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8 Ways to Support an Autistic Child Infatuated with an Adult Outside the Home

by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman

These suggestions stem from my own experience as an Autistic person who has been in and out of limerence since I was a child. I am drawing on my vivid memory of my childhood, as well as my training as a rabbi and educator. I am not a clinician, and this is not clinical advice.

If your child has a special interest towards an adult who is not a family member, here are steps you might take to protect and support everyone involved.

1.     Get information from the child with open, non-judgmental curiosity: "I wonder what you like about this person? I wonder how much you're thinking about them? I wonder how your body feels when you are with them? (If your child doesn’t communicate verbally, you can read their behavior for answers to these questions.) Regulate your own body, tone, and emotions before bringing this up with your child. They may feel shame or a need for privacy.


2.     Normalize and name what’s happening to dissipate shame.

"It is normal and healthy for Autistic people of all ages to have special interests. Your brain likes to focus deeply on things, & you’re doing that now towards this person."

3.    Manage the child’s expectations.

"It can be tricky when a person is a special interest, because they have their own life, needs, limits, and desires."

4.     Educate on safety.

Even grown ups we love can make mistakes. If this person ever touches you in an inappropriate way or gives you attention that feels secretive or confusing, please tell us right away.

5.    Get a school/camp or child psychologist on your team.

You may need to educate this person on the role special interests play in an Autistic person's life. They should not try to stop your child from having this special interest, or shame them about it. The professional can help you and the adult design clear boundaries and a plan to support the child and the adult

6.     Consider exposing your child to new potential interests - but with no agenda or pressure.

Most Autistic people do not have control over when our special interests come and go. You absolutely cannot change your child's special interest. However, if you are concerned for your child you can proactively introduce new things into your child's life that may meet similar needs as the infatuation. While you have no control over whether these new things will catch your child's attention, there is a chance that they will. Consider: What needs is my child meeting or trying to meet through this current infatuation? What new big developmental skillset might they be trying to explore?

For example: After the adult from my school left my life, my next special interest was the TV show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The show had elements of romance, passion, risk, adventure, and values-driven action in the world - all of which I was ready to explore as a preadolescent, and which I had been trying to explore through my relationship with this adult. No one intentionally introduced me to the show, but conceivably someone could have.

7.     Educate the adult in healthy boundaries, like:

YES to compassionate communication with the child.

YES to gently reminding the child as needed of the limits of the relationship.

NO to any inappropriate attention.

NO to any vague promises of future connection they cannot keep.

YES to making clear commitments they can keep.

8.    If the relationship is shifting, work with your child to get good closure.

"This person was really important to you. We see that. Let's find a way together to say goodbye." This could be a card, letter, goodbye ceremony, going out to ice cream, etc.

Ask the object of limerence to say a clear goodbye to your child. They should keep it simple, kind, and clear. Remember many Autistics process language literally. Stay away from vague language like "See you around." Instead, make specific commitments. "You can ask your parents to FaceTime me next month if you want to talk."

If they are staying in your child's life but the role is shifting (i.e. the child is moving classrooms but will still be in the same school) make a plan with both the child and adult for exactly how the child will maintain contact.



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