There are a number of areas that change during puberty. This includes physical changes, cognition, relationships with peers and family, and increased independence. Teenagers may also become more confident in their personal opinions regarding politics and religion.
Often, this represents a change from concrete thinking to more abstract thinking.
Social relationships are also changing. Not just with their peers but also with their parents.
So how do we, as parents, best support autistic tweens (or preteens) through puberty?
What to expect when your autistic tween hits puberty
Teenagers with autism struggle with the same things as their neurotypical peers, this much is true. But, they may have more difficulties or their struggles might be more pronounced and noticeable.
- Some teens may misunderstand rules
- Follow rigid routines
- Be incredibly focused in an interest
- Have difficulties coping with changes in routines
So you might be wondering, how is that any different from when they were younger?
Your child will not outgrow autism just because they hit puberty and have begun the period of adolescence.
As a parent, you need to always keep in mind that your autistic tween still may have developmental delays in social and emotional areas. So, even if they are starting puberty, this may not always be a clear indicator that they’ve hit adolescence.
Puberty, for some autistic tweens, can happen early- sometimes as early as 10 or 11. But adolescence (the period of social and emotional growth) may not happen until their late teens or early twenties.
So what does that really mean for parents?
It means that your tween or teen on the spectrum might be experiencing or having to deal with the puberty (physical changes in their body) without the emotional or social know-how to understand why those changes are happening.
How to Help with Puberty in Autistic Tweens: Body Changes
- Start early with teaching provacy
- Model appropriate hygiene
- Use correct language for body parts and bodily functions
- Start practicing early
How to Help Your Autistic Daughter with Menstruation
If your pediatrician is comfortable handling this area, great. Otherwise, I would highly advise that you seek out an OB-GYN who has experience with autistic women. You may want to consider birth control to help regulate your daughter’s monthly cycles.
Start social stories or using visual schedules as well (you’ll find personal hygiene cards in my Autism Parenting Toolkit at the bottom of this post) to help her get used to this. Remember that even if she is in pain, she might not be able to always tell you.
This is frustrating for her.
You can also consider special underwear.
10 Tips to Support Your Autistic Tween
- Prepare yourself – obviously you’re reading this post so that’s a great start! Your tween or preteen is about to undergo so major social, emotional, and physical changes. Yes, this is going to a number on them. And yes, it’s going to do a number on you as well. Just know that this too shall pass.
- Start early – we know, as parents, that our autistic kiddos struggle with even the simplest things sometimes. Do yourself, and your child, a favor and start talking to them early. Or, if that won’t work? Start introducing social stories early.
- Teach the obvious – We know, by now, that what may seem common place and second-nature for us, isn’t always that easy for our autistic kiddos. You more than likely will need to explain social rules to them or why they need to put on deodorant in the morning.
- Don’t over protect – Yes, we want to protect our kids. But there is a fine line here as well. Prepare your child for every situation possible and teach them about stranger danger.
- Teach the difference between public and private – all children, autistic or not, should know what’s appropriate behavior in public vs. private.
- Teach your child the power of ‘saying no’ – and yes, you can expect for this one to possibly backfire as well. But there is really nothing more empowering than having the ability to say no.
- Encourage their independence – for your child, especially at home, temptation might be high to continue to do things for them. But, let them try.
- Help them make friends – but, don’t do it for them either. Instead, provide them with opportunities to get to know peers.
- Give information clearly and calmly – try not to overload them or overwhelm them with too much information at one time. And be careful about your language that may taken literally.
- Help them understand themselves – above all, help your child understand (to the best of their ability) about the changes that are going on in their body.
Adolescence and puberty can be a trying time- I won’t lie to you and say that it’s piece of cake. It’s not.
There were plenty of times I wanted to pull my hair out.
But, then I had to remind myself- if it’s difficult for me? It’s probably even more difficult for my kids.