Many parents fear the day that their teenager wants to start dating. For parents of a teenager with ASD, this thought can be even more daunting.
It is important to remember that many students with ASD are slower to develop emotionally than typical teenagers, although they may be physically maturing at the same rate. This leads to a discrepancy between physical and hormonal changes and the ability for the individual to recognize and understand them. Consequently, teenagers with ASD can put themselves at risk due to their inability to read social cues and body language. They may not be able to recognize that their own, or someone else’s, actions or behaviours are not appropriate. For example, many individuals with ASD experience communication challenges. In teenagers, this could relate to an inability to stand up for themselves in situations that make them uncomfortable. Therefore, it is highly important to explicitly teach your teen about all aspects of dating, including body cues, hidden meanings, hidden agendas, appropriate/ inappropriate behaviour, how to act if someone is inappropriate to them, etc.
Every family is different in terms of philosophical and religious beliefs, but it is crucial to remember that a minimum amount of information must be taught to individuals with ASD regarding puberty and dating. This will help keep your child safe and combat rumours and misinformation that your child could be learning at school or through the media.
Specific Areas to Consider Teaching (adapted from Sicile-Kira, 2006):
- Puberty and Changes to the Body
- Contraception and Protection against STDs
- Learning about and recognizing appropriate ‘dating’ or friendly behaviour towards your teen
- Knowing what is appropriate behaviour toward an admired person
- Appropriate masturbation and ejaculation