Matters of the Heart
It has been a long time since that night when Cody was four years old and we were looking for a seat in the bleachers at a local horse show, when all of the sudden he bolted up the stairs and planted himself next to a little blonde girl who was about the same age. The look on their faces as they gazed at each other and grinned was priceless. That was the first time we saw evidence that our son had a true interest in the opposite sex. It was all so innocent back then but now Cody’s interest in young ladies has matured. He notices much more about them now than just pretty hair and a sweet smile. While not many questions or comments have risen as of yet, I can see the day is approaching when they will.
So how do parents explain the subject of the birds and the bees to an adult child with autism? This is a question I have been pondering a lot over the last couple of years as I have watched my son’s curiosity about women growing stronger a little more each day.
Little by little we have been engaging in conversation about the matter with the greatest finesse we can muster. One of the first things that we talked about was the subject of the respect that two people who love each other should have. This requires a great deal of breaking the term respect down into definitions that make sense to Cody.
I like using analogy and visualization. For instance, “Cody if you wanted to spend an evening with a young lady you really liked, by doing something you both like to do, that might be called a date. But if you choose something you like to do, but she does not, do you think she would want to go out with you again? So would it be better to choose something you both like to do?”
Now with Cody I know his favorite activities, so I use specific examples. Being specific as I can be in the theoretical example I give him provides the vision. I ask him lots of questions such as, “Do you think a girl would like you better if you used good table manners or if you talked with your mouth full?” Or, “You like people to talk to you in a soft voice, so do you think it would be a good idea to use a soft voice with a girl who you want to like you?”
We also have instilled in him what is appropriate with some people in his life is not appropriate with everyone. For instance, while it is perfectly fine for him to bear hug me, but others who do not know him as well may become a bit anxious about that. Therefore it might be better to treat those who do not know him as well in a more gentle way.
We also do role modeling with Cody. If we all go to a restaurant, Bill instructs Cody about what it means for a man to open a door for a lady while he opens the door for me. Then when we are leaving Bill passes the torch to Cody by saying, “Now it’s your turn to open the door for the lady.” Then Cody will open the door.
These techniques are used by parents of neurotypical children every day for the purposes of teaching all kinds of different skills and beliefs. But for those of us with adult children on the autism spectrum it is important to continue those techniques into adolescence and adulthood. Repetition and routine are very important for Cody to progress in all areas of life, including how to develop a rapport with the opposite sex.
These are the fundamentals we have chosen to start with. Once Cody has a grasp on the concept of respect between a man and a woman, then we can begin to talk about the feelings he experiences when he is with a young woman to whom he is attracted. Discussing these types of sensitive subjects with Cody requires using very plain language and skipping the scientific terms. While explaining this adult matter to neurotypical children in a more detailed and abstract manner may be beneficial to them, explaining the same adult subject to Cody requires us to use explanations that can be understood by a concrete thinker.