As children grow, they will experience changes in their bodies, and along with these normal physical changes, children will begin to feel sexual desire and curiosity about their sexuality. This process of evolving from a child into a young man or a young woman happens whether or not a child has autism. Children with autism have a particular need to know before they experience changes that they will change. Education and foreknowledge gives an autistic child a sense of stability during a turbulent period of their lives. Opening up communication regarding these sensitive matters will also dispel any confusion and inner turmoil when puberty happens.
Some parents may question the wisdom of enlightening their autistic child on these topics when their child might be mentally younger than their age. The alternative, however, can be confusion and a sense of shame over a completely natural process. Girls on the autism spectrum might need to practice what to do when she has her period before she menstruates for the first time. It might be necessary to put drops of red dye on her underwear so she knows what her period will look like. To make the transition into the extra cares of womanhood less stressful, she might need to practice lining her underwear with pads on a schedule that coincides with her break times at school.
For a boy on the autism spectrum, it might relieve him of a lot of anxiety to know that he’s not wetting his bed like a little kid, he’s experiencing wet dreams. He will need reassurance that getting erections and ejaculating are a normal part of boys becoming men. Both girls and boys will benefit greatly from feeling safe and comfortable in asking questions or speaking up about any worries they have related to puberty and their sexuality, including private parts and sex.
Most schools have a curriculum that touch on these topics, but each child is different in the pace at which they can assimilate new information, especially a child with autism. Some of what transpires in daily interactions may get lost in translation because of an autistic person’s varying ability to accurately integrate information. When it comes to their bodies and their maturation as sexual human beings, children with ASD need one on one attention from a parent or caregiver. Educating a child about puberty before it happens and during the change lays a good foundation when the time comes to discuss sex and romantic relationships.
It is recommended that in talking about puberty and sexuality, parents and caregivers should stick to using medical terms for private parts. If a boy learns “pee pee” for penis, he might still refer to his penis as a “pee pee” when he is an adult.
More on this topic will be discussed in the next article.