The elephant in the room
Let's address the elephant in the room, shall we? No? Not ready? Ha ha, yeh me too....I don't think I will ever be. Which parent is? Puberty can be awkward and embarrassing for most people. BUT you know what? It shouldn't be - It's just BIOLOGY. Right? Right.
Puberty is no walk in the park, and for some special needs children and their parents it seems puberty is one hundred times worse, way more sensitive, exaggerated, and intense....know what I mean?
My son is almost twelve years old and I'm literally facing the elephant in the room. He was happily going along his merry pubescent way and I thought woohooo this isn’t so bad - just a lil jog in the park...I thought wow I GOT THIS...without even preparing.
Slow and steady was his pace....until summer. Summer came and BOOM another growth spurt then BOOM BOOM BOOM real, proper puberty and all the stuff that comes with it...and yes, this mama was not prepared.
Don't make the same mistake people. Be prepared, get ahead of the curve because they don’t stay young forever...EVERYBODY grows up...who knew? haha But seriously, no matter who you are, autism or no autism, puberty is inevitable. It’s the same in some ways and a little different in other ways. But the bottom line is that ALL children grow up...it is what it is. It is the great equalizer.
So what will puberty be like for my ASD child? I honestly don't know as it is different for every child...kind of like autism?! Just be prepared for the same things that happen with typical children to happen to your ASD child...I know, yikes. So how do we prepare?? i.don't.know! All I know is what I have gathered so far, and IF it can help you? Awesome.
Emotions Emotions Emotions
Get ready for some emotional outbursts, mood swings, aggression, arguing and defiance. Thankfully I haven't experienced all of that. What I have experienced is a bit of moodiness and a lot of that good old defiance. Time to get ready for school - "NO”, Time to have a bath - "NO I DON'T WANT TO". This might not seem like much but when you're used to a usually compliant child and suddenly you're getting "Nos" for everything that is a huge change. My advice? Pick your battles, and for issues that are not so important just let them go...for your sanity's sake.
Just so you know, if your child is like mine, almost twelve and still walking around with stuffed toys and blankets, still watching shows like “Thomas the Train” and “Little Einstein’s”, the same shows they watched when they were three years old, DON’T be fooled. Don't get blind sided. Don’t think they haven’t started puberty and that you have time. Nope...don't do that...trust me... it’s either right around the corner or happening right under your nose! While they might not be developing like their peers socially or emotionally, best believe they are developing physically. I’m serious...my little boy is not a child anymore. So check for those subtle signs. You've been there, you know them, and if you've forgotten, now's the time to use that awesome search engine Google to refresh your memory. Visit the paediatrician if you need to and get some guidance. Talk to your child's school, teachers and teacher/shadow assistants, have a plan in place and just mentally prepare yourself already!
So your kiddos are older now, no longer five or six...think about this for a minute. Go ahead think about it, I'll wait. Ready? Ok, now think about their peers. I know you see it...the now very noticeable development gap. As I mentioned earlier my son is still walking around with stuffed toys and watching “Thomas the Train” etc. - that and all the other differences are now glaringly obvious.
Here's the problem, as kids get older and become teens they become more socially aware. What's in, what's not, what's cool and what's definitely not. They now notice how different their special needs peers are, they might even joke about these differences, unfortunately. It's sad, but the reality is that some teens are mean. Social skills are already challenging for our children on the spectrum, but stack that mean teen on top of that and what do you end up with? 99 problems kinda problems. So what do you do? Easy, what you've already been doing - advocate advocate advocate! Continue to raise awareness and encourage kindness and acceptance in spite of differences and pray for the best. Be prepared for those bad days and BE THERE for your child...BE PRESENT.
I don't know about you but because my pre-teen is able, I'm all about encouraging independence. I'm not going to be around forever, and he needs to be able to take care of himself - so long as he is able to do so.
When he says he's had a "bath" but then he comes in close for a hug and you're all "sniff sniff gahhhh ehhhrmagadd"...Why? PUBERTY of course, it's no walk in a wonderfully smelling park. It's awkward, its confusing and yup stinky.
So what can you do? For me, right now it's just "gentle" reminders to bathe properly, PUT ON YOUR DEODORANT, brush your teeth, and put on deodorant. Did I say deodorant already? Twice? Yeah....apparently I don't say it enough, so hear I go again, put on your deodorant! Grrrr...sigh it's just, you know...those pesky hormones...you can't make them win and there’s really no need for our kiddos to be singled out because of this. These are manageable issues. Issues you can work on at home where your child is comfortable.
At some point I'll have to deal with hair growth and shaving and all the sensory issues that come with that, but not now...thank GOD. Right now that's not on my plate - small mercies!
All this growing equals non-stop eating. So just be prepared and have those hopefully healthy snacks ready for in between meals.
Those "Other" Issues
I don't need to spell it our for you. You know what I'm talking about. I wasn't planning on discussing that online with you. The plan was to just gloss over it. Because for one, that stuff is PRIVATE and maybe, just maybe my boy would cringe at the thought of me even mentioning this topic. So respecting his assumed wishes, all I'm going to say is you need to start thinking about how you will manage this issue. If your child is verbal, think about what and how to discuss it when it arises. If your child isn't verbal or only slightly verbal, think about how to actually "discuss" it with them given their verbal limitations, or if you will even be able to discuss it with them. Probably not. You will need to establish what the ground rules are, the Whens and the Wheres, i.e. when it's appropriate and when it's absolutely not, where it's appropriate and where it's absolutely not.
Bottom line? We all want to keep our kiddos safe. I have no clue what my child even understands about puberty, what is happening to him or what he is feeling BUT I want to keep him safe, so giving him skills to deal with all of this is my priority. That and praying for the best outcome and then watching over him like a hawk...that's my strategy. It's all I can do. But when I leave this earth what then, who will do this for me? This is when I start feeling overwhelmed and emotional and I have to remind myself - "one day at a time DBM, one day at a time..."
Parenting is challenging and preparing for puberty can be overwhelming - I haven't even scratched the surface with this post! Clearly I’ll have more to add later.
For now though, maybe think about these issues, if you’re not thinking about it already, and just be ready for it. You have no control over hormones and puberty but you can control the information your child receives initially and more importantly how this information is given.
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Hi, I am Francene...aka @drummerboysmom on Instagram and drummerboyZmom on twitter. I'm an over 40 expat mommy raising a daughter with an old soul and a son with autism in beautiful Jamaica.