Puberty is a confusing time for all children, whether or not they have a disability or special health care needs. It can also be overwhelming and uncomfortable for parents. Your child’s body is going through developmental changes, they might not know why, and you might not be ready to face these changes. Here are some tips to help you start the conversation.
Top Tips for Talking About Puberty With Your Preteen
- Help your child understand that puberty happens to everybody, and as strange as they might feel, everything they are experiencing is normal.
- Discuss body parts honestly and accurately. Use direct language and visuals when you talk to your child about the changes happening to their body.
- If possible, start calling body parts by their correct names and offer clear facts about bodily functions long before your child enters puberty, so they know changes are normal.
- Urge your child to ask questions.
- Have these conversations as often as needed while repeating the important facts, so your child can make sense of it all.
- If your child is uncomfortable talking about their body parts with you, maybe they will feel more comfortable talking to another trusted family member, such as a sibling. Feeling comfortable talking about their body’s changes will help your child as they transition to adulthood.
- As your child moves through puberty, you can practice, explain, and model good hygiene. Creating a hygiene kit with everything your child needs to take care of their body – sanitary pads, deodorant, soap, shaving cream, or any other necessary items – gives them the tools they need.
- There are medications that can help your child’s menstrual period come at the same time each month, or make it less frequent. You can talk to your doctor about exploring this choice, and ask any other questions you might have about menstruation and personal hygiene.
Sexuality and Appropriate Relationships
You might need to answer awkward or uncomfortable questions about sexuality as your child enters puberty. Even though it might be difficult sometimes, it’s important that your family can give your child trustworthy information when it comes to sex – it’s the best way for your child to have the facts and stay safe.
Sexuality and Teenagers With Disabilities and Special Health Care Needs
- Like other teenagers, teens with disabilities and special health care needs feel love, desire, and sexual attraction. They also deal with issues of sexuality and identity.
- Discuss sexuality openly with your child. Avoid figures of speech and use facts as much as you can.
- More than likely, a child with intellectual disabilities or developmental disabilities (ID and DD) will go through puberty at the same time as their peers without a disability or special health care need. Stay calm and discuss appropriate behaviors and privacy with your child. This is especially important, as children with intellectual and developmental disabilities might have trouble picking up on social cues.
- Teenagers with disabilities and special health care needs have the same urges and sexual feelings as other people. It might be difficult to have these conversations but it’s important. Consider talking to your child, when the time is right, about masturbation, birth control, intimate relationships, pregnancy, and being safe. Reinforce the ideas of privacy, appropriate timing, and location when you have these discussions.
- Ask your child what he or she already knows about sex and sexuality.
- Make your conversations about sexuality respectful and judgment-free.
Safety and Sexuality
When there are so many day-to-day issues to tackle with your child, thinking about sexual assault or abuse feels like a terrifying, unbelievable worry. However, it is important that you help your child learn about safety. Teenagers with disabilities and special health care needs are:
- Less likely to receive accurate information about sexuality.
- More likely to be the victims of sexual assault than a person without a disability or special health care needs.
- More likely to be assaulted by someone they know well.
You can take steps to protect your child and look out for potential abusers. You can help your child stay safe when you are not around them. You can:
- Help your child feel like they can say “no” to inappropriate touching. Have health care professionals and family members ask your child for permission before touching. This will help your child feel more comfortable setting boundaries about personal space.
- Urge your child to trust their instincts. Your child should know that they have the right to leave a situation that makes them uncomfortable.
- Give your child proven facts about sexual education for their developmental level. This will help them know when something is wrong.
- Question any caregiver or attendant who is unwilling to offer references or have a background check!
- Keep a close eye on your child’s mood, body, and caregivers. If your child starts showing antisocial behavior, regresses in behavior, or suddenly has unexplained bruises or pain, these might be signs of abuse.
SAFE offers counseling about sexuality and abuse prevention for people with disabilities and special health care needs in Austin. They also have limited trainings and outreach throughout the state – depending on funding. You can learn more about SAFE safety trainings on their website.
The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA), has tools to learn more about sexual assault for people with disabilities or special health care needs. They have a guide for family members that you can download:
Suggested Links to Additional Resources