Dating on the Autism Spectrum: What Parents Need to Teach

I want a girlfriend. Like my kind mom says, I need patience and real advice from a knowledgeable person. Like, how do you find the woman of your dreams?

– Jeremy Sicile-Kira, A Full Life with Autism.

The topic of sex is a hot one, even at autism conferences. For parents of young adults and teenagers on the spectrum, sex is probably one of the hardest topics to think about. In my upcoming blog-post in a few weeks, I’ll be discussing sexuality. In today’s blog-post, I’ll be giving some tips for teaching your young person about dating.

With our neurotypical youngsters, we watch from the sidelines and hope they will draw on any ethical, religious, and responsibility teaching we have provided them to make wise decisions in regards to dating and eventually, intimacy. With our teens and young adults on the spectrum, we are obliged to take a more active role.

Dating: Practical Skills that Need Teaching

An important area to cover with your teenager or young adult is how to recognize the difference between a platonic and a romantic interest. For those with obsessive or passionate tendencies, mistaking politeness or friendliness for a romantic interest can create problems. For example, the enthusiasm with which waitresses in Southern California greet their customers can be quite confusing.

It’s important that the young person on the spectrum understand that “acting friendly” is not the same as being a friend. Teaching the difference between a “friend” on Facebook, and a true friend is important so that the young person understands that those are not the same types of relationships, and therefore, certain information should not be shared.

Some teens and young adults may not show romantic or sexual interest in others until much later than their peers, despite their physical maturity. However, it is still necessary to explain about romantic behaviors and sexual feelings when they are teenagers, so that they can understand the behaviors of those around them. As well, they may develop these feelings as they get older. For those that are mainstreamed or fully integrated, discussions can help demystify the change in behavior from mainly same-sex interaction to mixed interaction, flirting, touching and showing off that occurs for the benefit of potential girlfriends/boyfriends.

He’s Just Not That Into You

It is important to teach some of the body-language cues that your teenager or young adult may not be understanding, for example, the difference between what “romantically interested” and “not interested” may look like. Here are some examples of concrete descriptions you may need to teach them:

Interested:

• Giving strong eye contact

• Leaning forward to hear what is said

• Smiling

• Flipping or touching hair

• Laughing at your jokes

• Other person initiating conversation

Not Interested:

• Looking away

• Turning or moving away

• Leaning back

• Looking unhappy

• Having arms folded

• Not responding when talked to

It’s important that a teen or young adult understand also that obsessive or passionate interest in another person who is not responding in the same manner can be considered stalking or threatening. If your child is over 18 this type of behavior can result in legal issues. Therefore, it is important to teach the rules that are appropriate, and what is considered “obsessive.” Set the number of times a teenager can call or text if the other person is not responding. For example, if a young man calls up a young lady to go out for a date and three times she is not available and does not offer up an alternative day and time to meet, then the young man needs to stop calling her. As well, following someone around the school campus who is not interested in having a relationship can be considered stalking.

Dating Tips/Internet Dating Tips

If your teen or young adult is interested in dating, you want to make sure that they know some rules about making the date a success, but also about making it a safe experience for all involved. If your young adult is meeting people on-line, there are even more risk factors to consider. Things you need to point out, which may seem obvious but are not always so for our loved ones, include:

• The best place to find potential dates is through mutual interests (as you would friends) by joining clubs, volunteering, going to events where people with the same interests will be drawn to go.

• If you make plans to meet someone for a first date, make the date for daytime hours in a public place such as a coffee shop or restaurant where you will not be alone or secluded.

• Young adults living on their own need to be told never invite people over to your home unless you have known them for a certain period of time and you have become friends.

• Do not share information on-line such as your birthdate, address, social security number, driver’s license number or phone number.

• Let people you trust, such as a relative or a good friend, know where and when you are going on a date.

• Have a few trustworthy neurotypical friends you can count on to ask questions if you are unsure about the safety aspects of a person you have met.

• Have a list of safe activities and conversations already established with the help of your trustworthy neurotypical friends. This way you have ideas to draw from when the time comes.

In my next article, I’ll be discussing the important topic of sexuality.

Chantal Sicile-Kira is transition planning consultant and the author of five award-winning books. More information and resources on dating and sexuality are available in her book, A Full Life with Autism co-authored with her son Jeremy, age 26. For more information on Chantal, visit www.autismcollege.com. For more information on Jeremy, visit www.jeremysvision.com.

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