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The challenges of romance for teens with LD

Learn how and why teens with learning and attention difficulties often misunderstand the nuances of dating -- and how you can help.

By Melinda Sacks

It was a conversation I overheard from the kitchen that started me worrying about my 16-year-old son. Clearly he was talking to a girl.

Him (in a hushed voice): "So what happened?"

Pause.

Him again: "How did you feel about it? Did you break up with him?"

Another pause.

Him one more time: "What about us?"

I stopped washing the lettuce and started to listen more carefully as the dialogue veered off to a discussion about becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.

Sure, my husband and I have had conversations with our son about where babies come from (at age 7), what happens in puberty (at age 12) and the importance of safe sex, how to say no, and respecting boundaries (age 13). I'd bought the books on changing bodies, the videos on talking about sex, and sent my husband into our son's room for further conversation many times.

But now I had to ask: Had we ever really talked about relationships — how teenage girls and boys form romantic bonds, or the intricacies of interactions with the opposite sex?

Teaching teens about sensitive topics

It was easy when our daughter, now in college, was a maturing teenager. An avid reader who was not embarrassed about asking questions, she would march into the kitchen, her copy of Everything You Wanted to Know About Your Body for Girls tucked under her arm, and asked me explicit questions. I answered honestly and with as much detail as she wanted. We talked openly about periods, puberty, boys, and sex.

But our son, on the other hand, has learning disabilities (LD) and is a weak reader. He's not prone to introspection, and is much more modest. For those reasons, he wouldn't go near the books I bought for him. He did not want to discuss sex, and he almost slammed the door in my face when I tried to talk to him recently about the telephone conversation I'd overheard.

While sex education can be tricky for any parent, it gets even trickier when the youngster involved is impulsive or has learning or attention problems that make reading social cues and learning by observation seriously challenging. Our son, for all his wonderful qualities, is often out of the loop when it comes to understanding the nuances of relationships. Throw in raging hormones and media messages that bombard teens with sex, and things become even more confusing and complicated.

I couldn't help but wonder: Would my son understand how to talk to his female friends in an appropriate way? Would he comprehend the boundaries and the social cues well enough to say and do the right thing? How could my husband and I guide him through these murky waters?


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