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Guiding Your Autistic Child Through Puberty

Aug 12, 2008
Even without autism, puberty can be a very delicate and trying time for a family. When autism is involved, however, things can become much more complicated. Many parents approach this period of their child's life with fear and trepidation. However, it is best if you attempt to approach this time in a very positive and developmentally oriented fashion.

For everyone going through puberty - autistic or not - sexuality and sex education is an important part of life. Children and teens are, after all, sexual beings. In order to respect the dignity of your autistic child, you must teach healthy attitudes towards sexuality and convey appropriate expressions for sexuality. As the parent, your job will also be to maintain his or her safety.

Many parents fear regression in their autistic children during puberty. "Autism after Adolescence; Population-based 13- to 22-year Follow-up Study of 120 Individuals with Autism Diagnosed in Childhood" was a recent longitudinal study published in the June 2005 Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

This study showed that of the seventeen percent of the 108 people followed up with who had a clear regression during adolescence, half of those people fully recovered from that setback by the time they reached adulthood. Furthermore, that same study reconfirmed what previous research had suggested, where language development and a better all around adulthood are positively correlated with childhood IQ levels.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assume that a child with autism will be able to learn to manage the challenges and changes faced throughout puberty. The key is to make sure to pay attention to any questions or confusions that he or she may have, so that you can help to resolve them. You can add teaching moments to your everyday life, allowing your child to learn and relearn about what will be happening in their body.

Your child's pediatrician may be able to suggest some techniques and resources for helping ease your family and your autistic child through puberty. This may include various books (such as "Asperger's Syndrome and Sexuality: From Adolescence Through Adulthood"), pamphlets, and websites, or even additional therapies, such as - in the case of girls - hormone therapies to regulate menstrual cycles and minimize the discomfort that may be felt. This will help to create predictability for a girl's periods, so that she will know exactly what day they will start, and approximately when they will end. Furthermore, the same body sensations will occur at the same time of the cycle every month. This form of treatment could be regarded as somewhat controversial, so careful discussion with your doctor or your child's pediatrician is paramount.

You may also find that a psychologist or child psychologist may be able to provide you with an additional level of insight into helping your child through puberty with as little distress as possible.

With the help of both a doctor and a psychiatrist, you will be equipped to handle many questions your child may have as well as any new temporary or lasting symptoms that your child may develop.
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