Are you the parent of a teen with Autism? Are they showing an interest in dating? Are you confused about how to help your teenager navigate the dating world?
Dating can be a complicated and awkward experience, regardless of your circumstances. It’s perfectly normal to experience anxiety and confusion when one begins to navigate the dating world. However, if that person is on the spectrum, it can create even more of a challenge, due to the additional obstacles those with autism face.
For teens who are struggling with hormonal changes, on top of having autism, dating can be especially arduous. Professionals recommend that parents and guardians of children on the spectrum seek out early intervention programs, as well as social skills therapy, to help them address potential areas of concern years before they begin dating.
Today, we will discuss some dating tips to help you support your teen in navigating the world of dating while on the spectrum.
Helping Your Teen With Autism Navigate Dating
Teens with Autism may deal with struggles that make dating more complicated, like having a hard time interacting with others, reading social cues or facial expressions, and oversensitivity to stimuli like bright lights, sounds, and smells. These struggles can complicate the dating process, but that doesn’t mean your teen can’t have a loving and fulfilling relationship. There are steps and exercises parents can follow to help their teens achieve success when they begin dating.
#1. Develop a Friendship First
Dating someone you have something in common with can help ease the initial awkwardness that may typically occur when starting a relationship. Suppose your teen finds someone they have common interests with. In that case, it can be easier for them to carry on a conversation, especially if what they have in common is something they are both passionate about and can talk about easily.
Developing an interpersonal connection that focuses on friendship and shared interests first will help your teen learn the foundations of romantic relationships and better understand their current and future partners.
#2. Date Rehearsal
Before your teen’s date, sit down and rehearse how it may go, so you can help your teen prepare for the outing. While role-playing, it is also an excellent time to review potential problems that may arise, like if a particular food isn’t available, a place is overly crowded, etc. Because those with Autism can struggle with flexibility, it’s essential to address flexibility issues before the date, so they aren’t blindsided when things go differently than initially planned.
#3. Practice Carrying on a Conversation
Another common struggle for those on the spectrum is the ability to carry on a conversation. Teaching your teen how to ask open-ended questions, as well as follow-up questions, is a skill that can not only benefit your teen on dates but for the rest of their life, as well.
#4. Avoid Group Dates
Group dates can be overwhelming for a teen with autism because there is a lot more going on around them that can distract them and leave them overstimulated. If they struggle with holding a conversation, having multiple, loud conversations going on around them can make it even harder to interact with their date. Hence, it’s best to avoid group dates when possible, at least until your teen feels more comfortable with the process and the potential complications of group outings.
#5. Pick Locations That Are Quiet and Have Dim Lights
Bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, etc., can overwhelm those with autism, so locations with loud noises, bright lights, and strong smells (such as a crowded restaurant) might be best avoided when planning a date. Locations that are quiet with dim lights are a better option because there’s less chance for overstimulation, making it easier for everyone to communicate and enjoy their time together.
#6. Be Assertive and Set Boundaries
If your teen has issues with physical contact and prefers not to be touched, it’s important to teach them to vocalize their needs politely. Many people aren’t aware that touch can be overwhelming or uncomfortable for a teen with Autism.
In addition, those with Autism may be okay with certain forms of contact, like holding hands, but may not be okay with hugs, so being able to self-advocate to avoid confusion or potential hurt feelings on either side is a must.
An issue that goes hand in hand with physical contact is making sure your teen understands what consent is and why it’s important. They need to set boundaries and be assertive about their needs, so there are no misunderstandings. Their needs must include saying “No” if they don’t want to do something they are uncomfortable with or not ready to participate in, and being willing to accept “No” as an answer.
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If you or someone you know is currently experiencing feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, please visit Lisa Rogers Counseling today or call (646) 599-3865 to set up your first appointment. I provide teletherapy sessions to patients in New York, California, Texas, Illinois, Vermont, New Jersey, and Florida.