When my boys were little, one of my favorite things to do was inhale their scent at the backs of their necks and on the tops of their heads. And in doing this on a regular basis, I came to know their scents quite well. Consequently, I knew without a doubt when puberty had hit.
Thus we come to the next topic in the puberty series: Teaching self-care and hygiene. We increase the frequency of showers, introduce deodorant, teach about menstruation and body changes, etc., but we do it keeping in mind that repetition is essential to ASD kids absorbing any type of social learning like this. My fourteen-year-old son needs constant reminders when it comes to hygiene! But the difference between him and a typically developing fourteen-year-old is that my son will need reminders for much longer than the other.
As mentioned in the previous post, continue to teach sex education at your child’s level of comprehension. Once your child reaches puberty, it’s important to teach appropriate levels of affection with different circles of people in your child’s life. Convey the difference between hugging family and close friends and shaking hands with people in the community. It’s also important to remind your child about ways to recognize inappropriate touching by others and what to do about it if it happens. Teaching this to your child can help them if they are targeted for sexual abuse, which is unfortunately high among those with developmental disabilities. Many are trusting and have been taught to be over-compliant, which also puts them at risk. It’s also recommended to teach the basics of reproduction at this age, whether it be written into your son or daughter’s IEP as an educational goal or something that we parents teach at home.
Given the choice, we’d also rather not teach our kids about masturbation, but with ASD kids, it’s really important to discuss issues of privacy. Again, this is an area that will probably require some repetition about when and where it is appropriate to masturbate. Safety issues can also be a concern; they might insert things that could be harmful. If too much masturbation seems to be a problem, the presenters at the seminar I attended suggested increasing other physical activity during the day and decreasing downtime. Part of the reason for frequent masturbation is a need for sensory input, and often ASD kids don’t have the ability to realize that themselves.
Tune in tomorrow for a discussion about emotional immaturity during puberty – understanding it and what to do about it.