For young people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), social expectations are typically a mystery. This becomes a particular problem as they approach puberty.
Current statistics show that eighty percent of special needs girls and fifty percent of boys are believed to be abused or molested by age 18. It is the responsibility of all parents and caregivers to teach these special children self-care skills and how to recognize and inform responsible adults when touched inappropriately.
All children need to begin to understand the importance of appropriate basic health and hygiene as early as kindergarten. In children with autism spectrum disorders it is especially important to begin establishing independent hygiene routines at home. As they get older, basic self-care skills become even more important as hygiene needs change and modesty becomes essential. Starting puberty instruction as young as fourth grade is recommended by many authorities, and then expanding on that information each year as they get older, or as needed.
For young people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), social expectations are typically a mystery. This becomes a particular problem as they approach puberty. Individuals with autism typically do not model others successfully and are not able to figure out what they need to do by following the examples of others. They have difficulty processing auditory information and the inability to understand social rules. They need information presented in a clear, concise and simple way at their level of comprehension.
The rules that they need to understand and follow must be explained in simple, precise detail. Individuals with autism are often very strong visually and need visual supports such as pictures and simple, written words to understand information.
Many excellent books are available to help parents explain hygiene and puberty to young people with autism. Unlike the curriculum used to present this information to most ‘typical’ young people, these specifically designed books are used to address health and safety needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders in a unique way. It is necessary for both the parent and child to go through the information together. Unlike ‘typical’ young people, the child with autism will welcome communication and discussion and will generally not be shy or embarrassed.
When teaching your child about puberty and all the changes that he or she will be experiencing, it is important to teach just the information related to their own growth and development. Opposite gender instruction for most students with disabilities is typically unnecessary until students are in high school.
Remember, unlike most youngsters, teens on the autism spectrum are unlikely to learn about sexual norms from peers or even from teachers. So it’s up to parents to pick up the slack.