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Assisting Young Adults With ASD With Finding Love And Romance

While February days are often cold and gray, Valentine’s Day can be a true bright spot. As Dr. Seuss said, “You know when you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because the reality is finally better than your dreams.” Cheers to love!

It is natural that neurodivergent young adults want to learn more about love and romance. Neurodivergent young adults develop in terms of sexuality in the same way their neurotypical peers do but they might need extra help to build the social skills and understanding that go along with sexual development. Neurodivergent young adults can be in healthy, romantic relationships, which may or may not be sexual, and that is perfectly fine.

Advance LA Life Skills Coaches provide Dating and Relationship coaching for their clients who are interested in those subjects. We also have a Sex Education class, “Let’s Talk About Sex” taught by Dr. Jamie Barstein for young adults on the spectrum who want to learn more about sexuality, and intimate, healthy relationships.

I recently sat down with Dr. Jamie to ask her about the Sex Ed class and also about how to assist young adults with ASD with finding love and romance:

Q. Hi Dr. Jamie! Can you give a brief description about the Sex Education class?

A. Absolutely! Our current group, “Let’s Talk about Sex” is a 16-week program where we cover topics of sex, sexuality, and intimate relationships. Young adults on the spectrum have a chance to ask questions, gather information, and practice communicative skills that are important for developing healthy relationships. We also discuss subjects such as exploring sexuality, engaging in safe sex, setting boundaries, and responsibly using the internet. The curriculum that we have based the program off of was initially developed at Yulius Academy in the Netherlands by Dr. Kirsten Visser and colleagues. We are collaborating with Dr. Eileen Crehan at Tufts University to adapt this program to an adult population (and an online format!)

Q. Many parents of young adults want to talk with them about romance, love, and sex but they feel uncertain about how to start the conversation. Any suggestions?

A. I think the most important thing that you can do as a parent is provide a safe and open space to discuss sex and sexuality, free of judgment or shame. Perhaps start by making an honest statement about how it feels to engage in these topics. For example, you could start by saying, “I know it feels uncomfortable to talk about sex, but I want you to know that I’m here to listen if you have any questions.” Try to monitor your own responses – verbally or nonverbally – to their questions. Remember that it is better for your young adult to ask in a safe environment, rather than turning to the internet or other resources. Also keep in mind that some young adults really may not want to talk to their parents about these topics! In that case, I would suggest finding someone else who your young adult can talk to – whether it is a trusted relative, therapist, life skills coach, or a mentor

Q. When should parents start to have these conversations? Should they wait until their child is a certain age?

A. My personal opinion is that it is never too early to start these conversations! Though the content and/or details of topics you discuss should certainly vary by age or developmental level of your child. Think about the different environments they are in and what information they may be hearing – whether through school, media, or siblings and other family members. Providing them with a safe space to ask questions about what they’re hearing can help to educate your child on the reality of sexual behaviors, rather than relying on sources that may not provide the most accurate information.

Q. Do you have any suggestions for how to talk about the concept of consent with young adults?

A. This is a very important topic for everyone, but in particular individuals with developmental disabilities who unfortunately have a higher rate of being both victims of sexual crimes as well as (often unintentional) perpetrators of sexual crimes. First and foremost, it is important to review the laws regarding legal ages of sexual intercourse amongst two people. I also recommend using video modeling or other visuals to help your young adult understand what consent truly looks like – it doesn’t just mean someone says “yes”, but it is also important to read their body language (a skill that can be challenging for many individuals with autism). Planned Parenthood Federation of America also has a helpful resource on teaching consent that includes worksheets as well as video models: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/for-educators/digital-tools.

Q. Do you know of any resources at The Help Group for parents of neurodivergent young adults who realize their child’s sexuality may be different from theirs or from their expectations?

A. Yes! The Help Group has a program called Kaleidoscope that provides services for neurotypical and neurodivergent LGBTQ+ young people. There is a weekly group called, Coffee Talk, where LGBTQ young adults, ages 18-24 can get together, talk, and socialize. There is also a Artistic Expressions club and a fun monthly movie night. Kaleidoscope has a parent support group that meets twice a month. All of the above groups are virtual and at no cost. For more information and registration, click here or visit KaleidoscopeLGBTQ.org

Thank you Dr. Jamie!

If you feel comfortable talking about love, sex, and romance with your young adult, you should have a converstaion and assure them that they can ask or tell you anything. But if you think your young adult might be more comfortable talking with someone else, then a sibling, trusted friend, Life Skills Coach, or therapist might also be a good option.

For more information about Advance LA’s Dating and Relationship Coaching, or Dr. Jamie Bartstein’s Sex Education class, please contact Jeri at JRochman@thehelpgroup.org

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy February!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeri Rochman, JD, MS, is the Advance LA Director of Community Outreach, a Life Skills Coach, National Board Certified Counselor and Certified Parent Educator. Interested in learning more about Advance LA’s services? She can be reached at jrochman@thehelpgroup.org.