By Gina Badalaty
6 Keys to Help You Teach Your Special Needs Daughter about Puberty
One of the more challenging aspects of raising a daughter with special needs is teaching her about puberty. This year my 9 year old, Amelia, started showing the earliest signs of puberty. I panicked, but after I calmed down, I came up with a practical plan on how I would teach her. In developing my plan, I discovered six keys that can help you take the right approach to teaching your daughter about puberty.
If your child has a speech disability, or is unable to understand you, you must find another way to communicate what puberty is all about. This can entail a variety of methods. A good book can help, or you may need to find a picture exchange system (PECS) or social story based specifically on puberty. If not, look around for good images and create your own PECS or social story tailored to your child’s needs. We use the American Girl book, “The Care and Keeping of You,” which Amelia likes very much. (Note: it is very graphic.)
Every child is different, so in order to select the approach that works best for your child, you must first view everything through her perspective. I thought about Amelia’s communication skills and deficits, her understanding of her body and science, and her relationships with other people, and created a relaxed and informative plan that I thought would speak directly to her, through books, pictures, and demonstration but without a rigid learning structure since this suits her personality best.
I was freaked out initially but in order to calm my own fears, I started seriously thinking about what I would need to do and teach to protect Amelia. For example, sterilizing her sounds like a distasteful and difficult option as she gets older. Before considering that step, I believe that positive self-esteem can help a girl avoid promiscuity, dangerous situations, and sexual experimentation when she is not ready for it. Amelia has a great opinion of herself, and tying that to respecting her own body is a breeze. Observe where your child excels to get a grip on how to handle this situation.
Call things what they are. Cute names and sweeping references (i.e., “down there” instead of “uterus” and “vagina”) will confuse a child. If you are raising a girl with autism or who does not understand metaphors, it’s important to be as literal as possible. Calling everything by it’s real name will go a long way towards helping her understand her body and communicating if something unpleasant happens. Get over your own embarrassment by putting her safety first.
At first, I sat down every night and read the effects of getting your period with Amelia. It was helpful to review the book we purchased over and over. That got my daughter interested in the book, and now she looks at it on her own. I only bring up the subject few times a week, include other aspects of self and body care, and give her a head’s up when I have my own period.
Your child may not be able to speak for herself, but as her parent, you know her best. Think about what scares her and what causes her anxiety or stress. Anticipate what will be a cause for concern. For example, if blood makes her cry, you need to make sure that she knows that bleeding is a normal part of menstruation and may be uncomfortable but does not mean she is hurt. The ultimate goal is to convince her that this is a normal and manageable part of being a woman. Address her insecurities and set them right.
Puberty is an important and exciting time in a girl’s life. It’s the gateway to womanhood, and while many people prefer to think of learning disabled children without regard to their future, it’s important that we parents arm and protect them by teaching them the truth about what will happen to their bodies.
Gina Badalaty is the owner of Mom-Blog.com, the #2 Google result for “mom blog”. Gina has been blogging about parenting, raising children with disabilities, and product reviews for nearly 10 years. Her blogger credentials include She Speaks, American Greetings Interactive, AbilityPath.org, and ParentSociety.com. She loves creative writing, taking a good photo, and has recently fallen in love with Pinterest. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two gorgeous daughters, and a cat that thinks he’s a dog.
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