LESSONS in love should be available to adults with autism and their partners should receive support, according to an international expert.

A conference in Scotland will hear that countries including Belgium and the Netherlands offer special programmes for people who date and marry those on the autistic spectrum.

Peter Vermeulen, who runs an autism training and education centre in Belgium called Autisme Centraal, will tell delegates at the event in Dunfermline about the benefits of supporting older people with the disorder and their families.

He said: "Scotland is well developed when it comes to services for children and students, but in many countries most people when they think about autism only think about children when two-thirds of the population are adults.

"We are starting to have people with autism in their 50s and 60s and there is nothing for them. And what about supporting women who are married to people with autism - that is a big challenge for the future."

In Belgium, he said, there are courses to educate people with autism about relationships and also programmes for their partners.

A sex education programme has also been developed which he says shocks people because they regard the images used as "porn". However, he said it is explicit because that helps people on the autistic spectrum to understand. "In the UK you are so obsessed with politeness," he said.

Mr Vermeulen argues that rather than being a social disorder, autism arises from finding it difficult to interpret the world because the brain has problems putting things in context.

"It is like going on holiday to a country with a completely different culture," he said. "Most people buy these travel guides because they have the 'autistic' experience of being confused or uncertain."

He added: "If there is one area where there are no fixed meanings at all, it is social interaction and relationships."

Noting that reading the signals with a new friend can be difficult for anyone, he recalled an adult with autism who thought an invitation to sleep in someone's bed meant they were tired. He also described the wife of one sufferer who complained her husband did not hug her, and found he could not judge when to give her a hug. Mr Vermeulen said she resolved a problem by putting a note on the fridge, reminding her husband to hug her on arrival home.

Charlene Tait, director of development for the charity Scottish Autism, said a new initiative for people with the condition was being launched with Relationship Scotland in Fife - but services nationwide were "patchy".

There are "one stop shops" which people on the autistic spectrum can turn to for advice, and there has been some work with Family Planning Association but she said it was "not enough."

She said:"There are a lot of myths about people with autism, that they do not interact or relate or do not want these things, but most of the people I have met really, really do."

She added: "It is really part of a bigger picture of social inclusion for people with autism. They are excluded from so many day-to-day opportunities. Relationships will not just happen. People need very specific support."

It comes after a Scottish scientist with autism used his own experiences to forge pioneering research which suggests that sufferers' brains can be "retrained" to understand the gestures and body language which they normally find confusing and which make social interaction challenging.

Dr James Cusack, of Aberdeen University, hopes the research will lead to ways to help people with autism develop their ability to pay attention to signals in their brain which may otherwise go unnoticed.

The conference is taking place on Wednesday February 25.