Elsewhere on this website, you’ll find information and resources to help your child develop and maintain friendships. But as your child grows older there's a good chance that they’re also going to be interested in forming romantic relationships too. Just like with making friends, there’s plenty you can do to support them in this area.
As with more platonic friendships, one of the biggest hurdles your child is going to face is navigating the tricky social cues that come with forming relationships. It’s also worth remembering that maintaining a successful relationship isn’t necessarily an easy task for anyone, with or without autism!
Just like talking about sex with your child, talking about relationships is going to test your own boundaries to an extent. There’s no rule book on relationships. Every relationship is different. This is what makes them so rewarding but also, at times, so difficult.
Explaining the unwritten rules
The unwritten rules of relationships are going to prove the hardest for your child. Everyone has different boundaries when it comes to personal space, physical contact and comfortable areas of conversation – and autistic people can be more vulnerable to abusive relationships.
While it’s important that your child learns about the social norms surrounding appropriate behaviour and sharing personal information in a general sense, they also then have to learn the rules which govern the way in which they interact with a specific person.
What you can do to help
Be honest and open.
Make sure your child knows how to observe social-norms and manage potentially inappropriate behaviours.
Make sure your son or daughter knows they can talk to you, or someone else they trust, about any problems they might be having.
Be aware of any difficulty your child is having with the strong emotions that accompany relationships- reassure them that these feelings are normal.
Find out what your child’s expectations of being in a relationship are. They might be happy with a boyfriend or girlfriend who puts up with them talking incessantly about a special interest and nothing more!
Teach them to beware of pick-up artist websites that make people believe you can attract others just by following a set of rules. Unfortunately it’s never that easy – even for people without autism!
Point them towards information about what a ‘healthy’ relationship looks like so they understand abuse .
The Navigating Love and Autism article from the New York Times profiles Jack and Kirsten- who both have Asperger’s syndrome- and have very different comfort levels when it comes to physical contact and intimacy. Both have to learn to accept the needs of the other and to find a middle ground acceptable to each other.
Steve, a married adult with autism, writes and talks candidly - in this short video- about the ups and downs of being in a relationship and where he sees some of the problems lying. This includes shyness and lack of self-confidence, an inability to read social cues and difficulty in managing strong emotions.
In ‘The Autistic Me’, Alex and Kirsty meet for the first time and later talk about their impressions of each other. Kirsty also uses visual aids to explain to the viewer how she feels about meeting Alex. You can find out more about ‘Face cards’ like Kirsty uses here.
The FPA website has lots of resources for parents and carers on how to talk to their child about relationships.