People on the autism spectrum tend to thrive on very literal language and lots of details to help them learn a new task. But when the new “task” is navigating the entrance into womanhood and the start of menstruation, young ladies with autism and other literal thinkers may struggle to find the information they need to succeed.
Author Robyn Steward discovered this problem after attending a 2017 conference about reusable menstrual products and subsequently purchasing a few books on the topic of menstruation for personal research. She noticed that all the books had three things in common that could be barriers for young women on the autism spectrum; they didn’t use literal language, they didn’t offer enough detail, and they didn’t have nearly enough pictures.
It’s true—when it comes to talking about periods, we tend to be a little squeamish. So it’s understandable that even the authors of books about menstruation purposely avoid talking about certain “gross” details of periods and often use euphemisms instead of the real words for the woman’s female reproductive organs or even for the period itself.
But for young women on the autism spectrum and other people who need details, pictures, and literal language to succeed at learning something, the ambiguity and euphemistic language of period guidebooks currently on the market can be a real problem. All young women must learn about periods somehow, but many of them are left with no real resources to figure it out.
“For many autistics, the traditional way of teaching periods is not accessible to them or it is not really discussed,” Steward says. “Autistic people can be quite isolated and their ability to get information can be limited, and many books do not have accommodations to not be overwhelming.”
There’s a reason period guidebooks exist at all—it’s because many young ladies need them in order to have a safe and (relatively) happy transition into being menstruating women. And if these books are needed, then they should also be accessible to everyone who needs them.
Luckily, Steward saw the need and decided to fill the gap. She’s a published author of the book The Independent Woman’s Handbook for Super Safe Living on the Autistic Spectrum already, so making the decision to write a better and more accessible guidebook to menstruation was an easy one. Her how-to manual, we think you’ll agree, leaves little room for misinterpretation or error, making periods that much more understandable for us all.
For her research, Steward visited schools, organizations, and a hospital and interviewed as many autistic people as she could about what they know and don’t know about menstruation and what they need to make a menstruation resource like a guidebook work for them. She also interviewed professionals on the subject to ensure she was giving good advice in all areas.
Steward’s book, called The Autism-Friendly Guide to Periods, is geared toward people on the autism spectrum ages nine to 16. It describes what periods are and why people get them, how periods impact the mind and body, the gender spectrum and how that relates to menstruation, the supplies that are available for periods and how to use them, common concerns and questions people may have about periods, and autism-specific concerns relating to menstruation, such as the potential sensory issues particular products like pads and tampons may cause.
“I want [people] to know how to use nontraditional period protection,” Steward says. “There are no other books that provide other options for kids.”
This straightforward how-to manual, of course, includes lots of details, steers clear of euphemisms and abstract language, and has a plethora of relevant pictures, which can make it helpful even to people who can’t read or process spoken words easily. In addition, most of the images are real photographs, for which Steward herself was the model. She chose an over-the-shoulder angle for most shots so that they look as similar as possible to what the reader would actually see when using a menstrual product.
The book is wonderfully specific and anatomically correct, perfect for anyone who wants more period knowledge, but especially people with ASD. It even has areas you can cut or cover up so that just one photo can be revealed at a time, reducing sensory overload. It keeps things from getting “too graphic too quickly” for sensitive readers.
“You cut the flaps so you can see one picture at a time to reduce the amount of processing a person has to take in at one time,” says Steward.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?