Tag Archives: sex education

Adventures in Puberty, Part 2

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.

Adventures in Puberty, Part 1

The Autism Society of Oregon recently hosted a seminar on puberty and sexuality, and even though I had to drive 352 miles round-trip to attend, I made it a point to do so. I could not pass up an opportunity to obtain valuable information regarding this challenging stage of development.

The seminar covered strategies in dealing with puberty, teaching our ASD children about sex education, how sexuality develops over the span of childhood and teenage years, and why this information is important for kids with developmental disabilities to learn. Because such a wealth of material was presented, I intend to break up what I learned into several posts over the coming week or so.

“Nothing is delayed about puberty!” This was probably the most important point of the seminar.  The second most important point was the distinction between puberty and adolescence. Puberty refers to the physical changes happening with the body, whereas adolescence pertains to the emotional and social changes in development. The two do not usually occur simultaneously with ASD kids. This important fact hit home with me. I thought about my son and how I had just assumed that because he was indicating an interest in girls that he had hit adolescence, and that is not necessarily so. I learned that he is probably indicating an interest in girls because he is reacting to his typically developing peers, whom he wishes to emulate. It doesn’t mean that he’s emotionally ready for it, even though his body is keeping up with the typically developing peers. In fact, I also learned that in some cases, puberty in ASD kids can occur earlier than in non-ASD kids. But adolescence usually occurs later. As one of the presenters aptly put it, “Adolescence is fractured from puberty.”

Some parents don’t want to think of their ASD children as sexual beings due to believing that they will be childlike forever. This is a common stereotype about people with developmental disabilities. Other stereotypes include assumptions that they are “asexual,” that they are unable to understand sexual desires, or that they have uncontrollable sex drives. Belief in these stereotypes discourages a perceived need for sex education. But without it, ASD kids are at risk for sexual abuse, inappropriate behavior in public, and possible diseases or pregnancy. It is imperative that our ASD kids are taught sex education at a level that they can comprehend, which can be accomplished by writing an IEP goal around Health/Human Sexuality Education. Of course, it can also be taught at home. 

How do we do that? The short answer: Start young. The seminar presenters recommended starting off at an early age by teaching self-acceptance and an awareness of all body parts, including gender-specific parts. This also should include a talk about privacy and which parts should not be touched by others, etc. It is just as important to provide this information for ASD children as it is for typically developing children. They need to have this awareness. Even non-verbal children can absorb some of the information, and it may help to protect them. For their sake, we need to try.

Up next:  What to teach during puberty – self-care and hygiene, personal space, masturbation, and appropriate levels of affection with others.