Three Tips to Navigating Your ASD Child Through the School Dance

Updated on November 3, 2017
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Christiansen's son, Jackie, is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She is the author of Planet A: A Mother's Memoir of ASD.

Electing To Go With a Group Can Help Eleviate Anxiety

Three Tips to Help Your ASD Child Succeed in a School-Dance Situation

As my son Jackie entered high school, I began to realize that the social game was changing. He is on the autism spectrum, and the social piece has never been easy. His peers began to form exclusive groups, and there was an influx of new students that he had never met before. It was like starting all over again socially. There began to be talk of girls and the desire for a girlfriend, coupled with the dawning realization that he was different. Jackie found it difficult making new friends in general, but add in the embarrassment of talking to girls, and it was a recipe for loneliness. He watched his few friends attend school dances while he felt left out. When Sophomore year rolled around, I decided that things should change. I wanted him to share in the things that his typical friends were experiencing. I pushed him to attend the Homecoming Dance, and—in the end—he had the time of his life. Here are a few ideas to help lead your child into the difficult social setting of a school dance.

1. Go in a Group

The dating scene is just too complicated for many children on the spectrum. There is a real anxiety in meeting peers of the opposite sex and pushing themselves to fit in. My son is awkward and immature. But let’s face it, there is plenty of time for dating later. I always tell Jackie that the best partners come from strong friendships and we try to focus on making friends. When we thought about Homecoming, we decided to make it a group outing. Showing up with a friend or two can help lessen fears and anxiety, especially if that friend has already been to a school dance. Plan to meet up with your group outside of the dance so that they can enter together. Encourage your ASD child to voice any fears that he might have to a friend. Sometimes talking to a friend is more meaningful than talking to a parent. Once I pulled up to the dance entrance, Jackie told his friend that he was afraid to go in. He was reassured that it was going to be fine. Later I viewed pictures of the dance with Jackie surrounded by his friends, several of them girls. They were all smiling and silly and dancing together.

2. Have a Back-up Plan

Always have a back-up plan. The music in a school dance is loud. Sometimes there are strobe lights and the crowds can be overwhelming. Make sure that everyone in the group understands that these issues may end the dance early for your child. Set up a meeting place outside of the dance for a quick pick up. I had a talk with Jackie about gauging his internal system. He was nervous about the music but agreed to take a sensory break outside if it was too much. He also agreed to text me if he needed to come home. The music was loud and he did take a break, but he was able to stay for the entire dance.

3. Navigating the After Party

Many of Jackie’s peers attended after-parties when the dance was over. These are private parties that parents plan for their children and friends. This is a great option if you feel that your child may not be able to handle the entire dance. Arrange a pick-up time so that everyone in the group is ready to leave. You can serve snacks and give the group time to talk about the dance. Keep the music going and take pictures with funny props. You might also play group games such as Pictionary or Party Encore. Karaoke is also a fun option. You can invite the parents to attend. The after-party is a great way to help your ASD child bond with good friends and maybe a few new faces. It also gives you a chance to meet new friends and their families.

Social situations like school dances can be overwhelming for our spectrum children. Encourage them to be involved by finding strategies that work for them. Take small steps and enlist the help of good friends. Jackie had the time of his life and has a great memory of a time when he was just one of the group.


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