As our kiddos are getting older, we have to realize the importance of having conversations about their bodies and the natural changes that are happening/will happen. Yes, they hear bits and pieces from school or may take a sexual education class with their typical peers, however concise conversations about puberty that are slow and repetitive is how our children may learn best. We want them to learn factual information, which is why we encourage you to engage in discussion with them!
When should I start talking about it?
Puberty naturally occurs anywhere between the age of 9-14, however, this may vary, which means a conversation about this can happen as early as 8-9 years old. You and your clinician can make the call on when is the right time to begin discussing puberty, depending on your child’s ability to grasp the topic.
These conversations are not easy for any parent, so here are some tips on how to approach discussing puberty.
- Use books! There are a series of books you can look up such as The Ellie and Tom series, Special Boys and Special Girls Business, Growing up Books for Girls and Boys, and more that are geared towards our developmentally delayed friends.
- Use the correct anatomical terminology (ex: vagina and penis). Refrain from using nicknames or slang words; this is so they know a word that is used universally for their understanding and safety purposes.
- Give specific visuals of the body parts such as the pictures below! (If your child identifies as gender-neutral, describe this to them as their anatomical sex).
- Discuss the possible physical and emotional changes that occur and how that is okay
- Provide them with possible solutions to these physical and emotional changes (i.e: discuss that if they are having a mood swing, an alternative would be to listen to some music)
- Some of our children have sensory issues, so putting on deodorant or cleaning themselves may not work with them. Offer them solutions to these problems by suggesting baths or trying different deodorants.
- The Organization for Autism Research (Website) is a great website with podcasts, explanations, and visuals to guide your child/you! www.researchautism.org
- Sex Ed for People with I/DD (Youtube) is a short and concise series with people with I/DD teaching aspects of sexuality!
You can always ask your clinicians for advice on how to address puberty if you aren’t quite sure or think your child needs more explaining about the topic. We are always here to help!
Tip of the month by Judy Johnson, Doctor of OT student