By Shawna H.
Going through puberty can be a tough time for a young girl. That is even more true when the young lady is autistic. There seems to be scant literature pertaining to females on the autism spectrum, and even less speaking about, or to young autistic girls about the changes of puberty, and beginning menstruation.
I can’t speak for all females on the spectrum about getting your period, and the whole puberty process. I can only relay my experience, and maybe some of that might be helpful for other young girls, or her parents in understanding. I have heard many ladies on the spectrum who have had quite different experiences with puberty than I did.
For me, it was a change that I welcomed. I looked forward to getting my period, and becoming an adult. It was exciting to me to become a woman. I learned a lot about it at school during sex ed. There was a lot of information available during that time to learn from. I think that this may have made the biggest difference to me in not only welcoming my period, but accepting my body as one in transformation. Knowing what to expect was paramount to easing my anxiety, and allowing me to be open to change.
Here are some things that I found to be helpful in preparing me for menstruation, and other changes that occur during puberty:
1. Sex Ed.class. Every year we were taught just a little more that helped us learn at a slow pace what might be happening to our bodies, and why.
2. Access to information. I am the type of person that needs facts. When I want to know about something I want to *know* about it. I don’t necessarily want to sit around, and chat about it. I want to read, and research. Back when I was young there was no internet. Today there is a wide variety of educational places a young lady can learn from online. Don’t shy away thinking she is too young. Let her learn as much as she wants to. Knowledge is power. Arm your daughters with the knowledge, and the ability to be able to make sound decisions for herself based on facts, and not fear.
3. Pamphlets. Online sites are great for learning, but pamphlets also still have their place. Just some practical info about menstruating that a young lady can keep in her room tucked away to glance at when she needs to can be helpful.
4. Samples, and kits. I remember getting a kit full of sanitary napkins, and such one year in sex ed. It was one of the most important things I’ve seen that helped me understand what to expect. I am not an auditory learner. I need to read, and see things to learn. I had all different types of pads to look at, and hold, as well as a pamphlet that described the differences between them all. Being able to see them, and read about them brought the whole thing into perspective for me. I was able to have something hands on to learn from, and it was really helpful to have the instructions along with descriptions of how they were used. This allowed me the quiet space to learn that I needed. I suspect a lot of ‘typical’ girls get this from chatting, and bonding with other girls, and women, but I didn’t have the type of friends that would have discussed this sort of thing. It was uncomfortable to initiate that conversation, and I really liked to learn about things alone anyway.
5. Be open to talking about all personal issues with your daughter. She may not want to talk that much, but leave the door open to discussion anyway. The more you normalize this sort of chatting by talking about it openly the less reservations she will have talking about it with you. Leave out the shame, and embarrassment that often tends to accompany this sort of subject. If you’re not up to speed factually on what menstruation is about, and changes that occur, then it would be helpful if you were to learn. A lot of shame comes from being afraid of what we don’t understand.
6. Last, but not least – There are a lot of sensory issues that accompany periods for girls on the spectrum. Many will not be able to tolerate pads, and wetness. Consider this, and offer alternatives like tampons, and even a birth control type of shot that might limit/stop periods from occurring. This may seem extreme, but sensory issues can be extreme for some girls. Keep an open mind to alternatives.
Shawna is a stay at home mom with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can find her blogging about her adventures in parenting in an atypical household, here.
Do you have a daughter with special needs? What tips would you suggest?