Guiding Asperger's Teens In Opposite Sex Relationships

We would like some help coaching our older teenage son with Aspergers’ Syndrome as he starts to date.  

Opposite sex relationships among older teens with Aspergers’ Syndrome present opportunities for growth and areas of special challenge. Parents experience understandable concern about how events will unfold considering the complexities involved. The use of social media, potential for near constant contact through texting, and implications of physical affection raise parental angst and teenage expectation. If this sounds familiar, read on for ways to provide sensitive navigational assistance to your Aspergers’ adolescent:

Unabashed directness about the details of relationships plants the seeds for your teen to discuss issues with openness. When parents model a comfortable attitude when addressing kissing, mutual dependency, possessiveness, sex, and other awkward topics the Aspergers’ adolescent will find it easier to do the same. Use opportunities when watching television shows and movies to label various dating behaviors. Expand upon the themes portrayed by asking questions and offering information that may lead to their questions.

Keep in mind that your teen is likely unaware of what they do not know and therefore does not know what questions to ask. By explaining how like most things in life there is much to earn about dating, the discussion can flow like an educational exercise not a judgmental one.  Emphasize the importance of building a “firm friendship foundation” that can support the heavy emotions that are triggered within opposite sex relationships. Provide a specific timetable, such as a few months, for such a foundation to build and give examples of how opportunities to display trust and reliability are all part of that period. Following through on plans, showing kindness, expressing interest, and positively dealing with disappointment are some of the “foundation tests” to elaborate upon.

Pinpoint the pitfalls to watch out for, especially as they relate to Aspergers’ Syndrome.  The tendency to become overly preoccupied, misunderstand meanings, and jump to negative conclusions can easily be triggered within the emotionally charged interactions of dating. Reassure your teen that by being on watch for these developments they can prevent them from causing unnecessary pain and sabotaging success. Emphasize the need to suspend a reaction when these or other dating challenges are activated.

Stress the need for them to select a “dating coach,” preferably a parent, who they are willing to turn to in order to review relevant details within their relationship. Explain that the purpose is to ensure that circumstances remain on an emotionally healthy and socially appropriate course.  Use these discussions to deepen you teen’s knowledge about the importance of balance, role of give and take, degrees of self-disclosure, and levels of trust and intimacy.  Tie these factors to situations that arise so that your teen develops their own relationship compass.

Dr. Steven Richfield is a child and adult psychologist in Plymouth Meeting. Contact him at  610-238-4450