Autism and Puberty “HOW TO’S”

“In The Son-Rise Program, we welcome all changes that our children are going through with open arms. When our children hit puberty, this territory comes along with many new changes. As our children’s bodies develop and change, we will want to help them with important self-grooming skills. Encouraging them to embrace things like shower and changing their clothes regularly, wearing deodorant, brushing their teeth and the importance of using sanitary pads for girls during their period, etc…is what we’re going to help you with in this article.

“As parents and caregivers, changes are always opportunities for us to:
• Re-focus our attitude.
• Practice being flexible in the face of something unfamiliar.
• Be available to our teenagers (or pre-teens) and adolescents on the autism spectrum in a way that is loving and embracing this special change.

“Here are some wonderful perspectives to try on:
• This will be a learning experience for us both.
• My own comfort and ease will be a demonstration model of comfort and ease for my child to also create inside of themselves.
• These changes are part of the wonder of life. Change is good because it means growth is happening.

“So take a deep breath, center yourself, and take a moment to adopt the empowering perspectives above…YOU’VE GOT THIS! Now, with our refreshed attitudes, we can step forward with the following helpful actions, to help our children with their adventure through the puberty years.

We have seen time and time again throughout the years that people on the Autism Spectrum are taking in and understanding what we are saying. Yes, this is even if they are Pre-Verbal, Semi-Verbal, or Highly Verbal. What great news! You’ll want to be relaxed, authentic, and explain to your child what is happening to their body. Give details according to their age level, not their current verbal ability. For example, if you have a daughter who is developing breasts and new body hair, as a Mom, you might say ‘I remember the awesome time when my body started to change and I had to take care of myself in a whole new way, so you are definitely not alone…I bought you these soft bras which you can wear to support your breasts and feel more comfortable or ‘You’ll notice you have hair growing under your armpits and so we need to keep this area extra clean now… I can show you how to wash your armpits and use deodorant to stay cool and fresh.’ Believe your child is understanding you, even if they don’t seem to respond to what you are saying in the moment.

“This also requires us to be fully comfortable and open to talk about the genital area, menstrual cycles, and so on. Knowledge is power, so this is all useful and helpful for our children to know about and if we don’t share it with them, and they don’t yet have relationships with their peers, it could be a big mystery to them. Your openness and honesty will also strengthen your relationship, which is a special added bonus for you and your child!

“MAKE IT FUN!!! This can be an exciting time in our children’s lives!
• Use your child’s motivations to invite their participation in the things you want them to do. If you want your son to shower more regularly, or if you would like your daughter to want to use a menstrual pad when she has her period… making this a fun and appealing experience for them will be the key for this to be successful. For example, if your daughter loves a certain movie star, or a musician, or maybe she is a big fan of her older Sister – create a book or a fun colorful poster board that illustrates how their idol also uses pads during their menstrual cycle. You can also list all the advantages of using pads in a motivating and playful way. For example: Taylor Swift uses pads because…
– They keep her clothes dry
– They match her white faux fur coat
– So she can dance and move around the stage comfortably at her concert

• There are some great books out there about puberty that you can invest in. Some even have cartoon pictures in them that might match your child’s motivations. You can try reading some excerpts from the books and information you find with different visual and writing styles and see which one you and your child connect to the most. Perhaps your son is motivated by a family member, such as their older cousin, or uncle and you might show them one picture of them when they were younger, then one picture of them as a young adult who is taller and bigger with facial hair. All the while continue using your explanations to express to your child that these changes happen to everyone and how exciting this is!!!

Perhaps the way your child presents themselves today is not exactly what you hoped for. It could be different from how you presented yourself when you were their age, or maybe your child is not as groomed as their Neuro-Typical peers. We want to become aware of any possible judgments we might be holding about our children’s current appearance and how they present themselves. Our children are very sensitive and smart. They will know if we are judging them. And just like us, if they feel judged, they will probably not want to participate in the things we want for them to do with their appearance and how they present themselves.

“Our children also have a very sensitive sensory system, and things that are seemingly trivial to us, like taking a shower, or brushing their teeth, can sometimes feel over-stimulating for our children. They are absolutely doing the best they can. If we remain non-judgmental we will be able to notice what’s going on for them and help them more through their challenges. Our relationship with our children is way more important than how they look at the end of the day.

If we want our children to embrace the experience of self-grooming, we must let them be in control of this experience. If our children feel pressured or pushed to do something, they will resist and might not want to have anything to do with it. This means, being inviting, as versus pushy. Model what you want (e.g. excitedly show your son how fresh and awesome you feel while you wash your own armpits in front of him), then invite his participation to do the same. Showing our children how fun and empowering it is and then letting them try it on their own, in their own time, when they are ready, is a wonderful way to let them have control. When they experience this control, they will be way more bought-in to the experience. What adolescent doesn’t love a bit of control? They actually tend to thrive on it.

Maybe it’s time to do a little shopping! When we have something new and novel it can make the experience more special and inviting. So maybe you can purchase some new toiletries, soaps, shampoo, sanitary pads, etc. Put them in a special toiletry bag for your child, then tell your child this is especially for them and will help them take care of their changing body. Show them each item and demonstrate how to use them. Once you have done this, you can leave the items in their bedroom, or the bathroom they currently use so that they can explore the items and have a go at using them. If you currently have a Son-Rise Program playroom (or focus room) set up for your child, then this is also a wonderful, non-distracting space for you to use to help your child with these important skills.

“If you would like to discuss any concerns you have about how to handle anything else to do with puberty with your child, we would love to help you with individualized support in a one-on-one Private Autism Consultation with one of our Son-Rise Program Teachers.

“Now I will leave you with this thought…YOU LOVE YOUR CHILD, YOU CAN HELP YOUR CHILD…THEREFORE YOU ARE THE BEST RESOURCE FOR YOUR CHILD! You have the passion, commitment, love, and dedication to help your child in extraordinary ways. You’ve done it before, and you will do it again. We are cheering you on all the way!”

Becky Damgaard, Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

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