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Dating

Dating is normal part of growing up for many teenagers and young people.

Introduction

For parents, the thoughts of their child dating can raise some concerns. Some parents worry about their child being taken advantage of or having their heart broken. Other parents worry that their child is too young to date, or that their disability will make dating too hard. It is normal to think about these things and worry about your child. However, research shows that with the right education and support, young people with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorder can have healthy and successful relationships.

Even if your child does not have the interest or capacity to have an intimate relationship now, it does not mean they won’t be able to in the future. As your child grows up, it is likely they will see the intimate relationships of people around them, or see intimate relationships portrayed in media, and want to experience this for themselves. Addressing this in a positive and proactive way will help your child feel like they are being respected and listened to. It will also help to minimise feelings of exclusion, loneliness and isolation.  If your child shows an interest in dating or intimate relationships, you can then use this interest to motivate your child to build their social skills and reinforce your child’s understanding of healthy relationships. If your child does not show an interest in dating or intimate relationships, relationship skills should still be taught proactively to empower your child to be able to make safe and healthy decisions in the future.

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Conversation Starters

Your sister just started dating a new person. Have you ever thought about dating?
Are you interested in watching that new show Love on the Spectrum? It’s about real young people with autism trying out dating. Is that something you’re interested in?

Strategies for you to try

Discuss dating and intimate relationships with your child

Ask them questions like:
– What is the difference between a friend and a boyfriend/girlfriend?
– What things might boyfriends/girlfriends do that friends don’t do?
– Is it okay if a person doesn’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend?
– If a woman is friendly to you, is she your girlfriend? If a man is friendly to you, is he your boyfriend?
– What should you do if you like somebody, but they do not like you?
– What should you do if somebody likes you, but you do not like them?

You might use a movie or tv show you watched recently as a prompt to start the conversation with your child.

Find opportunities for your child to socialise with their peers outside of school

Dating requires the same social skills as meeting new people and making new friends. By supporting your child to socialise with peers outside of school, you actively support them to develop their skills and have opportunities to engage in different types of relationships.

Use a visual teaching resource

If your child is older and has more advanced knowledge about relationships, you could try using the Sex Safe and Fun resource suite. This resource uses easy English and colour illustrations to teach about positive safe sex messages. It has a guide and demonstration video for the support person, and booklets for the learner. There are also activity cards that you can use to reinforce learning.

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Introduction to puberty for girls
Dating

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