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Safety in Online Dating: socializing offline is sometimes harder, with more risk.

Are you the parent or caregiver of a young adult with autism?

A difficult topic to bring up, let alone teach, is relationship safety. From online dating, to safe sex practices, and healthy relationship habits, read on to learn some tips to teach these topics for different learning styles.

For young adults with social emotional learning challenges, drawing boundaries in online dating can be challenging.

Safety in dating and sexual exploration is often a topic that worries parents.

Difficulty with understanding boundaries, healthy communication patterns, and social norms offline can also result in confusion online. Some young adults need coaching on social media safe practices: what to watch out for, when to block someone who is unsafe, how to keep personally and professionally appropriate in online posts or dialog, how to self-monitor discussions, and how to confide appropriately in trusted adults.

On top of these basic safety principles, sensory preferences can impact dating for people on the spectrum, including aversions or affinities for light touch. A simple gesture to hold hands or hug might offend or deter someone who has tactile sensitivities on the spectrum. Flirting can be a nonsensical and complex interaction for someone on the autism spectrum, according to the Atlantic (2013).

Here are some strategies for those with sensory sensitivities:

  1. Ask for permission: prior to touching your partner or being touched, be vocal about wanting to ask for permission /give permission to touch.

  2. Coaching your loved one on being open about likes and dislikes in sex and in human interactions (i.e. hugs, holding hands, kissing, etc.) is important. Clear and open communication is a cornerstone to a healthy relationship.

As a coach or parent/guardian, what the warning signs that your loved one or client is struggling to draw boundaries online?

For starters, if you notice obsession with a sex related topic, spending too much time online, or an abnormal amount of time and volume in online chats / messages via various social media sites, confronting your loved one and client on his/her/their usage of technology for dating and relationships is important.

Here are some red flags:

  1. Missing details in an online profile

  2. Bringing the conversation around to sex or sexual topics, requesting images of body parts.

  3. Avoiding calling or texting back after making set plans. Someone who sticks to his/her/their word and follows up is a positive sign that actions and words are in line.

  4. Asking you to come back to their home or apartment too soon, can be a major warning sign as well. Avoiding disclosure of personal details even after the first couple of dates can protect personal safety.

For more information on relationship violence, visit the US Department of Health and Human Services for more details.

How do I teach social dynamics of romance to those who value logic in daily interactions?

Need tips on how to coach or teach these topics for a diverse learner? Click here to book a consultation with a clinician, Danielle Feerst, OTR/L, on how to teach difficult topics to individuals with multi-modal learning styles in creative ways.

Some free tips:

  1. Break things done

  2. Keep things simple

  3. Shorten text

  4. Set boundaries

  5. Minimize distractions

  6. Provide videos or imagery to support the topic you want to teach

  7. Be patient

  8. Actively listen (try repeating back what your learner says to make sure you understand what and how they perceive you or the topic you’re trying to teach).

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