ABCs of Life, Love, and Social Skills: Learning to love

Aisles of bookstores prove none of us ever really knows everything we cared to know about how to be human. As parent of a child with autism, my job is to show my child the ways of the world because he cannot learn them by himself. Parents of people with autism can teach them socialization. Social interaction involves risk, but the rewards can be breath-taking.

Any teenager will have romantic feelings. Part of normal teenage experience is figuring out what to do and not do about those feelings. People with autism have feelings, too. Parents often want to prevent pain, Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 1.03.06 PMbut that misses the point. Even friendship will inevitably involve pain. A broken romance is more painful. But romantic feelings will happen whether we want or not, and everyone eventually has experience personal loss.¬† Romantics know, romances don’t always break.

The link below is to a love story was my inspiration for this post: people with high functioning autism taught themselves how to love and be good life partners.

Autism Love Story Teaches Us How to Teach Love and Respect
Even if the link is broken, please read on. (This post is dedicated to my wise husband who died 14 years ago tomorrow.)

It doesn’t matter whether you or I have a diagnosis of autism or are “neurotypical.” We have plenty to learn, and plenty to share about social and coping skills. Were boys born knowing how to ask girls out, or girls born knowing how to respond, or vice versa? (I showed my age phrasing it that way!) Of course not. The same is true of coping skills for life’s challenges. Everyone at every level can learn more every day of their lives.

Non-fiction True Love Story
I hope that when you read this post, the web link above was not broken and you saw the original story. In brief, it is the love story is of a couple with high functioning autism. They had each studied social skills through self-help bookstore aisles and other readings. They met and agreed that each liked lots of time alone, doing their preferred activities, but neither wanted to be alone. They wanted to live together on mutually agreed terms. In order to start the relationship, they had gotten themselves training. In order to sustain the relationship, they created their own ground rules. They live together in peace.

Demonstrate Caring and Love?
Whether as person may be living independently, or will share life in group living settings, people do better in life with more social skills. We teach our children, schedule them, and arrange “playdates.” We demonstrate the values of mutual respect based on understanding and love. We help them learn tools of kindness, negotiation, and consistency, and we model how people show love by showing it ourselves. Than it is up to each person with autism to negotiate their own adult relationships.

Practice Makes Perfect
There is no one template for relationship or marriage. Every child needs a foundation to access romance, love, and marriage. You can teach a general skill (“give a gift the other person will appreciate, not one that you would like for yourself”), instead of giving the specific advice (“give her flowers”). You can offer context for practice within the family, you may open possibilities for healthy relationships when you are long gone.

We cannot assume someone with a disability will live alone and have no romantic relationships. Just because a person cannot live just like you are, it doesn’t mean they have to have superficial relationships outside of family. People live together without marriage for lots of other reasons.

Universal Language of Love
Demonstrations of love are part of the agreements underlying any healthy and lasting relationship. Gifts, cooking, trips together, and “couples time” are universal tools. Spouses tell each other what gift they would like, and lasting couples make a point oScreen Shot 2015-09-10 at 1.55.35 PMf “couple time” or “date night.” Mothers insist children come for holiday dinner, and children ask grandmothers to visit the grandkids. It’s all a language of love. Middle of last century, men could follow a formula involving a store clerk or reading an ad: Buy candy, or jewelry, or fragrance. It’s the thought that counts. The gesture is more successful when organic to the relationship and specific to the interests of the people involved. I adored my late husband, and we enjoyed carefully chosen places together, his specialty, but he never learned gift giving. (Maybe he would have and we just didn’t have enough time.)

Overly Present Parents?
How many parents and family members have offered marriage tips to newlyweds with average social skills? That’s a rhetorical question. Too many! We need to teach social skills, and then get out of the way.

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