Challenges, Relationships and Sexuality

Relationships and “the dating game” can be exciting, but for many with autism it can be an overwhelming and confusing experience. Teenagers with autism will often share the same desire as their typically developing peers for intimacy and companionship, however they may find it difficult to understand and react appropriately to the many different formats of relationships.

Teenagers with autism may find it difficult to:

  • Understand their feelings
  • Communicate how they feel e.g. when they feel attracted to another person or be unable to express when they are not enjoying the attention of another person
  • Understand non-verbal cues e.g. facial expressions, gestures or tone of voice
  • Recognise and reciprocating flirting
  • Socially interact or understand the unwritten social rules, social pitfalls
  • Understand consequences of actions (e.g. have difficulty predicting what will happen next, or what could happen next) or control impulses
  • Cope with unfamiliar situations or changes in routine
  • Understand that other people have thoughts, feelings and intentions that are different to their own
  • Understand how a strong interest in another person can be interpreted as intimidating

It is important to teach teenagers with autism requesite skills and strategies support them as they develop relationships and understand their own sexuality, this includes how to:

  • Discover the value of friendships and how some friendships can evolve into more intimate relationships. (Friends” Versus “Friendly)
  • Promote health, safety and abuse prevention
  • Reduce confusion and uncertainty
  • Increase knowledge, self-advocacy and assertiveness
  • Develop positive values and a moral framework that will guide their decisions and behaviours
  • Communicate about feelings, relationships and sexual matters (
  • Understand sexual health and associated risks
  • Develop confidence, self-esteem and self -worth
  • Be aware of and enjoy their sexuality
  • Behave safely, responsibly and appropriately within relationships (
  • Be able to access help and support
  • Have an awareness of what abuse may look like and develop the skills to enable them to protect themselves against abuse and against abusing others

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