This article is mommy approved by Miriam Slozberg, mother of two.
Many parents of typical girls worry about when their daughters will be heading into pre-teen, from ages 9 to 11, because they are heading into puberty then. This is why from grades 4 to 6, the sex education programs at schools begin so that kids running into puberty are well-prepared.
The last thing parents want their daughters to experience is surprise menstruation without preparation. With that said, if parents of typical daughters are concerned about finding the right time to prepare them for puberty – this is even more problematic for parents of autistic girls.
However, the great thing is that there are easy steps to take and follow when parents or caregivers prepare autistic girls for puberty. Because some girls can experience menarche as early as eight, the best time to prepare autistic girls is when they are eight.
The one key to remember is that when discussing anything with individuals with autism, they are literal thinkers. This means you cannot be abstract in speaking to them, such as by joking with them, using sarcasm, or even using everyday expressions.
When you are preparing your autistic daughter for puberty, below are the following steps to take:
Describe To The Girls With Autism In Detail How Their Bodies Will Change
The trick is you have to be as specific as possible when describing to autistic girls how their bodies will change because they will become women. The first thing to do is to tell them that the expected changes will be slow, which means they will happen within three years. Otherwise, they may think that the changes will occur in one day.
Prepare them for how they will become taller, that their skin will start to get oily, and they will have pimples. Discuss with them that their breasts will grow again, not in one day. It will grow the same way as a puppy does.
The puppy is small and eventually turns into an adult dog. And puppies don’t grow into larger dogs in one day. In addition, it is important to tell them that there are different sizes of breasts.
Parents and caregivers will also want to mention how the girls will begin to grow hair underneath their arms, on their legs, and around their pubic areas. This means hair will be in different areas of their bodies other than only on their heads.
It is also important to tell them that they will sweat out of their armpits, which means they will feel wet in that area and smell. However, the points about teaching them about proper hygiene will come later.
And last but not least, you will also want to prepare them for menstruation. Make it clear that they will see blood coming out of their vaginas and end up on their underwear, which is normal. It does not mean they are hurt, sick, or dying, which these girls may be terrified of.
It is not necessary to go into the details as to why menstruation happens, but it is important to tell them that it happens once a month for 3 to 7 days and that they will need to wear pads.
Use Visuals While Describing The Details Of Puberty To Autistic Girls
People with autism are visual learners and thinkers. While describing what will happen to their bodies as they grow, it is best to use visuals. Find pictures of teenage girls with acne online or in magazines as ads for products such as ProActive may have photos of adolescent girls with acne.
Show them pictures of women as that is what they will turn into, and finding before and after photos of girls and women is a good idea. Mothers should also dig up old photographs of themselves as girls to show their autistic daughters that they, too, once were girls like them.
You will also want to show them pictures of maxi pads (as well as tampons, however, that is optional as most parents will not start girls with tampons and will stick to pads until much later). Mothers that get their periods can show their autistic daughters their used pads, so they know what to expect when they have their own.
Girls should also try to put an unused spare pad onto their underwear to get the hang of it. Especially autistic girls with dexterity and coordination difficulties will need time to practice using it, so they are fully prepared for when to use pads after menarche begins.
Explain To Them How They Will Feel And How Privacy Is Important
These girls will need to be prepared for how their emotions will change during puberty. One minute they may be happy. The next minute they may be irritated and upset, and the next, they may be sad.
Also, tell them they may develop crushes on boys (or girls), which is okay too). They may also have urges to touch themselves and when they do, make it clear to them that they must do so in private in the bathroom or the bedroom with their door closed.
They must realize that touching themselves in public is inappropriate, such as at schools, parks, or malls.
It is also important to prepare them to feel cramps before their periods start, and their breasts may get sore. This way, they will know they feel unwell because of their periods. Not because they are sick.
Autistic Girls Need To Know That They Must Tell Someone They Trust If Someone Touches Them
Unfortunately, autistic girls (and boys) are often targets because they are vulnerable, and the risk of sexual abuse is higher. These girls need to know that no one is allowed to touch their privates until they get into relationships (which will come at a later discussion).
They must immediately tell someone they trust, such as a teacher, therapist, parents, or any caregiver. And reassure them that the person that touched them will never touch them again.
Girls With Autism Need To Be Taught The Importance Of Proper Hygiene
When parents and caregivers of autistic girls are teaching them about puberty, it is important to make it clear that they must shower daily because they will sweat and smell. Teach them to put on deodorant each morning before getting dressed.
If there are sensory issues, there are comfortable and smooth unscented deodorant sticks or unscented and mild soaps for showering. That is ideal.
Use Social Stories For Autistic Girls Going Through Puberty
It is important while teaching girls what to expect with puberty and how they will feel to use social stories when discussing that with them. There are social stories on how to take care of themselves hygienically.
The trick is because people with autism are visual learners and thinkers to use visuals while talking to them. Use social stories for breast growth, hair growth, menstruation, masturbation, and anything relevant to girls going through puberty.
It is also important to talk to therapists and pediatricians for other tips to prepare girls on the autism spectrum for puberty, especially if they are on the lower functioning end, where they will not comprehend as much as a higher-functioning autistic girl would.
References are also below that can help guide you when preparing autistic girls for puberty.
Miriam Slozberg is a Canadian author, blogger, and mom to 2 kids. One had combined autism and ADHD. After years of trialing different forms of therapy, she learned how to best support her son. She writes for publications such as BabyGaga.com. She also is a mental health advocate as she lives with ADHD and has experienced depression.