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Learning to date while dealing with a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome can be a difficult venture for both teenagers and parents. Teen dating with Asperger's needs to be handled with careful consideration for all parties involved. Many teenagers with Asperger's syndrome do not act like typical teenagers and therefore need to be taught age-appropriate social skills while also learning about how to date and have safe sexual encounters. This can be a daunting task for parents to take on, as they may not know where or how to start.
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Problems an Aspie Teen Might Face
Aspies face many challenges when they reach adolescence. Some of the problems your teen may face which could hinder his or her ability to date are:
- Social Isolation - Many teenagers face being ostracized or isolated during the awkward teenage years. However, Aspies face a greater risk of being isolated than their peers due to their odd behaviors or strange ways.
- Sexual Issues - Teenagers with Asperger's syndrome tend to have limited knowledge of sex.
- Depression - Due to the problems Aspie teenagers face with dating and other issues, they are susceptible to depression and acting out behaviors beyond a normal teenager's risk for these problems.
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How You Can Help
Role Play - Aspie teenagers can learn a lot from role-playing the various dating scenarios that they may find themselves in. You can help your teenager learn how to ask another teenager on a date, teach them what to expect while on a date and talk about sex and other dating dilemmas. You might even enlist the help of another teenager to make the situation as real as possible. Create dialogue and have your teenager practice what he or she might say or how they might act.
Set Up a Group Date - Aspie teenagers might do better learning to date in a group setting so they can watch how other people interact. If you know a group of teenagers who are friendly with your teen, you can arrange for a fun dating experience to help your child experience the dating world. Set up a movie night or a day at an amusement park so your teenager can learn how to interact with same-age peers.
Watch Reality TV - While this may seem like an odd way to teach an Aspie teen about dating, they can actually learn a lot from watching the way some people interact with one another, especially on shows with sexual content or that highlight dating. This can help your teenager learn about the subtle nuances of body language, hidden meaning of certain words or phrases and help him or her to understand the role emotions play in the dating world. Your teenager can watch how people ask each other out on a date, and he or she can learn what not to do by the mistakes others might publicly make. It's a good idea to watch the programs with your teen so that you are on hand to answer any questions. Be mindful not to watch reality shows that revel in extreme behaviors.
Chaperone - At least initially, chaperoning a date might not be the worst idea. Again, you can have this date set up with a friend of the family or someone your teenager knows. You can gently guide your Aspie teen toward the right things to say and do, reminding him or her of the role playing you carried out earlier. If you or your teenager are not comfortable with the idea of chaperoning, you might enlist the help of an older sibling to assist your teenager in learning the dating ropes.
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An Aspie's Dating World
Once your Aspie teenager begins to date, you may wonder how you can continue to help them with this fun yet frustrating transition in their lives. As any adult knows, the world of dating is filled with ups and downs, love and heartache. Some things you can do to help your Aspie teen once he or she begins dating are:
Talk before and after the date - This can help your teenager prepare for what to expect on the date, as well as help you assess any issues they might have while out and about. Talk to your teenager about being polite, about social cues and about safe sex (as a precaution). Discuss how the date went when your teenager comes home; talk about good and bad experiences and if necessary things that may need to be fixed for next time.
Discuss dating as a fun activity - Not every date or dating experience will end happily ever after, and your Aspie teenager needs to know that is okay. Discuss dating as a way to get to know another person; sometimes you will hit it off and want to hang out again and sometimes you won't. Either way, the point of dating is to have a good time and make new friends.
Prepare your teenager for rejection - Since not every dating experience will be positive, talk to you teenager about the possibility of rejection prior to the first date. Let him or her know it is okay if someone doesn't want to continue spending time with them. Explain they will meet other people who may indeed want a second (or third or fourth) date. Role play some scenarios in which a person would be rejected to help your Aspie teen understand what to say and how to respond.
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The reality of teen dating with Asperger's is that parents need to let go and allow their child to experience this part of life, eventually on their own. You cannot protect your child from every heartbreak or rejection, nor should you want to. Learning how to deal with the dating world is part of life for every teenager, Aspie teens included.
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Greenspan, Stanley I. and Serena Wieder. Engaging Autism. First De Capo Press, 2006.