5. Inform them of the changes they will undergo
And do it sooner rather than later, as there’s no way to accurately predict when they will begin. Puberty can start as early as age 8 in girls and as early as age 9 in boys.
You can explain these changes via books, social stories, or whatever way works best for your child. Whatever format you choose to present the information, be sure to go over it as often as you feel is necessary in order for your child to fully understand and be prepared for the upcoming transition.
Some things you may consider including in your explanations:
- What puberty is
- What changes will take place in their bodies
- What changes will take place in their minds, like moodiness
- What puberty looks like in both sexes, so they understand the changes in their opposite-sex peers
- That this is a normal part of growing up
- The specific functions that bodily changes serve
- How to handle developmental milestones when they come (e.g. periods and wet dreams)
- Masturbation—when and where it is and is not appropriate
- Show pictures of loved ones (both sexes) at various stages of life, like infancy, early childhood, teenage-hood, and adulthood to demonstrate and positively portray the upcoming change
4. Give them “the talk”
People with autism are disproportionately at risk of being sexually abused, so it is vital that your child knows about sex in general, as well as what to do in a situation where they may be coerced into inappropriate or unwanted relations. Tell them which parts of their body cannot be touched without consent (places a bathing suit covers) and vice versa.
3. Ensure they have good hygiene
For your child, issues of hygiene may not be a super high priority in their personal agenda, but it’s important that they have it, anyway. Creating a social story that explains the importance of personal hygiene can be helpful for this. Letting them pick out the soap, deodorant, or other products they use is a good idea, too, and it may help motivate them to use them regularly. For girls, start introducing pads and other feminine products before they’re needed to help desensitize them to the sensory aspect.
2. Give them some independence
As your ASD child hits puberty, you may find they are less compliant than they used to be. In the eyes of Chantal Sicile-Kira, an autism consultant who specializes in adolescence and transition planning, this has nothing to do with autism and everything to do with teenage-hood! She says they are trying to assert themselves and take a little more control over their lives. Her advice: start giving them more independence and ability to make their own choices. Of course, depending on your child, what this looks like may vary on a case-by-case basis. For those with milder autism, you may give them similar privileges you would give a neurotypical teen. For those whose autism is more severe, however, you might give them more leeway and choice when creating a routine or choosing which chores to complete.
1. Build self-esteem
Being a teenager is a tumultuous time, and it’s also a time when self-esteem may drop. So make sure that you give them appropriate encouragement. Validate them and reassure them of their value and worth—which exists completely outside of superficial things like grades, appearance, and social standing.
While puberty is often a difficult time for autism families, there are ways you can make it go a little more smoothly and make it feel less scary for an ASD child going through it. Remember: puberty and the teenage years do not last forever. You and your family can and will get through this!