Puberty! The word itself strikes fear in most parents as their child begins to make that transition into adulthood. For your average kid, these changes might bring about a bit of uneasiness, but, overall, life moves on at the same pace as before. However, for our challenged children, it can be a time of even more difficulty for caregivers, as well as, the children themselves. My own perspective comes from my daughter, Catharine. Catharine has autism. Her introduction to physical changes, as well as the emotional changes that go hand in hand with the onset of puberty, were a bit rough at first. Catharine is one of our four kids and only the second one to hit this milestone. Our oldest, Joshua, had the usual moodiness and quest for independence that most kids have, but, overall, it was a part of his life that he discussed with his dad, certainly not mom.
It began when Catharine was 9 and I noticed that her body was changing. Breast buds began to develop as well as some pubic hair. I immediately called our pediatrician because I was so concerned that she was early. As reassuring as always, she told me not to panic. These changes can go on for quite some time and I only need to sound the alarm when I see underarm hair-the first mountain before her period begins.
“OK” I thought as I examined her armpits daily, “so far so good”. Well, when Catharine turned 10, our world turned upside down. One day she called me into the bathroom and said, “I’m bleeding, mom”. Up until this point, I have never really talked with her about what would happen. Catharine really would not have a concept until she saw the evidence of her period. So, I waited until that day.All in all, Catharine was fine.I was the one freaking out. Having a child with autism and facing these life issues is very different than showing your daughter how to put on a pad and leave her to it.Your only function then becomes the purchaser of feminine products. Not so with our other blessings. Catharine calls her period her “Jesus Blood” because it is a “gift” from God that makes her a young woman.You might find that strange, but,it is what helped her understand that having a period is a part of every woman’s life and she is not alone.
We made the decision to put Catharine on a very low-dose birth control pill after her third period and she bled for 12 days straight. She was physically and emotionally drained and so were we. It has been the best decision ever for her. Now, her period lasts a day, she has few, if any, of the mood swings that she was having and her face is pimple-free…always a good thing.
While we did not talk to her directly about these changes ahead of time, as things started to happen, for example: wearing a bra, the need for deodorant, and menstruating, we tackled issues as they arose. This was best for our daughter.Every parent knows when these issues are best dealt with and there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There are many books available that might help a parent explain changes and some kids need that advance notice. Most have detailed pictures and are simple enough to understand. A good place to start is with a visit to your own pediatrician. Often times, he or she can recommend ways to introduce these sensitive topics at a level that your child might understand.
It can be hard to watch your child move into this stage, especially for the parent of the special needs child. They will need to become more independent and that can be scary. It also signals the time that they are not babies anymore, as many of us view our special kids. Every child is different and every child matures at their own pace. This is true for all children, no matter the disability or ability. The best way to handle these issues is to prepare yourself and your child for the inevitable.Don’t wait until you get a call from school that your daughter has started her period or that your son has really bad body odor. The best offense is good defense and nothing more could be truer when handling puberty with our kids.
Some books the parent of a daughter might find helpful are:
The Body Book: It’s A God Thing! (Paperback) (we have this for our other daughter) by Nancy N. Rue
Ready, Set, Grow!: A What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Younger Girls by Lynda Madaras and Linda Davick
The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls (American Girl Library) by Valorie Schaefer and Norm Bendell
Books for parents of young boys that might be helpful:
On Your Mark, Get Set, Grow!: A “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Younger Boysby Lynda Madaras
What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: The New Growing-Up Guide for Parents and Sons by Lynda Madaras
The Guy Book: An Owner’s Manual (Paperback) by Mavis Jukes
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