their fingers because they were nervous, and in personal spaces because they were bored.

2. Writing Academic Research Paper for Psychology Course
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) is a qualitative research method that focuses on understanding the lived experiences of individuals. Replicating a study previously conducted on the same-sex relationships of men with autism spectrum disorder, this study focuses on the romantic relationships of women, as there is very little research about women on the spectrum. Questions are based on the different aspects of affection: non-verbal gestures, past trauma, relationship with parent or caretaker, and love languages.

3. Interviewing Woman on the Autism Spectrum
To reach out to individuals, posts were made on various aspergers and autism community groups on Facebook. The first interview was conducted with a 39-year-old woman from Denmark over Zoom, who wishes to remain anonymous. She was diagnosed with ASD only a few years ago, and was unaware of her condition for most of her life.

The interview consisted of open-ended questions on three main categories: past experiences, relationship with parent or caretaker, and gestures of love.

Questions like:
What are the most difficult challenges experienced in initiating and maintaining relationships? What are your feelings about being a woman on the spectrum having to go through the dating world?

Other questions on gestural expressions of love were:
What are small things you do to show affection, and how many do you have to remind yourself to do? Are there any gestures that you do to satisfy your partner’s needs? What are ways that you want to receive love?

Insights from Research
Many themes were drawn from the psychology research and the interview answers shared which helped outline a few specific problems. According to the Child and Adolescent Twin Study in Sweden, it is deduced that women with ASD are more likely to experience abuse early in life, which was unfortunately true for the interviewee. She shared how that experience made her distrust any form of physical expression of love.

The interviewee is happily married and has discussed her refrains with her partner. “Sort of the big sweeping romantic gestures; I find that really exhausting. Holding hands, the little stuff, I’m great at, and I enjoy it. He was missing the big grand gestures, so we had to negotiate to figure out, I can do these things, I can’t do these things.”


The research culminates in a card game that attempts to bridge the gap between the two ends of a dinner table, whilst still allowing each person to have agency over their physical gestures. 

The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness
A suggested procedure by psychologist Arthur Aron (and others) which provides 36 questions to build intimacy. For this project, this lsit of questions were adapted and added to.

Contents of the Game
Inside the box, there are 44 playing cards, one customized mini-twister mat, one instruction sheet and one color reference sheet. There are 6 cards for each of the 6 categories: love, interests memories, autism, hopes, and friends and family. There are also 8 card that allows the player to ask their own question.

How to play
The mat is placed in between the two people playing. A card is picked out from the card pile, and the picker asks the other person the question on the card. After the question is answered they can choose to place one finger on any corresponding coloured circles. As the players go through the questions one by one, they can choose to move towards their partner or away.

One Hour Date
Meaningful conversation and intentional little gestures between movements on the mat, create a safer and more interesting date. The game was played by a small group of neurotypical people who reflected that the game creates a safe and inclusive space, honoring the sensitivities of people with aversions to physical touch while encouraging empathy and deeper understanding.

Post-Experiment Gestural Analysis
The physical, cognitive and environmental feedback formed a basic rubric of how the players felt during play. The analysis inferred that the game breaks the formality and the expectations presumed on a date, instead it allows people to be more honest.

Future Research Required
More interviews need to be conducted and compared with people on and off the spectrum to understand to what extent the game is able to make people feel safe. The game needs to be played by a much more diverse group of participants, involving at least one person from the spectrum in each couple.


Research conducted under the guidance of somatic researcher and professor- Ari Elefterin, and clininal psychology researcher and proffesor- Dr. Howard Steele.

Works Cited:

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