Autism Awareness Week 4: Dating and Teens with ADHD or Autism
Social versus physical maturity issues. Your teen’s social maturity may not be in sync with his or her physical maturity. Many teens on the spectrum or with ADHD will feel the physical desire for sexuality before they have the social competence for dating with success. Always remember that most teens learn the rules of dating within social situations and teens on the spectrum or with ADHD simply don’t have as many social opportunities for learning these “rules.”
Social signals can also be confusing to teens with ADHD or autism. Remember, some may not understand flirting or how complex, inconsistent and subtle those signs can be. Trying to interpret them may become challenging and bring a lot of anxiety. Some teens may become confused by signals, flirtatious comments or hints. They may feel frustrated and sad when their messages or feelings are not being heard, validated or considered by others.
Finding the right “match” may also be a little more difficult for those on the spectrum or with ADHD. It is helpful to take time and discuss the type of person they would be interested in dating. What type of person do they want to meet? What type of things would they like to do with them? Do they want them to have the same likes and dislikes or are they willing to meet someone who likes other things and they try something new? You can also ask your teen if they are comfortable talking about their ADHD with someone they want to date. Or if they want to inform their date about their autism and what that may mean when dating them. Sometimes it is very helpful to have your teen fully aware and happy about who they are so they can fully express and be honest with those that they want to date.
Psychologist Dr. Lindsey Sterling with the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has a deeper understanding of the physiology of anxiety in teens with autism or ADHD. She states the obvious as it comes with other teens, that every teen will be different and every teen will react to their situations a little differently as well. She has helped to put together a top ten list of tips to use when your ADHD/Autistic teen would like to date:
Encourage open talk about sharing information about dating. This will help to “normalize” the situation for both of you. Remind your teen that most everyone finds dating “challenging” and it isn’t easy and not something you “must do” but something that comes naturally.
1. Be proactive with your teen. If they haven’t brought up the topic, feel free to bring it up on your drive home from school one day or when they are in a good mood and sharing information about their day or their friends. Mention that you are willing to chat with them about dating, sexuality and when they are ready you are open to any questions they may have. Remind them that each person becomes interested in these things at different ages and that is okay.
2. If you think your teen may be sexually active, don’t hesitate in bringing up the discussion of safe sex. If your teen is resistant to talking about, stick with it and let them know you are just making sure they know the right and wrong way to be sexually active. Gently, but clearly make sure your teen understands how pregnancy occurs and how responsible they would be if it happens. Also gently explain how sexually transmitted diseases spread and how to take preventative measures to make sure that does not happen. If you believe that sexual activity has happened it is best to consult with your teen’s doctor about any other related health issues.
3. If your teen is open to the idea of role playing it could be the best way to go through some dating scenarios with them. Observe how your teen shows interest, expresses their compliments of the other person and how they respond verbally and non-verbally to questions and what is taking place. Explain that non-verbal skills are just as important as verbal reactions and can send positive messages to the other person. Remind them that everyone likes to have someone show a genuine interest in them or something they like. Have your teen practice giving and receiving compliments about their outfit as well as their interest in a specific topic. Brainstorm on some topics for conversations so your teen doesn’t feel tongue tied and nervous.
4. Take time to go over who, when, where and how to ask someone out on an official date.
a. Who: someone your age or close by a year or two, who you like and who talks to you with respect and is nice to you and makes you laugh.
b. When: It is appropriate to ask someone out on a date when you have gotten to know the person and you get that feeling that they are interested in learning more about you too.
c. Where: It is usually appropriate to ask someone out on a date when no other people are around.
d. How: It can be as simple as asking if he or she is free to get together one on one. Consider their interest. If they are squirmy, they may not be interested, but if they smile and seem excited then ask if they would like to meet at a coffee shop or walk around the mall or a museum some afternoon. Set up the day and time. Make sure you get their cell or email so you can stay in touch and confirm the date the day before.
5. Explain to your teen that everyone will get rejected at some point. Go over the reasons someone may not want to date them. It could be that they are dating someone else, or they are too busy with after school activities or maybe they just don’t want to be in a relationship with you or anyone. Make clear that it’s nearly impossible to know why someone does not want to go out on a date and they shouldn’t judge themselves or the situation.
6. Go over the specific steps that are involved in going on a date. Make sure your teen knows what day and time the date will take place as well as how they will get to the location.
7. Discuss how your teen should end a first, second or third date appropriately. Role play a little bit with how to manage the other’s signals and body language. Are they ready for a hug or a kiss on the cheek? Would they feel more comfortable holding hands instead? It may be more appropriate to ask if they can hug or kiss them especially if it is not clear from the other person.
8. Discuss all the levels of intimacy with your ADHD teen. Holding hands or walking arm in arm is less intimate than kissing. Kissing is less intimate than other levels of touching. Remind your teen to show respect and stay at a comfortable level which may be different than what is shown on social media or what other friends may be discussing. What is comfortable to them?
9. Help your teen dress appropriately for the date to look their best. If your teen set up the date encourage them to pay for the date. If they were asked out on the date, make sure they bring enough money to pay their share if needed.
As daunting as dating can be for anyone, parents of teens on the spectrum will want to support them as much as possible. Frame dating as something that can be positive and rewarding instead of frightening and terrifying.
What Have you found that is helpful when talking with your teen about dating and all the things that go along with dating.