Teaching Boys with Asperger Syndrome to Man Up

May 31, 2011

By Dan Coulter

We have an opportunity here.

     An opportunity to help boys with Asperger Syndrome and similar forms of autism to "man up."  I’m not talking about being macho. I’m talking about learning about things such as sexuality, protecting oneself from sexual predators, and using a public men's room.

     If you’re responsible for a boy with Asperger Syndrome, do you know how and how much he’s learning about these aspects of being a man?  

     The other day I read about a male teenager with autism who generated startled looks in public restrooms because he always dropped his pants to his ankles when using a urinal.

     This is a common thing for a small child to do.  As boys grow older, most take the social cue from seeing others unzip their fly, open the front of their pants and urinate without dropping their pants.   Many young people with different forms of autism have to be taught social cues that others pick up by observation.   That teaching is most effective when the teacher has experience doing what he or she is coaching others to do.  

     Apparently, no one ever taught this teen the way men are expected to use a urinal, and he didn’t pick this up on his own.   I’ve heard Dr. Peter Gerhardt, the chairman of the Organization for Autism Research’s scientific counsel, express concern that men make up a too small minority of autism educators for children.  While being a good teacher is generally much more important than the gender of the teacher, men have a distinct advantage when it comes to teaching a boy how to act in a men’s room.

     Dr. Gerhardt talks about restroom etiquette that most men use intuitively.  For example, when a man enters a rest room with a row of urinals and sees another man using one, he tends to select the urinal that is farthest from the one being used -- or at least is not right next to the one being used.  It’s okay to use a urinal next to another man if that’s the only option.  Also, Dr. Gerhardt says the social climate that dictates when people talk to each other in rest rooms tends to be different for men and women.

     Failing to learn expected men’s room behaviors can isolate young men into adulthood.  Because children with Asperger Syndrome can be so sharp in so many ways, it’s easy to assume they’ve picked up on social skills that they’ve actually missed.   Especially if you’re not observing them directly.

     I was in a men’s room recently and encountered a man leaning down to peer under the stall doors.  He looked up at me and explained, "My son is in a stall and he doesn’t want me in there with him."  I nodded and we traded smiles.  He found the right stall and called out, "Everything okay in there buddy?"  His very young son opened the stall door and walked out.

     I appreciated the fact that this father was willing to do something he found embarrassing because his son’s welfare came first.  

     Overall, children benefit from having teachers and positive role models from both genders.  But as Father’s Day approaches, it’s a good time to evaluate if boys with Asperger Syndrome are getting adequate instruction in lessons that sons have traditionally learned from fathers.  

     As a dad, helping your son "man up" is an opportunity to open lines of communication that can help him accept your advice as he grows older.  If you’re a mom, and a dad is not present, finding a trusted adult male to help with "man lessons" can ease your mind when your son ventures into territory where you can’t follow.

     And when people talk about "manning up" in the future, your son will know he’s already there.

     ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Dan Coulter is the author of the videos, "Asperger Syndrome for Dads" and "The Puberty Video for Boys with Asperger Syndrome."  You can find more information and articles on his website: www.coultervideo.com.                                                                 

              Copyright 2011  Dan Coulter     All Rights Reserved    Used By Permission

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