Here are some ideas for talking to your child about puberty, sex, sexuality and relationships, as well as links to some useful resources. You can also read the Top Tips for sex education on the NAS website.
School classes do address puberty, sex, sexuality and relationships at an age-appropriate level. Find out what your child’s school will be teaching, and when. By working with the school, you will help to ensure consistency between school and home explanations and if your child is ready for the discussions school will be having. You might decide that these lessons are paced inappropriately for your child, you know best. Perhaps they assume too much prior knowledge, or don’t start at an early enough age or progress to fast. Children on the autism spectrum often need a longer period of time to adjust to and understand any changes in their lives and may need longer processing time.
Always answer honestly any questions your child has about their body. This will help your child to learn that puberty is not something to be embarrassed about and that they can trust you to give them the right information. If you are unsure of the right answer, it is better to say that you are unsure. Your child may be confused if your answer is not very clear leading them to interpret your answer to what they think it may mean and this can cause uncertainty.
Child tend to ask questions at an inappropriate times, so a standard response, which everyone in the family can use maybe a good idea, such as 'That's a good question. Let's chat about it once we get back home'). Do however remember to sit down and answer the question when you get home or your child may be reluctant to ask you questions in the future.
Your GP or practice nurse may be able to help, especially if your child will only be satisfied with an accurate, full and scientific answer. Involving the GP or practice nurse may help your child to feel comfortable talking to them about their bodies in the future, eg about sexual health or contraception.
The language you use is important, saying that your son’s voice will “break” may be very worrying for an autistic child, who may take it literally. Instead you could say that your voice is changing and likely to become deeper. You could then refer to male family members voices and explain that men's voices are usually deeper than women's voices.
While you are talking to your children about puberty and sex, you may also need to provide some guidelines about the difference between public and private:
You could use visual supports to explain the basics of development, such as:
Your young person may need reassurance that she will not bleed to death, that menstruation is a normal biological process,. Tell your daughter/family member/young person who to go to at school if she gets her period while there., speak to the school and arrange a dedicated person if that helps. Show them how to use sanitary products, pointing out any particular features which might help her to remember how to use them correctly, your daughter may like to be there when they are bought so she knows where to get them from as she grows up. You could put sanitary items in a particular drawer in your daughter’s bedroom/ bathroom so she knows they will always be there when she needs them. A calendar maybe a good idea to help your daughter understand when her period is due. You may want to talk about the feelings she may get before a period, any aches or pains before and during menstruation, this way she will understand these are normal and all women have them, some more than others and she can ask you for help if needed if medication is required for aches and pains.
Talking about masturbation with your child will help with any anxieties about what they are doing. Reassure them that masturbation is an absolutely normal activity. It is important that your child knows know how to clean themselves if necessary after masturbation. You could perhaps supply tissues/wet wipes or an appropriate towel. You may want your child to tell you if bedclothes need changing or let them know that they can put there bedding in the washer if they are able to do so. If your child would find this difficult, you could introduce a symbol or hand signal that they could use to let you know. Going through privacy with them is important too.
Address personal hygiene also need discussing as your child approaches puberty. Prepare your child for the need to wash more often, that they will start to smell dfferent and that’s ok it’s all part of growing up and maybe let them choose their washing materials and deodorants giving them some independence. You will need to explain how to do these things, as well as the social rules determining why we do them. A social story™ might be useful here. If your child already has an established routine or tick list for their morning schedule, washing themselves, changing their clothes or their bed sheets, you could perhaps adjust it to include the use of deodorants, showering every day, shaving etc.
Put the schedule up in the bathroom where your child will see it every morning.
Here’s an example of a Social Story™ that can help your child understand some of the social rules behind personal hygiene, as well as hygiene skills:
Where do Social Stories™ come from? - Social Stories™ were developed in 1991 by Carol Gray, a teacher working with young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Video-modelling can help your child learn self-care skills too. You could video yourself putting on deodorant and watch the video with your child. If you record the video on your child’s smartphone or tablet, your child could watch the video and do the skills as she watches.
You will probably need to go over these strategies many times with your child. Try to be patient with your young person – and yourself, they may need more processing time, pick times to do the strategies when you are not tired too so not late evening if you have been busy throughout the day.
You might find it helps to share experiences and get support from other parents in similar situations.
Beyond Words Picture books that tell a story, or let the reader tell their own story. Some are available as ebooks. Titles include Loving each other safely, Keeping healthy down below, Jenny speaks out, Looking after my balls.
Sexuality and safety with Tom and Ellie
By Kate E. Reynolds, illustrated by Jonathon Powell. Six books exploring body development, sexuality, masturbation, and using public toilets safely.
Purchase guides aimed at people with learning disabilities on topics including puberty, masturbation, sexuality and contraception.
NAS library catalogue
To find the details of more books and articles.