Another topic that parents have asked me to review is dating. I went around to half a dozen of my clinicians and said, “Talk to me about dating in the special needs community!” And their jaws dropped and their faces froze.
I asked them what they meant by that face, and they said, “Oh, boy. We don’t know what to say! We don’t know whether to say yes, no or maybe so!”
This is a very controversial topic and today I’m going to address this topic more as a parent than as a clinician because I am the parent of two children with special needs. Please remember that what I say may apply to your family, or it may not. Some things may be appropriate for one family that are not appropriate for another family.
What Does “Dating” Mean To Your Child?
Dating is a social relationship, as our lovely speech therapists would say. I think every one of our kiddos has the ability to socially engage, but some of them may not understand the complexities of a dating relationship. My son is in Special Olympics, and there are kiddos in Special Olympics that tell me they’re “dating” each other. I don’t know if “dating” each other for them looks the same as it might have for me when I was dating my husband, or for any of you, but it might be a more personal relationship than they might have with other people. They might share secrets or more personal information than they might share with someone else.
The picture of dating might look very different in the special needs community. People thrive on companionship and being with other people, and being able to have a shared experience. However, we know that most of our kiddos struggle with social relationships and social pragmatics and rules.
Parents of Both Parties Need To Talk
My older son did date. It was very stressful for me as a parent, because I had to be very, very involved, and so did the other parents. I talked to those parents probably as much as my son talked to the girl he was seeing. We had to be very intimately involved. We had to set boundaries. We had to make rules.
Overall I think it was a good experience for him. I think he was fairly socially mature, so the relationship was more like a middle school relationship than a high school relationship. But whether you allow your kiddos to date or not is a decision each family will have to make.
Special Needs Dating Sites
I’ll tell you that I was surprised — I looked on the internet and found that there are two or three special needs dating sites! I also found information about how to relate to different diagnoses on those websites. You might peruse those — I always think it’s helpful to know what’s out there.
What’s Best For Your Child?
Again, this is a personal decision for you and your special needs child or young adult. I would definitely address this topic if it’s something they bring up. I think it’s something that’s a good idea to have a talk about. I wish you luck in the dating world!