During puberty, a child’s body goes through many changes as they grow physically from a child to an adult. Like all other people, those with autism will have the same sexual changes and urges during this time. However, they might not have the social understanding that will go along with it. Mood swings that happen during puberty can be confusing to a person who is not always able to express less fluctuating moods appropriately. It is also necessary to address the social implications of puberty and help the teen impacted by the combination of autism and puberty avoid being ostracized by these changes.
Puberty can be confusing, but providing information about what to expect ahead of time can often take some of the anxiety out of it. Social stories that are repeated over and over again about what to expect physically and emotionally can help a teen with autism understand what is going to happen and prepare them so they are not afraid.
Due to the physical changes, this can be a frustrating time where it is extremely important for a teen to be able to communicate. Therefore, an important part of preparing for puberty is guaranteeing that teens with autism have a way to communicate their emotions, wants and needs effectively. The ability to do this will help others know and understand what they are going through.
Like other teens, puberty is a time where sexual urges are strong. However, a teen with autism might not understand the social norms about what is and is not appropriate. Therefore, it is going to be necessary to remind them often and be aware that it is a natural part of being human. Although every family will have different values on how sexuality is handled, it is important to provide the teen with the understanding that they are feeling the same things that every other person their age is experiencing but might not be able to express it properly. They should never be humiliated for their actions. Instead, they should be taught what is appropriate for each time and place.
Aggression and Moods
Due to an increase in testosterone during puberty, it is possible that this time will show an increase in aggression. Also, mood swings and strong emotions can lead to aggression and in appropriate behaviors. It is important to focus on communicating feelings and finding appropriate outlets for increased feelings of aggression and strong emotions. For example, using a punching bag to work out excess aggressive energy or having a special spot to take a break when emotions are overwhelming can help a teen with autism have their emotional needs met without turning to maladaptive behavior.
Since teens with autism will not always be aware of social norms that go along with puberty, it might be necessary to pay attention to bodily changes for them in order to prevent them from standing out and being ostracized. Things like wearing a bra, putting on deodorant and shaving legs are often looked forward to by typical developing peers who are anxious to grow up. Yet, teens impacted by the combination of autism and puberty might not notice that these things need to be done and will require extra guidance.