The topic of menstruation is a difficult one that each parent has to explain to their developing child. Yet when it comes to having this discussion with children on the spectrum, parents must approach the topic in a different and more in-depth manner. There are a variety of concerns regarding sensory issues, hygiene, routine change, and more that need to be addressed in order to fully inform and prepare your child with autism for menstruation. The following are key points to keep in mind when educating your child about their period.
1)Talk About it Early
It is normal for periods to begin when children are between the ages of nine and sixteen, but this can also vary. If you or you partner recall beginning your period at an early age and your child is showing signs of puberty such as growth spurts and body hair, it could mean that their period is right around the corner. This is why it is very important to start talking to your child about their period a year or two in advance. This allows your child to become familiar with their upcoming change and understand that it is a normal process. If a child’s menstruation begins before they are educated about it, they may become scared and think they are hurt.
2) Practice the Routine
Getting your child accustomed to the topic of menstruation is the first step, but you must also prepare them for the procedures they will have to follow. Showing them what pads and tampons are, explaining why they are used, and how to use and dispose of them. Alongside the aspect of bleeding, wearing pads and tampons can cause sensory issues for individuals with autism. That is why having your child wear a pad from time to time and teaching them how to dispose of it properly by going through the routine with them will help prepare them for the time their period starts. Additionally, it can help ensure that they are taking the necessary hygiene steps. Practicing the motions will help you reduce the anxiety your child may feel about the change that is going to occur and make them feel more in control by knowing what will happen.
3) Utilize Visual Aids
Seeing the changes that will occur and the steps that come along with said change can also help a child be more aware and feel more in control. Posting pictures with the step by step process of how to remove a used pad and apply a new one, in addition to necessary hygiene steps, in your bathroom can help your child become familiar with the procedure and reassure them. The utilization of a twenty-eight day calendar or period app can also help create predictability for your child of when their period will come. When menstruation first begins, your child’s cycle may not be twenty-eight days and it may last for four to seven days, so it is important to explain that this is normal and can use the calendar once their period has become regulated. Depending on your child, you can also determine whether to introduce the topic of ovulation and mark it on the calendar alongside their anticipated flow dates.
4) Use Positive Language
Normally, that time of the month is not spoken about highly and is often referred to as something unwanted and terrible. Given that children with autism fear change, it is important to use positive language when discussing menstruation so that they don’t have a negative attitude towards a normal bodily process that occurs monthly and to ease their anxiety and fear. While this is not to say that children with autism should be told that their period is something amazing and is nothing to worry about, parents should talk to their children about the realities of periods and the many side effects and changes that come along with it- but in a reassuring tone so that children understand that it is normal. This dialogue must exist so that your child is aware of changes in mood that may occur during their period, cramps and pain they may experience, and methods of relieving their pain and cravings. The more your child is aware and reassured, the easier it will be for them to handle the change and feel a sense of control.
5) Discuss Social Rules
Children on the autism spectrum can often have issues with social rules and boundaries. When it comes to menstruation, it is important for your child to be aware of when and where is it appropriate for them to discuss their period. Periods are nothing to be ashamed of nor are they a secret, but like everything else, there is a time and place to talk about them. Utilizing Social Stories™ can help your child better understand their own period and how to operate in social settings. When your child begins menstruations, it is also important for you to inform staff at their school so that your child may receive assistance, if they need, with pads and changing.
The following are two videos that can be useful when introducing the topic of menstruation to your child.
Menstruation is a part of life and these tips can act as a guide when educating your child on the autism spectrum about the changes their bodies will go through. No individual on the autism spectrum is the same and can vary on levels of functioning. Therefore as parents, you know your child best and will be able to adjust these steps to better tailor their needs. It may be difficult to introduce the topic of menstruation and proceed with the suggested steps, but the ultimate goal is that your child be fully educated, aware, and feels in control about their period.