We at Stanfield know that helping young people grow into emotionally mature adults is often a tall order and further, helping young adults with special needs mature emotionally has some added stumbling blocks. One of these obstacles is in the area of opposite sex friends. Although males and females can enjoy a non-romantic friendship, this is a concept that many people often struggle with. For teens and young adults with emotional, cognitive and/or social disabilities, this idea can be especially confusing. The following article outlines some important information that could prove useful in helping your students and children gain an understanding of opposite sex friendships and avoid potentially awkward situations, as well as build emotional intelligence.
Research involving 88 pairs of opposite sex undergraduate friends presents the theory that men and women experience such opposite sex friendships in different ways. The study found that men were more likely to view their platonic women friends as attractive and more likely to assume that those women viewed them the same way. In other words, males are more inclined to feel romantic possibilities with female friends and assume the feelings are reciprocated than are females. In fact, women are as likely to underestimate attraction as much as men are to overestimate attraction. This information could be used either in conversation, or in a formal lesson in a classroom setting to help students with special needs recognize the difference between platonic and romantic relationships.
Alerting children and young adults with special needs to the likelihood of romantic and sexual undercurrents present in their male/female friendships is important in helping them navigate their way through life. Additionally, it is important that they understand the general discrepancies between how men and women perceive the same relationship. This can enhance emotional intelligence and potentially lessen misunderstandings.
The study also discovered that whether a friend was involved with another person had little to effect on whether there was a romantic attraction to his or her friend. Again though, there was a difference in the responses of men and of women. Men, to a greater degree, saw “taken” women friends as still somewhat available while women were more likely to see “taken” male friends as off limits.
The knowledge that platonic friendships can take a surprising twist and become romantic when least expected and that men and women often see a relationship differently can be empowering. Such information delivered over time can ensure the emotional health and self-confidence of any child who is maneuvering their way through the minefield of male/female relationships. It is especially important for children with special needs whose experiences in interpersonal relationships may be limited and whose self-esteem may be more fragile to understand the dynamics of opposite sex friendships.
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The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.