When a teen or young adult enters into the dating world, they and their parents are faced with some new challenges. While this can be concerning for any parent, those with teens and young adults on the spectrum deal with some special considerations.
Among these is the question of readiness for dating and relationships, and all of the emotions that are involved. This blog will shed some light on some social skills that lay the foundation for healthy relationships for teens and young adults with ASD and social communication disorders.
The first consideration is the ability to identify one’s needs and to regulate emotionally. This is paramount for any individual entering into young adulthood. Some ways to promote this include:
- participating in therapy and social thinking groups, as a way to gain insight and to broaden emotional vocabulary
- identifying and addressing sensory needs through occupational therapy, if needed.
- paying attention to wellness, to be sure that one is getting adequate rest, exercise, and fuel.
These skills can be pivotal to emotional regulations and overall well-being, both during the relationship and when/if things end.
Next is the skill of communicating and advocating for one’s needs in a relationship. Shyness, limited verbal repertoire, and anxiety can block the individual’s ability to speak up and ask for what they want in a relationship. Parents and educators can assist and promote this by starting early, stepping back and providing a gentle push. Allowing them to speak for themselves at school meetings, doctors’ appointments, and with familiar people are great opportunities for skill building. Role playing, pre-teaching and lots of social mentoring can give youth with communication challenges the chance to practice expressing themselves appropriately before they enter adulthood and the dating world.
Perspective taking is a valuable skill that helps one learn to be a better friend and partner and to reciprocate in relationships. Someone who can’t see a situation through the eyes and emotions of another is limited in their ability to be there for someone else’s emotional needs. Empathy is also critical in order to respond appropriately and be a supportive partner in a relationship. These can be developed through group activities and individual or small group social mentoring. Videos, movies, TV shows, YouTube clips, and current events can be reviewed and discussed to embed the concept of perspective taking, as well.
Another skill set is the ability to discriminate between friends and acquaintances, to determine when someone may be taking advantage of them. This is important for preserving the self-esteem of the individual. A non-judgmental, open dialogue between parents, their young adult or teen, mentors and trusted friends can help identify red flags that may indicate that someone else’s intentionality may be off. Bouncing ideas and scenarios off of one another allows a teen or young adult to see what motives may be at play in a relationship.
Dating for teens and young adults on the spectrum and those with social communication difficulties can raise many concerns for parents. But ultimately, readiness is a sign of positive growth and development of advanced social skills. Those who are not ready would benefit from more time with social mentors and group activities to better prepare them and develop their skills. Most importantly, a healthy self-esteem and strong social competency put anyone at an advantage in the dating world. Work toward these in your teen and young adult so you can feel confident in their ability to have a healthy relationship.
About the Author
Jodi Pierce is the Lead Social Skills Coordinator at CIP Brevard. Jodi graduated from the Florida State University with a degree in Psychology in 1992. She also attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and Utah State University, studying Applied Behavior Analysis and Special Education. Prior to coming to CIP, Jodi worked as a behavior analyst for 12 years, primarily as a community based practitioner for young children with autism and severe behavior problems, and their families.