Autism: Helping Young Adults with Puberty
Learning about puberty is a rite of passage for all young people. Most of the time, it happens inside the classroom. Teaching puberty can be a tricky task for many families. Topics can get uncomfortable, and both kids and parents might feel embarrassed, but the kids need to learn, and it’s a necessary part of growing up. Many schools have a standard puberty talk with kids when they get close to middle school. It’s at this age that they begin to notice changes in their bodies.
For Children with Autism, the Talk Can Be Challenging
Teaching about puberty can be challenging for kids with autism. Most of the time, simply talking about puberty is not enough since the needs of these children are very different from those who don’t have their condition. Sometimes, a child with autism is prohibited from attending such educational sessions, which then puts the burden on the parents to educate their teens by themselves.
How Can Parents Help?
A special education program has been started by Dr. Kelly McKinnon-Bermingham, a clinical psychologist in Santa Ana, California and director of behavior intervention at UC Irvine’s Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment Disorders, and two graduate students, Nick Tillier and Nick Riley, from the University of California Irvine. They educate children with autism about the changes that occur in the body due to puberty and how to cope with them.
How the Program Is Helpful
The ATN/AIR-P puberty and adolescence resource was started by the team. Sensitive topics surrounding puberty were tackled in an autistic learning style. The lessons were engaging and visual, and things were made easier for the children to understand. The skills were explained using attractive pictures. Also, after learning new skills, the students got to practice them. The program was informative and loved by both the children and their parents.
To help guide these children, special kits were used that contained lots of pictures and detailed instructions. The instructions for both the parents and kids were simple and conversational. For less verbal children, step-by-step pictures were used that were helpful. These easy-to-follow guides were loved by both, and there was a suggestion to create more of this type of educational tool so that parents could explain these sensitive topics to their kids. So, simple and informative scripts were created for parents. Talking to a child with autism about sensitive changes that happen in the body as they reach adulthood is one of the biggest challenges for parents, and for someone with autism, this is an especially difficult concept to accept and understand. These scripts, however, provided useful tips to assist with the adjustment.
There were in-class components and physical materials that could be taken home. Special guides were made for both genders as well, and they contained information about the body changes that happen in each as well as proper hygiene. For the classroom component, the child and the parents would come on a weekly basis for a total of four weeks of on-site classes. Engaging videos, hands-on experiences, and plenty of visuals were used to tackle a different topic on puberty each week.
For both the children and parents, there were weekly homework assignments that consisted of checklists of hygiene routines and puberty. The following week, these checklists were turned in at each class.
At the end of the program, each child was given a summary based on what they learned. For all the hygiene and puberty skills that they practiced in class, they received visual guides. To help them with their hygiene schedules, everyone was taught to set reminders on their cell phones.