My husband and I were blindsided when our 10-year-old suddenly had an interest in puberty last week. Even though we've always been open and honest and have used appropriate terminology (hint: it's not called a little fireman. It's a penis.), it was still a shock.
We were prepared for this! We read books and decided on what we wanted to say and how we were going to say it. And yet we were still all, "Uhhhhmmmm. What?" When he innocently told us, "Some kids at school called me gay. Why would they tease me about being happy?" And when we said, "You know, gay is when two men or two women like each other very much and sometimes get married." He said, "But I LOVE boys!" Ahem. It just wasn't coming out of our mouths the right way.
Many parents are nervous when approaching the subject of puberty. With special needs children it can be more difficult, especially if there is a communication gap. Some children with special needs develop much earlier than their typical peers (called precocious puberty) and the anxiety over not knowing what to expect for children hitting early puberty can be catastrophic.
Until recently we've seen very few books dealing with the subject and we certainly couldn't find them at a local book store. And because everything labeled "special needs" requires you to sign over your first-born child and pay exorbitant amounts of money, sometimes those books are out of our budget. The good news? There are affordable, well-written books out there, both for parents and children. We even managed to find one with comics in it that our son finds amusing and informative, called It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie H. Harris. While it isn't necessarily written for special needs, our son (who is obsessed with comics -- this one has them!) understood it and actually enjoyed it. A few others we particularly like:
- Great Expectations Books Barb Zimmerman, the mother of a daughter with autism, wrote girls' puberty books to help reduce the anxiety autistic children often experience when faced with the unknown.
- Taking Care of Myself by Mary Wrobel
- Teaching Children With Down Syndrome About Their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality by Terri Couwenhoven (for parents)
- Adolescents on the Spectrum by Chantal Sicile-Kira (for parents)
- Special Boys' Business Heather Anderson also wrote a book called Special Girls' Business. Simple, concise books with pictures.
Wanna know who the best author of a special needs puberty book is? YOU. Yes, you can write your own puberty story! And they are free! Social Stories, by Carol Gray, are a great tool to teach you how to write your own theme-specific story, custom-made (by you!) for your child. The concept behind this method is to help your child lessen anxiety and learn social cues they might otherwise miss in real-life situation. Social stories can be written for a variety of topics and experiences and are useful for everything from trips to the dentist to buying bras with your tween daughter.
One word of caution, however. Be sure to pre-read every book you hand to your child. There may be certain topics in the book that you'll have to explain further or there might be some things you philosophically disagree with. It would be a teensy bit uncomfortable if there was inappropriate material for your child's age or developmental level and they began asking you questions you aren't prepared to deal with.
- Do you research early.
- Do NOT wait until they are asking you the questions.
- Don't be caught off guard.
- Do keep a straight face (even if they tell you how much like touching themselves. Not like it happened to US or anything. Ahem.) so that your child doesn't feel ridiculed or embarrassed.
- Answer all questions as honestly as you can. Even if they ask about the time your parked the car near you aunt's house and the cops pulled up and caught you necking and asked to see ID and sent you home. Just sayin'.
Have you talked to your special needs child about puberty yet?
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